The Misuse of the Label “Terrorist”: How governments label people as terrorists without charging a crime of terrorism

The Misuse of the Label “Terrorist”: How governments label people as terrorists without charging a crime of terrorism

The Misuse of the Label “Terrorist”: How governments label people as terrorists without charging a crime of terrorism

The Capitol riots in the U.S. on 6 January 2021 led to outcries from many well-intentioned citizens from both parties to label the white supremacist extremists that stormed the U.S. Capitol as terrorists. Joe Biden, the President-Elect at the time, echoed these claims dubbing the rioters “domestic terrorists”.  Indeed, White people are often not held up to the same media or police scrutiny that BAMER people are. The media’s use of the term ‘rioters’ instead of ‘domestic terrorists’ led to this outcry from people. Many, including the President-Elect, acknowledged that if the so-called rioters were BAMER the response to them from the police and the media would have been drastically different, as shown by the police response to the BLM protests early in the year.

Although this classification, “domestic terrorist”, when applied to the rioters, may indeed be accurate, expanding the terrorist definition and counterterrorism efforts will only backfire.

Since 9/11, the perception of “terrorist” has fundamentally exacerbated racism, especially towards the Muslim community. The portrayal of Islam in Western media has led to deeply damaging consequences to the Muslim community worldwide in how it intrinsically ties Islam to terrorism. The U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have subjected American Muslims to abusive counterterrorism “sting operations”. These operations unscrupulously target these communities based on religious and ethnic identity. The Prevent strategy in the U.K., against which JAN Trust has long spoken out, can be deemed to operate in a similar manner by reinforcing harmful stereotypes, allowing individuals to use their discretion (including personal biases) to determine who is an extremism threat, and legitimising Islamophobia.

Research from Human Rights Watch uncovered that the U.S. government often prosecutes people for activities it labels as terrorism but rarely are the same people actually charged for a crime of terrorism. However, this label, in and of itself, without the crime, becomes damaging. Those who are prosecuted with the label “terrorist” often receive significantly longer sentences than those who are convicted of the same crime without the label.

Further, countless people have noted that many of those charged with terrorist activities would not have committed these acts if it weren’t for government intervention. In a case dubbed “Newburgh Four” regarding those accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base, a judge noted that the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all the relevant obstacles”.

The U.K., similarly, has shown an increase in White terrorism over the years. The head of U.K. counter-terror policing noted “the far right as the fastest-growing terror threat in the U.K.” As of 31 Deember 2020, “one in five people behind bars for terror offences in Britain were right-ring extremists.” Despite this fact, there is still a large disparity in U.K. media coverage between the association of “terror” between so-called Muslim and non Muslim perpetrators. A study showed that, “over half of the terms ‘terrorist’, ‘terrorism’ or ‘terror’ were used with the terms ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’ – almost nine times more than when the perpetrator was identified with the terms ‘far-right’, ‘neo-Nazi’ or ‘white supremacist’.”

Misusing the label “terrorist” or, more commonly, overusing the term “terrorist” especially in relation to minority or Muslim communities leaves damaging effects. Expanding the application of terrorism to further encompass White terrorism inescapably gets turned back on communities of colour, even if their intent is White terrorism at first.

JAN Trust works hard to not only combat extremism but also speak out against all forms of racism and empower marginalised minority communities. JAN Trust aims to protect society from extremist views by educating mothers and young women on the dangers of extremism online. Through social inclusion and empowerment of youth and women we are able to combat radicalisation, extremism and hate. For more information on our work visit our website and donate to support us.