Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: America’s all-around bigoted definition of ‘terrorism’

The saddest part of the San Bernardino mass shooting, as someone not directly impacted by the tragedy, was how indifferent I felt upon hearing that more than a dozen people were gunned down under California sunshine. As one of my college friends noted, it sometimes feels like such incidents have gone from “breaking news” to “daily dose.”

The California massacre came less than a week after a lunatic opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado the day after Thanksgiving, and, honestly, I need more than a few days before I can replenish my tolerance for mass “mourning” and futile debates about the Second Amendment, given my ambivalence toward both guns and gun control.

But since the San Bernardino shooting, I’ve learned that it was not just another day in America, not simply another expression of our country’s violent predilections. This was something different, something greater to fear, something worth super-gluing our borders and turning away women and children fleeing unimaginable persecution.

San Bernardino was “terrorism.” More specifically, it was Radical Islamic Jihadist Muslim-y Ramadanian Terrorism. Republican presidential candidates and their supporters are addicted to the idea that “we cannot defeat an enemy we are afraid to name,” and you can almost feel the high they get from being able to say “radical Islamic terrorism” for the twelfth time in five minutes.

It’s curious how those most insistent on making a distinction between terrorism and traditional violence are the same folks who have always opposed hate crimes legislation on the basis that crime is crime. It is obviously important to recognize the difference between someone being killed during an armed robbery and 14 people being slaughtered as part of a maniacal holy war.

Fueled by poisonous ideology, the latter aims to wound not only the immediate victim, but all of the victim’s kind: none of you are safe. The same is true when a transgender woman is tortured and executed because of her gender identity, when a bible study at a black church is interrupted by racially charged gunfire, when a gay man shoots up a Christian nonprofit and when a religious fanatic launches an assault on a women’s health clinic.

Conservatives who always claimed that minorities would be receiving “special rights” if these acts of domestic terrorism received stricter consideration than typical crimes, folks who were able to shrug off the Planned Parenthood murders as an unfortunate aberration, are now terrified, vengeful and demanding President Obama launch World War III in response to the San Bernardino killings.

While they use San Bernardino to Americanize the political climate of 1930s Germany, those who are crusading against “radical Islamic terrorism” shudder and scoff whenever the sources of this country’s most enduring crises are named with candor:

Rabid White Supremacy. Brutal Misogyny. Genocidal Homophobia and Transphobia. Heartless Xenophobia and all of the other bigotries that America’s Judeo-Christian tradition has facilitated. Perhaps the reason all these dangers persist is because conservatives (and liberals with shifting instincts) have always refused to accept that we cannot defeat an enemy we are afraid to name.