What would the reaction be if a Muslim was known to have plotted to assassinate the president of the United States? How could we even approximate of the level of outrage and hysteria that would follow if, God forbid, some lunatic from the Muslim fringe was indeed attempting to kill Obama?
Such a plot was revealed last week, but it wasn’t put together by a Muslim, which is why nobody knows about it. If plotter Cameron Stout was actually Kareem Salah the story would have headlined around the world. Instead, he’s a white guy from Missouri who made plans to shoot President Obama and solicited help from a former member of the so-called Aryan Nation. This is an American Christian separatist group and its link to Stout was revealed when federal charges against him were filed last Tuesday in Jefferson City.
You may not be too surprised to learn that the media is reluctant to call Stout a “Christian terrorist”. This, despite the fact that he told a federal informant, “If you had contact with the people that you say you had contact with, I could kill the president of the United States, and then we storm Washington, and then we take over the country that our forefathers created.”
The plot to assassinate the president was to be carried out during Obama’s next visit to Kansas City, claimed Stout. He wanted to contact an Aryan Nation leader through the informant in order to help him “to escape from Washington DC” after shooting the president. It is alleged that he told the informant, “Niggers shouldn’t be president” and researched wind speeds in Washington DC and the type of weapon he would need to carry out the assassination. Stout also allegedly drew diagrams of the capital for the informant, who gave them to law enforcement officers. His defence lawyer pointed out that his client contradicted himself by mentioning both Kansas City and Washington DC as the proposed assassination scene. In the context of this discussion, that’s irrelevant. The fact is that it is all too easy to imagine the hysteria fanned by the media if Stout was a Muslim.
Such under-reporting of terrorist plots and acts by non-Muslims may not even be done consciously; it could well be a Pavlovian conditioning of society to associate only Muslims with terrorism.
Compare the assassination plot with a recent political storm in Britain fuelled mainly by suspicion and baseless information. The so-called “Trojan horse” affair blew up a year ago and the Muslim community is still reeling from its damaging and destructive effects.
The allegation behind the affair was that “Islamic extremists” had tried to take over several schools in Birmingham to promote radical interpretations of Islam. This led to headlines such as “the Islamist plot”, “Islamic Militants confiscate Easter Eggs”, “Islamist conspiracy in Birmingham”, “What is the Muslim plot all about?” and “Islamists plot in schools”.
Politicians and commentators who never miss an opportunity to vilify the Muslim community were lining up to warn us all about “Muslim infiltration” and to press the need for “Muslims to accept British Values”. The latter, however, have never actually been defined apart from broad values held in common by most right-minded and decent people around the world, including Muslims.
Even so, Muslim communities across Britain were made to feel like the “enemy within”; a bunch of fifth columnists waiting to take over the country. A number of state and Muslim schools which had been held up previously as models of excellence, were downgraded to “special measures” after very aggressive, no-notice inspections. The feeling was that the grading was decided in advance and the inspectors had to find “evidence” to support them.
What did this lead to? A government enquiry into the affair has now concluded that there was no “Trojan horse” plot. Graham Stuart, Chair of the Parliamentary Education Committee, said: “One incident apart, no evidence of extremism or radicalisation was found by any of the inquiries in any of the schools involved. Neither was there any evidence of a sustained plot, nor of significant problems in other parts of the country.”
Reporting of the “Trojan horse” events followed a common and well-worn pattern of vilification of Muslims at large, reflecting the cultural normalisation of anti-Muslim bigotry. Under the British government’s current “counter-radicalisation”, “counter-subversion” and “counter-terrorism” agenda, denigrating Muslims has become a conditioned reflex action in British society.
Within the existing political climate the media and parts of the establishment can generate a political storm artificially and excoriate sections of society based on nothing more than the embellishment of unverified information which, it turns out, is largely fictional.
Such a condition, which in all likelihood is the best diagnosis of the current ailment of society, maintains the necessary illusion that in the “fight against terrorism”, even though “not all Muslims are terrorists, all terrorist are Muslims“. The statistics, though, show overwhelmingly that those who have committed terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe aren’t Muslims at all.
As Europol, the European Union’s law-enforcement agency, noted in a report last year, the vast majority of terror attacks in Europe were perpetrated by separatist groups, such as France’s FLNC, which advocates an independent nation for the island of Corsica. In December 2013, FLNC terrorists carried out simultaneous rocket attacks against police stations in two French cities. In Greece in late 2013, the left-wing Militant Popular Revolutionary Forces shot and killed two members of the right-wing political party Golden Dawn. Across the Mediterranean in Italy, meanwhile, the anarchist group FAI engaged in numerous terror attacks, including the sending of a bomb to a journalist. The list goes on.
The “terrorist” label is an easy way to discredit individuals and groups who may have genuine causes and campaigns for justice. The most obvious at the moment is the legitimate Palestinian struggle to end Israel’s brutal military occupation of their land. The vilification of Palestinians is a classic example of the way that politicians and the media, often with neo-conservative, pro-Israel agendas of their own, can dictate the narrative within which such causes are discussed and perceived by the general public.
Violent extremism is a genuine concern for everyone, Muslims included, but the manner in which it is being tackled by governments, especially through the flawed radicalisation model that generates suspicion against Muslims, their organisations and political activities, hinder rather than help the process. If Cameron Stout was Kareem Salah we would all know about the plot to murder Barack Obama. It’s time for politicians and the media to be more balanced and honest in how such incidents are recorded and reported.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.