Posted by on August 05, 2011 in Blog

By Ed Gaier
Ed Gaier is an Arab American Institute intern working at TSD Communications.


In the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks committed by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stotleberg has responded by advocating more dialogue and political participation in Norway. Stotleberg’s refusal to abandon values and encouragement of “more democracy, more openness” is courageous and thoughtful. Sacrificing democratic values for discriminatory policies in hopes of more security is not only a betrayal of principles, but also bad policy.

It is disappointing that a call for more democracy does not have a larger voice in American political discourse. Instead, support of internment camps casually enter into the debate and outrageously misinformed claims that “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim” continue today. Sticking to our principles and relying on more nuanced policies would have been better deterrents against terrorism than engaging in two wars, which resulted in more American deaths, drastically increased our spending, and carried little certainty in preventing future attacks.

However, a comparison to the recent attacks and response in Norway is misleading; we should question whether or not Norway would double down on democracy if this terror attack was committed by a first or second generation Arab or Muslim. It is difficult to imagine. Should the terrorist attack been committed by an Arab or Muslim, the likely response would have been a bolstering of the right-wing in Norway and the lambasting of the prime minister for being “soft” on terrorism. Instead, the Labor party receives significant backing; the PM has now enjoys a 94% approval rating. I give the PM the benefit of the doubt that his commitment to preserving democracy in Norway is sincere and that this policy is a reflection of his intentions. However, I question his ability to have taken that stance had Breivik not been a white right-wing Christian.

Norway is not the only one with a double-standard. The United States has experienced a number of domestic terror attacks carried out by non-Arabs and non-Muslims. Examples include the Oklahoma City bombing committed by Timothy McVeigh, and the shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum committed by a white supremacist just two years ago. Around the time of the latter, a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center indicated that right-wing militias were on the rise and a threat to national security. Our response was a trivial debate on how these militias, a growing domestic threat in the United States, should be labeled.

While the failed attempt by the ‘Times Square Bomber’ remains in the public’s memory and continues to saturate recent Republican debates, our response was not to question whether or not he was truly Muslim. Instead, we continued to construct an imagined threat of Arabs and Islam while reneging on our country’s unique commitment to civil liberties.

Both the US and Norway have double-standards in response to terrorism, and are stalled on a paradigm that focuses on ‘the other’ as an exogenous threat while neglecting existing non-Arab and non-Muslim threats. Neither recognizes that almost all politically motivated attacks, regardless of demographic or citizenship status, have been committed by individuals on the fringe of the political spectrum and represent the outliers of society. We should respond consistently to attacks regardless of ethnic or religious background by sticking to our traditions and democratic values that make us exceptional. How long we wait is up to us.

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