Following the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado last Friday that left 12 dead and 70 injured, conversations on the Internet have been surfacing about whether James Holmes would have been labeled a terrorist if he were an Arab or Muslim American. Holmes, a 24-year-old white male, is currently the shooting suspect responsible for the massacre.
|This Instagram infographic was shared by many users across various social media sites.|
One user responded, "sooooo true." This isn’t the first time a conversation about the topic has emerged.
The question of whether there's a double standard in the mainstream media when it comes to labeling non-Arab and non-American Muslims as terrorists is a long standing debate.
When a white gunman opened fire in Norway killing at least 80 people last year, he wasn't labeled a terrorist by the media, and rather than referring to the incident as an act of terrorism, it was labeled a massacre, as the Colorado shooting has been.
"There's been many cases involving white males who engage in terrorist acts, but for some reason they weren't called terrorist. But if an Arab or Muslim is involved that's exactly what they're perceived as," said Hussein Hachem, president of the Lebanese American Heritage Club Youth Leadership Committee.
The group he leads works hard to debunk the misconceptions surrounding Arab and Muslim Americans.
Rashid Baydoun, executive director of the Arab American Civil Rights League, says it's common for the media to portray Arab and American Muslims negatively, but now politicians and the film industry are picking up on it too.
"Now what happened in Colorado, that's a threat to our national security," Baydoun said. The Oklahoma City bombing, one of the nation's most infamous terrorist attacks was also carried out by a white male, although today Timothy McVeigh who claimed responsibility for it isn't commonly referred to as a terrorist.
When a man who was upset with the government, big business and the tax system drove a small plane into a Texas I.R.S building where nearly 200 employees of the agency were working, he was never labeled a terrorist by reporters, and the incident wasn't referred to as terrorism.
The man, Andrew Joseph Stack III, a white male, was a computer engineer and died in the Austin suicide attack. Questions about why the incident wasn't labeled terrorism, along with the Norway massacre created national debates.
Baydoun questioned how Arabs and American Muslims can have a fair jury trial when they're defendants in cases, because the negative portrayals of them in the media could affect the judgement of jury members.
"How can Arabs have a fair trial when the media continues to label and perpetuate negative stereotypes about them?" he asked.
He says honest and fair reporting will play a crucial role in helping change the image of Muslim and Arab Americans whose image has been smeared since the events of Sep. 11.