Racism is bad. Terrorism is bad. These two statements seem quite intuitive and intrinsically true. Yet, under careful scrutiny, they are quite contradictory.
What do you think of when you hear “terrorism”? Is it the pixelated, daunting images of the 9/11 attacks? Is it throngs of men clad in all black, with their eyes the only humanistic characteristic left to see? Either way, terrorism sparks fear, danger, and a sense of frustration. After all, why would people have a motive to kill and bomb the United States, and their own countries as well? Generally speaking, we view terrorism as a very real current threat.
Yet, the risk of being killed by a terrorist in America is 3.5 million. According to Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, Americans are more than 3.5 times more likely to die in an accident involving a bathtub than from terrorism. Hence is the question: why is America obsessed with painting terrorism as a constant threat?
Here is where the contradiction begins. The most common theory is that America portrays the Middle East as a terrorist threat to justify intervention. Following the concept of neo-Orientalism, the West homogenizes all of the Middle East as a racialized Other, a peril to democracy and liberalism. In this instance, a Muslim is a terrorist unless proven otherwise, and therefore deemed less human. Therefore, the United States, as a capitalist savior, can invade and expand its military without significant consequence. And what is the prize? American hegemony and…oil.
For example, in 2011, Hillary Clinton justified military intervention in Libya by saying that America would prevent the country from becoming ” a giant Somalia.” When applied to the Middle East, this discourse becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The main reason why terrorists become radicalized is to counter the supposed “evil” Western culture and supremacy. Thus, when the U.S. invades the Middle East in order to eradicate danger, it only allows more people to become exposed to and fall into ISIS propaganda.
Although it is true that terrorism is dangerous in general, it is crucial to recognize that the threat is often overblown by the government for hegemonic reasons. No matter what political party, whether it is Trump or Clinton, securitization rhetoric will be inevitable. Our responsibility is to distinguish between security threat and propaganda, and fight against the stereotypes that the government spreads about brown bodies and Middle Eastern countries.