CAIR Op-Ed: 10 Days After Nashville Bombing, Double-Standards Persist

By Nihad Awad & Huzaifa Shahbaz, CAIR National

Ten days have now passed since a suicide bomber named Anthony Quinn Walker destroyed a city block in downtown Nashville on Christmas Day.

Since then, the public has not heard much about the bombing from the media or learned much about the bomber from the government. We do know that Walker was a 63-year-old white male. He recently sold off a significant amount of real estate. And someone had reported him to the police for supposedly making explosives in his RV.

So far, we seem to know only one other thing for sure: Anthony Walker was not a Muslim. No doubt about that. In fact, many American Muslims knew this hours before law enforcement announced Walker’s identity. How did we know?

It’s simple. Over the past thirty years, our community has learned to quickly recognize the difference between how government officials and media outlets respond crimes committed by white men who are not Muslims versus crimes committed by Muslims and other minorities.

The first clue arose in the hours immediately after the bombing. The government did not label the incident a terrorist attack, nor did any media outlets report that the authorities were privately treating it as a terrorist attack. Yet we all know how our government would have reacted if the vehicle used to launch the attack had been registered under an Arabic name.

That fact alone, without any other information, would have likely led “unidentified law enforcement sources” to inform media outlets that the bombing was being investigated as an act of terrorism. In the wake of the Nashville bombing, law enforcement merely referred to the suicide bombing as an “intentional action,” which was both the understatement of the year and a glaring tell about who wasn’t responsible for the attack.

The next clue came when President Trump did not tweet about the incident. If Donald Trump had received any early indication that a Muslim or immigrant had perpetrated the bombing, the rest of us would have likely seen a tweet about the dangers of “radical Islamic terrorism,” and maybe even about a new phase in the “war on Christmas.”

The final give-away: government officials quickly emphasized that Nashville was safe. No need to fear co-conspirators or complicit family members. No need to visit the suspect’s church to learn how he was radicalized. No need to impose restrictions on the ability of white Christian men to travel in and out of Nashville.

Again, make no mistake: if a man with an Arabic name had blown himself up in downtown Nashville on Christmas Day, authorities and politicians would have labeled it an act of terrorism, speculated about the role religious extremism played in the attack, and hyped the potential for additional threats from Muslims at-large.

Yet law enforcement and government officials have so far refused to even describe the incident as an act of terrorism. Officials like Nashville Mayor John Cooper have gone to considerable lengths to explain why the incident doesn’t fit the definition of terrorism: “I think everybody, the U.S. Attorney, the FBI, has been very careful not to use the ‘T’-word here, because it’s not consistent with ‘T’-word actions.’”

As Nashville councilwoman Zulfat Suara correctly pointed out, “If it was a Muslim or Black man or an immigrant, I don’t think people would be bending backward trying to find ways to not call it what I think it is.”

Indeed. Had the attacker been a Muslim, government officials would have slapped the terrorism label on the attack without hesitation, and many members of the public would have gone further: calls to monitor mosques, expand the Muslim Ban and otherwise target American Muslims would have likely been widespread on the political right, perhaps even on the President’s Twitter feed.

None of that has happened in the ten days since the Nashville bombing, and by the way, none of it should have happened.

No one is responsible for Anthony Quinn Warner’s suicide bombing except for Anthony Quinn Warner. No racial group should become suspect, no religion should be blamed, and no one should have to apologize for, or condemn, what they had nothing to do with in the first place.

Yet, for years, American Muslims at-large have been presumed guilty until proven innocent when attacks of terrorism occur. Even when Muslim perpetrators turn out to be mentally ill people without any formal education, a history of un-Islamic personal behavior, and explicitly political grievances, Islam becomes the primary discourse.

To make matters worse, more than a billion Muslims are expected to condemn the actions of a single individual to prove that we do not harbor terrorist and violent sympathies. Even when Muslim leaders do condemn such acts of terrorism, prominent voices pretend that we never did so.

No one expects white Americans at-large to condemn the armed pro-Trump extremists who vandalized Black churches a few weeks ago, burning their Black Lives Matter banners. Nor have they been labeled terrorists.

Neither was Stephen Paddock, who murdered 60 people and wounded over 400 at a music festival in Las Vegas years ago without any identified motive. Rest assured, had Paddock had an Arabic name, his motive would not be considered a mystery all these years later.

The reality is that our nation has been far too understanding of, and nuanced about, mass violence perpetrated by white suspects, particularly white supremacists. According to the FBI’s 2019 Hate Crime Report, white Americans made up a majority, 52.5%, of hate crime offenders. And according to Homeland Security’s Threat Assessment report, white supremacists are the deadliest threat to the United States.

It is long past time for our government to stop overhyping the threat of terrorism perpetrated by Muslims, while underplaying the threat of terrorism posed by white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and other far-right individuals.

If, may God forbid, another terrorist attack like the Nashville bombing occurs, media outlets and government officials should treat the crime and the criminal the same, regardless of their background.

And no one should expect American Muslims to respond to such violence any differently than Americans of other backgrounds.

Nihad Awad is the National Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Huzaifa Shahbaz is the Research & Advocacy Coordinator of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

America’s largest Muslim civil rights organization.

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