I have been interested in the discussion over the past couple days about the terminology that gets placed on those who make dreadful headlines. NPR had some interesting takes on this and now The New York Times weighs in to with a news story.
The Las Vegas attack, for some Americans, typically those on the left, represented the terrorism of unchecked gun laws.
Classifying the Las Vegas attack as terrorism might mean classifying guns as national threats requiring a response. The right would see this as an attempt to tar all gun owners and conservatives.
Attacks like the one in New York, led by a man from Uzbekistan who shouted “Allahu akbar,” are seen by many on the right as stemming from the wider threat of uncontrolled Muslim immigration. If it is an act of terrorism, as Mayor Bill de Blasio and others have defined it, then the attacker cannot be dismissed as a disturbed loner.
More than 16 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, many Americans, particularly on the left, are questioning the readiness with which lone Muslims are defined as terrorists while lone non-Muslims are deemed “mass shooters.”
Even if the label fits in individual cases, they say, the inconsistency suggests a tendency to see Muslims as part of a hostile fifth column and white male killers as exceptions.
Because mass killings are such acute moments of public horror, this is not an area in which people can easily agree to disagree. The differing responses can seem to impose a hierarchy of victims, in which those killed by one sort of attacker are deemed to matter more than others, and a hierarchy of perpetrators, sorted by those seen as posing the greater threat.