From Charlottesville to Barcelona: Same hate, different narratives, implications


On August 12th a man drove his car into anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville, North Carolina, killing one person and injuring 36. On August 17 a man drove a van into people in Barcelona, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.

Both attacks are generally seen as “terrorism.” One message that unified the attacks came from Google CEO Sundar Pichai who described them both as terrorism in a letter. He used the term “extremism” and “senseless hatred” in his letter. He said that “our thoughts” are with the families. He mentioned the August 13th attack in Burkina Faso. He also said that terrorism is “designed to divide us.”

CNN also linked the attacks: “In light of the uproar of the last several days, five days apart you have a white supremacist use a vehicle to kill and here you have attackers at least following the modus operandi of terrorists, apparently using vehicles to kill as well, and those shared tactics should be alarming,” said Jim Sciutto.

The two ramming attacks come in the context of a large number of terrorist attacks involving vehicles. One list begins in 2006 at the University of North Carolina when Mohammed Taheri-Azar ran into students and was convicted of attempted murder. There were numerous attacks in Israel involving vehicles, including in 2008 and 2014. Then in Nice (France), Ohio State University, Berlin, London, Stockholm, London and London again,

From there the two events begin to diverge. What diverges especially is the mass narrative around them, especially how they are described in major media. In terms of the scale of the attack the Spanish terror was far larger. It began on Wednesday when a house blew up in Alcanar where one was killed. In addition to the thursday attack on Las Ramblas, a terrorist drove into two police officers, injuring them. Two suspects were arrested in Ripoll in Girona. On Friday five terrorists were killed while waving weapons and fake explosives after a second attack in Cambrils.

The ramming attacks in Spain (and the stabbing attack in Finland the next day and then in Russia the next day) tend to be seen in sterile and more clinical terms. First of all they lack a human element. Almost every major media outlet described the attack as a van “plowing” into a crowd in Barcelona. CBS said the van “crashed” and also wrote “barrels into” instead of “plowed.”

With Charlottesville the source of the attack is slightly less mechanical. First of all the context is clearly “white supremacist.” It is a “car attack” not as often a car “plowing.” It is also a “fatal attack.” However CNN initially called it a “car crash.” Al-Jazeera is most clear, in noting a “man rammed a car into.” They also noted the “driver of the van used to,” when discussing Barcelona. Other media seems more reticent to determine whether the driver was active, even when the same media label Charlottesville a hate crime. For instance Theverge notes that there is now a focus on online hate. Hate is obviously seen by most media as a motivated factor behind the Charlottesville attack.  However not all coverage seemed to pinpoint who was at fault. The Guardian claimed that “violent “clashes left one woman dead.”

Hate not part of Barcelona narrative

In Spain the result of the attack has not led to condemnation of “hate” that leads to such attacks or Islamist intolerance. Instead Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy noted: “Today the fight against terrorism is the principal priority for free and open societies like ours. It is a global threat and the response has to be global.” Spain’s palace said that the attackers were “assassins, simply criminals who will not terrorize us.” CBS termed attacks like that in Barcelona “extremist” attacks. “Cars, trucks and vans have been the weapon of choice in multiple extremist attacks in Europe in the last year.” The same CBS however has used the term “white nationalists” to describe marchers in Charlottesville. Similarly from some CNN reports one would not know what motivated the attacks, it is just the generalized “terror.” Although the channel has provided the names of the suspects. No attempt, for instance, has been made to look at Facebook or social media posts of the accused.

However the life and background of the accused in Charlottesville has been picked apart, with memories from teachers and friends (who recalled he was “into Hitler”) being printed. Although the biographies of the attackers in Spain have been disseminated, very little about their social media presence has been noted by major media. No one seems to have interviewed their friends and teachers to ask if they talked about “kill the kuffar” or used other religious supremacist, jihadist, salafist or hate speech terminology. In general the word “hate” is never used to describe Islamist terror, neither is “far right,” even though by definition religious “extremism” is a form of being far right.

Trump condemns one, equivocates on the other.

US President Donald Trump was widely critiqued for not condemning the violence in Charlottesville in the lead up to the attack. He then equivocated, after waiting to condemn it, and even seemed to indicate there were “fine people” among the right wing racist marchers. Trump condemned the attack in Barcelona soon after it happened. On August 18, a day after Barcelona, Trump tweeted that “radical Islamic terrorism must be stopped.” This is the opposite with his tweets or his public statements on Charlottesville. Although he memorialized the victim, he did not say that “radical white supremacism” must be defeated.

Waiting for ISIS to take responsibility

In the aftermath of Charlottesville people didn’t wait long to speculate that the attack was done by a white supremacist. In Barcelona social media was abuzz as well. The amorphous and bland word “terror” was most popular. However there was also a long waiting period by media for ISIS to “take responsibility.” The need for an organization to take responsibility before many in the media will begin to iron out what took place after far-right Islamist terror is part of an overall attempt to obfuscate about the inspiration for the attacks. Instead of looking at the hate-filled backgrounds of the suspects, most media waits for state authorities to make statements and for ISIS. This negates the responsibility of media to investigate independently and speak truth to power. There is also a tendency to downplay attacks that are not planned or directed by ISIS.

There is a whole cult in western media devoted to analyzing how and when ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack. Articles ask “what does it mean.” They also ponder “why did it take ISIS so long.” Why does the major societal narrative around Islamist terror require an organization to take responsibility but when it comes to white supremacist terror no one waits for anyone to “take responsibility.”

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Why isn’t Islamist terror considered “far right”

In the same context in the US the media asks about “terrorism of the far right” but never explains why religious terrorism carried out by Islamists is not part of the “far right.” Religious Christians are part of the “far right.” Vox writes about “radicalization of white Americans,” obviously a cheeky reference to discussion about “Muslim radicalization.” PBS says that the US sees “300 violent attacks inspired by far right” every year. Their terminology is interesting. “Despite the nation’s intense national focus on Islamic terrorism since 9/11, homegrown, right wing extremists have also killed dozens of Americans.” They go on to say the following:

“A 2015 survey of U.S. law enforcement groups found they consider anti-government violent extremists to be a more severe threat than radicalized Muslims. And while jihadist terrorists have killed 95 people in the U.S. since 9/11, far-right extremists have killed 68 during the same time.”

Why is “Jihadist terrorist” not part of the “far right” and why are “radicalized Muslims” different than “anti-government extremists.” Richard Stengel said that the Obama administration refused to refer to Islamist terrorism and purposely used the term “violent extremism.” He explained why: ” To defeat radical Islamic extremism, we needed our Islamic allies — the Jordanians, the Emiratis, the Egyptians, the Saudis — and they believed that term unfairly vilified a whole religion.”  Yet, the same logic doesn’t seem to apply to discussing “white supremacism.” No one says that the term “white” can’t be used because it might “unfairly vilify a whole race.”

In fact media has sought to depict most American terrorists as “white” and noted “most of America’s terrorists are white and not Muslim.” One writer at Huffington Post notes “Right-wing terror is real and it’s a problem.” But Islamist terror is right wing. Why does major media refuse to link Islamist politics to the far-right? Huffington Post runs articles headlined “Muslims are not terrorists,” but obviously not “whites are not terrorists.” On the political scale in Muslim countries, Islamist parties are parties of the right, they are not secular or communist, nor do they believe in left wing ideals. Even when they are “moderate” they are still far right or right wing. Their politics are those of Christian conservatives, they are are capitalist, religious, into family values, anti-abortion, for the death penalty and a bevy of other right wing values. So why are they left off the political scale? Nevertheless Mehdi Hasan writes “white far-right terrorists pose a clear danger to us all.” He doesn’t include white Islamists in that category, despite there being large numbers of them.

What “inspired” them?

In the US there is no question of the need to condemn and confront white supremacism. Under terms such as “fight supremacy” marches against racism have been held in the US. Although the politics of Antifa are sometimes controversial, there is begrudging respect for those who speak of “punching a Nazi” or “disrupting white supremacism.” However there is a diametric opposite approach when it comes to condemning the milieu of inspiration. The trend with white supremacism is to condemn it entirely, all manifestations of hate. There are not “white supremacist moderates.” However when it comes to Islamist terror, the trend is to define the perpetrator as narrowly as possible to make him just a “terrorist” or “extremist” and denude of any inspiration or motivation. This is because looking more closely at motivation will reveal hate, bigotry, far-right beliefs that are similar to the religious supremacy behind the Inquisition, Crusades and Salem Witch Trials, and hatred of “kuffar” that is similar to the Nazi use of the term “sub-human ” to dehumanize the other and excuse genocide. The Finnish terror suspect targeted women, but media doesn’t want to discuss far-right patriarchy among Islamists. Even what the murderers say is often quickly forgotten or not mentioned. The more they reference “god is great,” the less it is mentioned.

Many recent mass murder attacks included “selection” just as the Nazis did, in which certain people were spared. Sometimes these details get through. noted “witnesses say the gunmen told Muslims to leave and that only non-Muslims would be targeted at the Westgate mall that was hosting a children’s day event.” The same was true in Mumbai and Dhaka. This clear aspect of the religious nature of terror, the genocidal aspect that involves separation, and the purposeful targeting of specific groups by the far-right Islamist supremacists, such as Shia, Ahmadis, Sufis, HindusBuddhists, Jews, Christians, Yazidis, Kakei and an endless list of others, is part of the worldview, yet it is often ignored by mass media. “Insurgents” and “militants” are the names given, to hide the agenda behind the attacks, like pretending the KKK was just “terrorists” and not mentioning its worldview and inspiration.

A fear to confront

Governments and media want to see far-right Islamist hate crimes through the prism of just “terror” and the specificity of the perpetrator, rather than the wider circle of inspiration. In general society has a healthy response to white supremacist terror. It calls it what it is, it makes it a pariah and makes it so that any expressions of supremacism do not go unchallenged.

But when it comes to the same expressions of supremacism among the far-right religious extremist Islamists, then it is afraid to demand it be rooted out of society. It looks for “groups” to take responsibility and “terror cells” rather than wanting to see how people come to hate and the key words that define hate and slow othering of people that leads to terror. All “radicalization” begins mostly the same way. It begins with othering and hatred and a feeling that other people can be murdered for not being “one of us.” Instead of addressing that, politicians and media parrot statements like that made in Finland by the Interior Minister “Terrorists want to pit people against each other. We will not let this happen.” However the reality of Islamist terror in its own words has nothing to do with “pitting people against eachother” or “dividing society” anymore than the KKK or Nazis’ “real” aim was dividing society. In fact their goals are to murder people and commit genocide. If it was true that they just want to divide people then test this against countries where they came to power, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria or ISIS in Iraq and Syria. When ISIS members put out instruction manuals for rape and sold women numerous times and gang raped them, was this “dividing society”? When they murdered 1,500 Shia cadets at Camp Speicher were they “dividing.”

To pretend the goal is “dividing” society is as ridiculous as telling Jews in Auschwitz that the Nazis are just “dividing you from Germany, but you must be united with other Germans against Nazism,” as if that is the response to genocide. Holding hands and singing is not a response. Those protesting hate in America understand the response. Just talking about “extremism” and a “divided society” isn’t enough.





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