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The Double Standard on Terrorism Justifications

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tags: terrorism



Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at New York University. He is the author of "Campus Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know."

Suppose I wrote a column claiming that we can never stop worldwide Islamic terrorism until we address its underlying roots: the crisis in Syria and the lack of opportunity for young Muslims in many parts of the West. Many fellow liberals would nod approvingly, taking their cue from President Obama. “We do have to address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances,” Obama told a summit on “Countering Violent Extremism” last year.

But now suppose I wrote that we won’t halt domestic white terrorism in the United States — like last year’s attacks at an African-American church in Charleston and at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs — unless we look at the growing social and economic problems of white working-class Americans. Somehow, I don’t think I’d get the same positive reception.

That speaks to liberals’ double standard for terrorists. We view Muslims who kill innocents as products of a toxic environment, which helps explain their poisonous acts. But we’re less likely to account for white terrorism in that fashion because, well, whites are more privileged.

Never mind that suicides and drug overdoses among middle-aged white Americans have been climbing since 1999, with the least educated whites suffering the biggest increases. Meanwhile, the hourly wages of male white high school graduates have declined steadily since the 1970s.

These are the people who have fueled Donald Trump’s march towards the Republican presidential nomination. They feel that America has failed them, and they’re not wrong about that.

But they’re wrong when they blame minorities — or immigrants, or Jews, or abortion providers — for our national woes. A small number of whites have acted on these hatreds to murder others. As in the case of Muslim terrorists, it’s entirely legitimate — indeed, it’s necessary — to examine the socio-economic circumstances that gave rise to their murderous behavior. ...

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