I call Anders Breivik, who killed 8 people with a bomb in Oslo and shot dead 69 others in Utoya, a terrorist. I also call Jihadi John, the ISIS fighter famous for beheading journalists, a terrorist. One is a Christian, the other is a Muslim. It’s the ideological nature of their crimes that makes me think of them as terrorists. Not their skin color, nor their faith, nor their nationality.
I have often had trouble with the label, because I know someone’s terrorist can be someone else’s freedom fighter, or that not everyone who is tried under an anti-terror law has actually committed a terrorizing crime. I am also aware that the line between the psychologically disturbed and the ideological fanatic is sometimes blurry. But Andreas Lubitz’s decision to crash the Germanwings flight that took 150 lives (including his own) is not one that made me hesitate.
Earlier this week, I was told I had to. Zak Cheney-Rice from IdentitiesMic published an article claiming that Everyone’s Trying Really Hard Not o Call the Germanwings Co-pilot a Terrorist. I have seen it shared at least three times on my facebook feed, and it has been widely liked, but barely refuted. The main point is that white and Muslim killers are presented differently in the media, which is sadly true. But I couldn’t get over the headline, nor the first sentence stating that “white people can’t be terrorists. We’ve been told this for years.” Because as much as I sometimes have trouble with the “terrorist” tag, I also have trouble with the use of the “white” label to refer to everything linked to oppression. There are white Muslims too, white minorities that are vilified for reasons unrelated to skin color, and of course, white terrorists. Generalizing while advocating against discriminating biases doesn’t go down well.
At this point, I would not call Lubitz a terrorist, and I’m not trying really hard not to. In fact it’s quite easy, because there is so far no evidence to do so. He crashed a plane with 149 other passengers, he terrorized them for 8 minutes during the descent, and he shocked the world with his crime. But everything we have read about so far tells us he did it out of some deep psychological trouble, not a will to make a political statement. Telling me I’m trying hard to avoid the terrorist label implies either that there is some evidence that I am ignoring or that I should actually be thinking about him as a terrorist, neither of which is right.
If Lubitz had been Muslim, everyone would have been quick to label him a potential terrorist, that is sadly true. Muslim suspects are judged quicker by the media than criminals from any other background, and there is often a double standard when it comes to the portrayal of minority suspects in the press.
Still, you can’t fight quick and unfair judgement of minorities with quick and unfair judgement of Lubitz. The mere suggestion that he could be a terrorist is misleading, even if it’s to raise awareness of the important issue of double standards. No one can fight discrimination by complaining about a fair and cautious treatment that we demand for ourselves.