to Talk of Terror
How come a Muslim can be a terrorist in Europe but a
mere ‘attacker’ in south-west Asia?
By Robert Fisk
frightful and bloody hours of Friday night and
Saturday morning in Munich and Kabul – despite the
3,000 miles that separate the two cities – provided
a highly instructive lesson in the semantics of
horror and hypocrisy. I despair of that generic old
hate-word, “terror”. It long ago became the
punctuation mark and signature tune of every facile
politician, policeman, journalist and think tank
crank in the world.
terror, terror, terror, terror. Or terrorist,
terrorist, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist.
time to time, we trip up on this killer cliché, just
as we did at the weekend. Here’s how it went. When
first we heard that three armed men had gone on a
“shooting spree” in Munich, the German cops and the
lads and lassies of the BBC, CNN and Fox News
fingered the “terror” lever. The Munich
constabulary, we were informed, feared this was a
“terrorist act”. The local police, the BBC told us,
were engaged in an “anti-terror manhunt”.
And we knew
what that meant: the three men were believed to be
Muslims and therefore “terrorists”, and thus
suspected of being members of (or at least inspired
turned out that the three men were in fact only one
man – a man who was obsessed with mass killing. He
was born in Germany (albeit partly Iranian in
origin). And all of a sudden, in every British media
and on CNN, the “anti-terror manhunt” became a hunt
for a lone “shooter”.
newspaper used the word “shooter” 14 times in a few
paragraphs. Somehow, “shooter” doesn’t sound as
dangerous as “terrorist”, though the effect of his
actions was most assuredly the same. “Shooter” is a
code word. It meant: this particular mass killer is
not a Muslim.
Kabul, where Isis – yes, the real horrific Sunni
Muslim Isis of fearful legend – sent suicide bombers
into thousands of Shia Muslims who were protesting
on Saturday morning at what appears to have been a
pretty routine bit of official discrimination.
government had declined to route a new power line
through the minority Hazara (Shia) district of the
country – a smaller electric cable connection had
failed to satisfy the crowds – and had warned the
Shia men and women to cancel their protest. The
crowds, many of them middle-class young men and
women from the capital, ignored this ominous warning
and turned up near the presidential palace to pitch
tents upon which they had written in Dari “justice
and light” and “death to discrimination”.
came to them instead, in the form of two Isis men –
one of them apparently pushing an ice-cream cart –
whose explosives literally blew apart 80 of the Shia
Muslims and wounded at another 260.
In a city
in which elements of the Afghan government are
sometimes called the Taliban government, and in
which an Afghan version of the Sunni Muslim Islamic
State is popularly supposed to reside like a
bacillus within those same factions, it wasn’t long
before the activists who organised the demonstration
began to suspect that the authorities themselves
were behind the massacre. Of course, we in the West
did not hear this version of events. Reports from
Kabul concentrated instead on those who denied or
claimed the atrocity. The horrid Islamist Taliban
denied it. The horrid Islamist Isis said they did
it. And thus all reports centred on the Isis claim
Not a single report, not one newscast, referred to
the Kabul slaughter as an act of “terror”. The
Afghan government did. But we did not. We referred
to the “suicide bombers” and the “attackers” in much
the same way that we referred to the “shooter” in
Now this is
very odd. How come a Muslim can be a terrorist in
Europe but a mere “attacker” in south-west Asia?
Because in Kabul the killers were not attacking
Westerners? Or because they were attacking their
fellow Muslims, albeit of the Shia Muslim variety?
both answers are correct. I can find no other reason
for this weird semantic game. For just as the
terrorist identity faded away in Munich the moment
Ali Sonboly turned out to have more interest in the
Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik than the
Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of Mosul, so the real
Isis murderers in Kabul completely avoided the
stigma of being called terrorists in any shape or
nonsensical nomenclature is going to be further
warped – be sure of this – as more and more of the
European victims of the attacks in EU nations turn
out to be Muslims themselves. The large number of
Muslims killed by Isis in Nice was noticed, but
scarcely headlined. The four young Turks shot down
by Ali Sonboly were subsumed into the story as an
almost routine part of what is now, alas, the
routine of mass killing in Europe as well as in the
Middle East and Afghanistan.
identity of Muslims in Europe is therefore fudged if
they are victims but of vital political importance
if they are killers. But in Kabul, where both
victims and murderers were Muslim, their mutual
crisis of religious identity is of no interest in
the West; the bloodbath is described in anaemic
terms. The two attackers “attacked” and the
“attacked” were left with 80 dead – more like a
football match than a war of terror.
comes down to the same thing in the end. If Muslims
attack us, they are terrorists. If non-Muslims
attack us, they are shooters. If Muslims attack
other Muslims, they are attackers.
this paragraph and keep it beside you when the
killers next let loose – and you’ll be able to work
out who the bad guys are before the cops tell you.