It is easy for the public and the media to forget that terrorism is not a new word. Terrorism is not even a word directly related to religion (though acts of terrorism are often motivated by religion).
Five men in Ohio were recently charged for conspiring to blow up a bridge linking two wealthy Cleveland suburbs. They have been described as anarchists and claim to be part of the international Occupy movement against inequality (though speakers for the movement do not support their actions). The event is, however, undoubtedly politically motivated, and certainly an act of terrorism.
How then should this story be reported? Risa Brooks of CNN has already noted in an opinion piece that “homegrown terror isn’t just Islamist”. Brooks writes:
Since 9/11 the country has been concerned primarily with terrorist threats from militants inspired by a violent jihadist ideology, like that associated with al Qaeda. In recent years fears have focused on Muslim “homegrown” terrorism, which typically involves plots in the United States initiated by American residents and citizens who are inspired by jihadi ideology, but lack formal connections to al Qaeda or foreign militant organizations.
Muslim homegrown terrorists may draw the attention of a nation still traumatized by 9/11, but such plots are no more numerous or serious than those perpetrated by other domestic terrorists in the United States. As the country’s history and Monday’s arrests underscore, extremism comes in many incarnations. Focusing only on terrorism perpetrated by American Muslims misrepresents the scope and nature of domestic terrorism in the United States. It risks leaving us vulnerable to attacks from other sorts of violent idealogues and promotes a hurtful—and pointless—tension between Muslim-Americans and other Americans.
The public’s perception of terrorism and what that encompasses is defined by how it is represented in the media. Journalists need to remember that terrorism comes in many forms. As Brooks notes, ignoring this could pose a dire threat. With continued work, the word terrorism could lose its anti-Islam connotations.
There is another issue this story raises, that should be pursued by journalists. Though the Occupy movement has been quick to disassociate themselves from the five men, it is evidence that some are hungry for change. Journalists should follow this to fulfill their roles as the voice of the people and watchdogs of the government. With the US election drawing closer, the Occupy movement needs to be investigated closely – particularly to ensure this act of political terrorism was an isolated event.