Islamist terror attacks often provoke loud, knee-jerk responses from politicians and the media alike. Yet when the attacker is not Muslim, they fall over themselves to downplay the situation. By Michael Thumann
Oh dear, Mr Trump. After the attack by an Islamist with a pick-up truck in Manhattan, he quickly came up with myriad suggestions for how to ban Muslims from entering the USA and otherwise make their lives more difficult. But after a gunman went on a rampage in Sutherland Springs, Texas, he recommended prayer.
Donald Trump has proven beyond doubt that he is a populist cynic. What else can we expect from such a man? If we look around, though, we may well notice that this brand of Trumpism is spreading. The U.S. President in fact represents a trend that has long since taken hold in Western societies: categorising attacks by Islamists and other terrorists according to a specific hierarchy.
We need only go behind the scenes at the editorial offices of German television stations or newspapers to get a glimpse of how matters stand. When the first reports of an attack run across the news tickers, some editors automatically start estimating the gravity of the situation according to an alarm hierarchy. They first ask two questions: was it an Islamist? Was it a refugee? If not, then the adrenaline level and the degree of alarm instantly drop. It might even happen that an attack already disappears from the news cycle the very next day.
Islamist assaults, by contrast, set blood to boiling: the first pages of the newspaper are freed up for the latest reports, the public broadcasters quickly schedule a prime-time news special on terrorism and so-called terrorism experts are given the floor. Politicians are then often invited to appear on talk shows to vent their outrage and call for all the useless measures that are by now well known. And as the public talk shows foster a climate not of edification but of contention, the participants gladly exchange verbal blows, in the process clarifying little to nothing. All that's left are pictures that engrave themselves in our memories.
We swallow all the stereotypes
"Violent Islamists" – how to recognise them? We all know that sinking feeling when a man with a long black beard and a large backpack or suitcase gets onto the Underground with us. And we breathe a sigh of relief as soon as he gets off again. We swallow all the stereotypes, chasing our own tails in the process.
It is in truth difficult to find a way to stop a fanatic from getting behind the wheel of a truck and ploughing into a crowd. Therefore, some people dodge the issue with re-directed activities meant to somehow compensate for their helplessness. Debates arise voicing the ritual call for Muslims to finally distance themselves from terrorism. The reason this appeal is so disturbing is that it implicitly insinuates that every Muslim is a potential terrorist, that his religion has a problem.