If the slightest doubt remained that Western media defines “terrorism” solely as violence committed by people of specific ethnic groups and cultures, the reaction to the lorry attack in Nice, France, should have completely erased it.
On Thursday, July 14, the people of Nice were enjoying the promenade that stretches along the shores of the Mediterranean on the inner edge of the city’s crescent bay. At about 4:45 PM EST, during a parade for Bastille Day, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a white truck onto the boardwalk and drove for almost two miles through the crowd, eventually killing over 80 innocent people.
News media was quick to jump to the conclusion this was an act of Islamic terror on social media. Without any indication of the motives, identity, or allegiance of the driver, international and national news media:
Then, after his name- and only his name- was revealed:
- Called the attacker a “terrorist” once his name was revealed with no other information, at 6:29 PM
- “Terror attack” at 7:04 PM
- “Terror attack” again at 8:36 PM
Yet by 9:07 AM EST on July 15 at the latest, some 16 hours after the attack, it was apparent that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s motivations were unlikely to be related to religious fundamentalism. As The Telegraph reported:
Bouhlel is believed to come from a town close to Sousse called Msaken and has not travelled back to Tunisia in four years.
BFM TV reports that he was a divorced father-of-three who had become depressed following the breakdown of his marriage, reports Camilla Turner.
He was known to the police for assault with a weapon, domestic violence, threats and robbery but had no previous convictions for terrorism.
At 11:30 AM, The Huffington Post said that l’Expresse was citing sources saying that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s was apparently motivated by his anger and insecurity:
Another neighbor, also from Tunisia told L’Express: “On the Thursday night he was drinking with a colleague and they argued. His pal said ‘you’re worth nothing’ and he replied: ‘One day, you’ll hear about me.’”
By 3:23 PM, The Daily Mail was reporting that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was at the very least not an observant Muslim and instead that he fit the profile of an abusive, angry man:
The 31-year-old – who wreaked terror on the Nice seafront as he turned an evening celebrating Bastille Day into a night of terror in which he murdered 84 innocent people – drank alcohol, ate pork and took drugs.
He never prayed or attended a mosque, and hit his wife – with whom he had three children aged five, three and 18 months – and was in the process of getting a divorce.
It’s hardly the behavior of a radical religious extremist.
Further muddying the waters, no Islamic group had claimed responsibility for the attack on the 15th (ISIS released a vague statement calling Lahouaiej-Bouhlel a “soldier” on Saturday). There was no indication at all that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had any connection with any extremist groups, nor that he was in any way religious.
The BBC reported that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was a “terrorist without doubt linked to radical Islamism in one way or another.” However, as The Guardian pointed out, “Valls said that he “probably” had some a link to extremism, but admitted the investigation has no evidence at this point.”
But that lack of evidence hasn’t stopped multiple media outlets in the west from continuing to report the incident as a terror attack.
- The Daily News told readers at 2:08 PM that “Car-ramming tactic used in Nice terror attack simple to pull off”
- Mother Jones wrote at 2:10 PM that; “One day after a terrorist attack killed at least 84 people in Nice, France, French authorities announced that the man who carried out the attacks had never been suspected of terrorist sympathies.”
- The LA Times asked “How many terror attacks can France withstand?” at 2:26 PM
- A New York Times analysis posited that the “Attack in Nice, France, Represents Terrorism’s New Reality” at 5:19 PM and subsequently adjusted the headline to “Terror’s New Form: A Threat That Can Be Managed, but Not Erased” by 8:47 PM
All these reports came in after 2 PM EST, well after it had been established that the attacker was not religious and had no known ties to religious extremism; nor was there any evidence he was politically radicalized.
So what is a terror attack to today’s media? What can we gather from the reaction to the Nice attack and the labeling of the event in the absence of any verifiable evidence of extremist religious views?
By process of elimination, we can reasonably assume the media’s definition of “terror” does not mean a mass killing of innocent people on western shores; if it did, the media would have called the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and Aurora Colorado terrorism.
We can reasonably assume “terrorism” does not mean acts of violence taken out against the west for political reasons; if it did, the media would call Andrew Joseph Stack’s suicide attack on an IRS building in Austin, Texas, in 2010 an act of terror.
We can reasonably assume that violence done in the name of religious fundamentalism does not meet the standard for being defined “terror” by the media; if it did, the attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the name of Judaism would be called terrorism.
We can reasonably assume that violence done against people of a particular race or ethnicity does not meet the standard for being defined “terror” by the media; if it did, Dylann Roof and Micah Johnson would be called “terrorists” and not deranged gunmen or shooters.
No, the media definition of “terror” is quite clear: it means when an individual from the Global south with a Muslim name commits an act of violence against the West. As Jim Naureckas writes in FAIR:
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that… when the suspect is an Arab—Lahouaiej Bouhlel was a Tunisian immigrant—then allegations of terrorism require no evidence whatsoever.
That’s exactly right. That’s the rule. Religious extremism, even religious belief, political radicalism- they have nothing to do with it.
The action of “terror” is defined purely by the ethnicity of the actor.
Update: Even in a Times article dated July 17, the paper found it impossible to objectively look at the facts. In an article acknowledging the very facts we’ve just covered, the Times used language that was vague at best when describing Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s motivations:
The authorities in France are still trying to piece together what direct ties, if any, Mr. Lahouaiej Boulel had to the Islamic State.
Notice that even in an article that describes the total lack of evidence of extremism or ties to terror groups, the Times is incapable of objectively allowing that. The missing ties are only the “direct” ones, says the Times, implying that there were indirect ones.
This piece originally appeared on Eoin Higgins’s website.