David Sirota, writing for Salon.com, postulates that Americans should hope that the bomber responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings is a white domestic terrorist. Sirota avers that Americans treat white domestic terrorists in a different manner from other terrorists; they are never lumped together with other whites to form a group that should be targeted, because of what he calls “the dynamics of privilege.”
Sirota theorizes that “privilege” tends to determine
1) which groups are — and are not — collectively denigrated or targeted for the unlawful actions of individuals; and 2) how big and politically game-changing the overall reaction ends up being.
Likewise, in the context of terrorist attacks, such privilege means white non-Islamic terrorists are typically portrayed not as representative of whole groups or ideologies, but as “lone wolf” threats to be dealt with as isolated law enforcement matters. Meanwhile, non-white or developing-world terrorism suspects are often reflexively portrayed as representative of larger conspiracies, ideologies and religions that must be dealt with as systemic threats — the kind potentially requiring everything from law enforcement action to military operations to civil liberties legislation to foreign policy shifts.
He quotes Tim Wise, race-hustler extraordinaire, who once falsely accused his fellow Tulane alum Andrew Breitbart of being involved in the burning a cross on the lawn of Breitbart’s own fraternity, even though Breitbart was the lone black pledge’s sponsor at the frat. Wise’s take on Sirota’s thesis?
White privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Dublin. And if he’s an Italian-American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.
Sirota claims that the “double standards” applying to terrorists would
dictate what kind of governmental, political and societal response we see in the coming weeks. That means regardless of your particular party affiliation, if you care about everything from stopping war to reducing the defense budget to protecting civil liberties to passing immigration reform, you should hope the bomber was a white domestic terrorist. Why? Because only in that case will privilege work to prevent the Boston attack from potentially undermining progress on those other issues.
Sirota bemoans what he feels is excess focus on Muslims, asserting that “the moniker “War on Terrorism” has come to specifically mean “War on Islamic Terrorism.” He states that America has seen a consistent barrage of attacks from non-Islamic terrorists, but no systemic action has been taken against them.
If recent history is any guide, if the bomber ends up being a white anti-government extremist, white privilege will likely mean the attack is portrayed as just an isolated incident — one that has no bearing on any larger policy debates…It will probably be much different if the bomber ends up being a Muslim and/or a foreigner from the developing world…At that point, it’s easy to imagine conservatives citing Boston as a reason to block immigration reform, defense spending cuts and the Afghan War withdrawal and to further expand surveillance and other encroachments on civil liberties.
Identifying the brutal terrorists behind the murder of American citizens, of course, should not be about undermining supposed “white privilege.” It should be about stopping the threat of terrorism and saving lives.
But where David Sirota comes from, Timothy McVeigh, who was not a member of a known terrorist group, and Osama Bin Laden, the head of a worldwide terrorist umbrella organization with thousands of members and funding support from states including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, must be treated as representatives of equally threatening ideologies, even if it costs lives.