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Homegrown Terrorism: The Truth We Don’t Know

Since September 11, 2001, when many Americans hear the word ‘terrorism’, or when they think of a ‘terrorist attack’, they think of an act perpetrated by a foreign entity. The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center were perpetrated by 19 foreign-born Arab hijackers recruited by Al-Qaeda, leading some Americans to equate all attacks to Islam, leading to Islamophobia, or a fear of Islam, and a fear of foreigners in general.

“It is important to go back to the definition of terrorism,” said Edina Lekovic, the Director of Policy and Programming at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, “so that Americans know the United States is talking about all forms of politically-motivated violence that take civilian lives, instead of misunderstanding what terrorism is about.”

In fact, every lethal terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, whether in Fort Hood or Boston or San Bernardino, has been conducted by American citizens or legal permanent residents.

“Terrorism has to have three vital components,” said Erroll Southers, USC’s Director of Homegrown Violent Extremism and Director of International Programs. “It has to have a threat or an act of violence, some legitimizing ideology it’s attached to, and have a civilian, most likely a victim, that’s going to be some political driver to it.”

Media play a huge role in the misconception some Americans have that all terrorism is linked to Muslim perpetrators.

“Today, when there’s an act of violence, if [the media] don’t mention that the person who perpetrated it is Muslim, I know he’s not and that is a code,” Southers said. “It becomes a driver for what the public hears and perceives, and they pick up on that.”

“The media give us ways of thinking about things,” Lekovik said. “When we only get one piece of the overall picture, and that picture is exclusively through the lens of bad news, then we have a fundamental misunderstanding of who a group of people are.”

Last year, 52 people were killed in acts of domestic terrorism, Southers said. An equal number of those 52 were killed by white supremacists as were by Muslims, yet the majority of law enforcement officers’ efforts seem to be against Muslims.

The Department of Homeland Security started the campaign, “See Something, Say Something,” to raise public awareness of the indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, as well as the importance of reporting suspicious activity to state and local law enforcement, but Southers argued the campaign is skewed too strongly against foreign threats.

“The government needs to “see something, say something” on all things,” he said, “and that’s not being done equitably. The best approach to handle this is through real community engagement. Communities have to own, and direct, and drive and sustain efforts, so violence doesn’t happen.”

“It’s powerful to model for the public, a way to engage with Muslims, that says ‘we stand together’ in solidarity,” Lekovic said.

She pointed to Los Angeles’ Mayor Garcetti’s 2016 visit to the Islamic Center of Southern California, where he participated in the weekly prayer, and shared a message of unity and support for Muslim-Americans living in Los Angeles.

“Those messages are very powerful, and need to get out to Angelinos and Americans at times like this, when we feel uncertain,” Lekovic said. “When we feel uncertain, we feel fear. When we feel fear, our brains turn off and our hearts turn on and we don’t always make the best decisions in those circumstances.”

Moderator: Alexi Chidbachian

Anchor: Scott Sanders

Producer: Gabrielle Ortega

Social Media Editor: Danielle Pendleton

Reporters: Sophie Ashley, Alexi Chidbachian, Gabrielle Ortega, Danielle Pendleton, Scott Sanders, Joshua Spidel

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