Columns, Opinion

Canceled: Concepts of terrorism

Following the riots that took place at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, citizens and media sources alike have been discussing the importance of labeling the attack an act of terrorism. Given the tendency of the U.S. criminal justice system and the media to forgive white people who have committed crimes while penalizing people of color — specifically Black Americans — for simply existing, it is important to point out the inherent racism and corruption within these institutions.

Bini Ollivier-Yamin

In pointing out the inherent corruption of these institutions, it is also important to critique the very concept of “terrorism” and how it has routinely been utilized to justify oppression, everyday violence and government sanctioned violence.

The word “terrorist” has a racialized past. By racialized, I mean that word, along with the concept of terrorism, is used to needlessly perpetuate harm against certain racial and religious groups, such as Arab and Black Muslims.

Yet, the majority of terrorist attacks in the United States are not caused by Muslims, who were only responsible for 12 percent of all terrorist attacks from 2011 to 2015, according to a study analyzing the Global Terrorism Database. 

Another report found since 2011, right-wing extremists have been the ones responsible for 73 percent of terrorist incidents with casualties, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

The racialized threat of terrorism has allowed the government to expand its surveillance measures against Muslim and Black communities.

For instance, the Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring Black Lives Matter activists since August 2014, according to a report from The Intercept. And during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Customs and Border Patrol data showed the DHS had utilized helicopters and drones to surveil the protests.

In 2012, it was revealed the New York Police Department had created a Demographic Unit dedicated to surveil Muslim communities, including children, without reason. Its efforts were entirely useless — this NYPD surveillance program did not prevent a single act of terrorism.

Moreover, the threat of terrorism by undocumented immigrants has been used to justify xenophobia and the horrific acts committed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE was founded in the wake of 9/11 as a counter-terrorism agency and was only later focused fully on immigration enforcement under the guise of protecting national security.

This expansion of government surveillance measures has impacted all Americans — not only Muslim Americans. The Patriot Act — signed as a response to 9/11 — was one of the largest invasions of civil liberties in recent memory. It allowed the government to spy on millions of Americans under the guise of counter-terrorism.

The threat of terrorism is also used to legitimize other kinds of government oppression and law enforcement. While discussing the need to abolish the Boston University Police Department, one person told me the threat of terrorist attacks warrants the existence of campus police.

In our typical, American concept of “law and order,” terrorism and violence is curtailed by the police force.

But what happens to this paradigm once the police force performs blatant acts of terrorism? Remember that right-wing extremists have been responsible for 73 percent of deadly terrorist incidents?

These same extremists — white supremacists and anti-government militia groups — have had “active links” to cops for decades, which has been confirmed by internal FBI policy documents. Furthermore, many news outlets have reported that off-duty cops participated in the rioting at the Capitol.

Recently, BU President Robert Brown wrote in an email that due to the rising threat of riots — in reference to the national riots two weeks prior and the presidential inauguration — the University would be increasing BUPD’s presence on campus.

BUPD cops have been seen wearing Blue Lives Matter flags— a pro-police symbol — which were prominently flown at the Capitol and are routinely associated with white supremacists.

If law enforcement has been repeatedly linked to the Capitol riots, how is their increased presence meant to protect anyone?

The police constantly monitoring innocent Muslim people simply because of their religion.

On duty police officers terrorizing Black communities.

Off duty police officers storming the Capitol.

Judges incarcerating mothers and ripping their children away from them.

What is the difference between them and the “terrorists” the government targets? Are all of these non-violent and politically motivated acts against the general public?

What I mean to say is this: it’s important the crowd of mangy white supremacists who broke into the Capitol a few weeks ago are labeled as terrorists. But do the same for the cops letting them into the building and posing for selfies, the cops participating in the insurrection and the cops who engage in acts of terrrorism on the daily.

Yet, here we are, with the FBI still debating on whether to charge these terrorists or not.


  1. AH, here we go, seeking to alter the narrative and the thinking into putting conservatives right at the top of the terrorism list.
    I suggest you go back and do your homework better young lady. A 4 year span of data hardly reflects reality.
    And yes, here we are, there is still a Constitution, and ALL persons in this country still have rights, at least for now. The FBI knows this and is required to follow all legal protocols in their investigation.
    Once you get out of the indoctrination center, i.e.; school, and go out into the real world and have to find a real job (unless you opt to become on of the ‘unwilling to work’), you will find this little fantasy of yours here is hardly apropos for the real world.

  2. You really must love hating yourself, don’t ya?
    No one group of people has been conditioned into self loathing more than whites.
    Tell me, why is it that THESE people at the Capitol in Jan are “terrorists”, but the environmental rioters who broke into the SAME Capitol building and Nancy Pelosi’s office in 2018 are perfectly fine??
    Answer that. I dare you

  3. In response to some of these scalding comments and in defense of this writer, I’d like to first of all 100% agree that our vernacular around the word “terrorist” is severely biased towards people of color, especially Muslims. Calling Bini a “young lady” is extremely condescending, and I hope that you can take her words into account without considering her gender or age; she is the same as you, taking in the world around her every day and forming her own opinion about it. I’d also like to say that the riots at the Capitol this January 6th resulted in 5 deaths, a heavy difference from any other protests that go on in Washington DC. It was the first time ever that the Confederate flag has ever made it to our capital, something that Confederates never got close to in the Civil War. These people were terrorists in every sense of the word.