The title and kicker for the physical edition of this article were accidentally changed from what was originally planned for publication and do not represent the work of the author.

By: Humza Khan

Stephan Paddock’s actions of firing into a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, carrying out the most devastating shooting in US history has traumatized the world.

In addition, the media’s refusal to dub Paddock as a terrorist has ignited an important debate regarding the definition of terrorism.   

My goal in writing this is to shed light on the debate surrounding the definition of terrorism and to suggest that there is a major problem of inconsistency in the labeling of individuals as terrorists.

Additionally, I aim to show the importance of debate in formulating a clear definition of what constitutes an act of terrorism and a terrorist.

If you Google the names Dylan Roof, Adam Lanza and now Stephan Paddock, and compare these with names with names like Omar Siddiqui Mateen, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Rizwan Farook, you will quickly realize that all of these men committed similar atrocious crimes intended at targeting and terrorizing the civilian population.

Where you will see an apparent difference, however, is how the media insisted on referring to Roof, Lanza and Paddock, and many others like them, as “lone wolves” or “shooters” while referring to the latter group of Muslims as “terrorists” and “jihadists”. This discrepancy has led me to question the definition of terrorism and to show the importance of labeling both groups of people the same.

Referring to the actions of Muslim men as “terroristic”, while simultaneously referring to same actions of westerners as “acts of pure evil” (as quoted by Donald Trump in the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas Attack) is highly problematic.

The statements largely made by the media and by governmental officials directly and wrongfully reinforce the “us versus them” dichotomy by wrongfully reserving only the actions of Muslims as terroristic.

I distinctively remember going to McDonald’s the day after the Las Vegas attack and looking at the front page of the Toronto Sun with the heading “Act of pure evil”.

The same evening, I came across the heading “Terrorist attack in Edmonton”, referring to the stabbing of a police constable by Somalian refugee, Abdulahi Hasan.

My goal is not to suggest that Omar Siddiqui Mateen and others alike are not terrorists, but rather to suggest that the similar actions of Paddock should also have earned him the title of a terrorist because failing to do so strengthens the “us versus them” dichotomy and clouds the definition of terrorism.

The statements largely made by the media and by governmental officials directly and wrongfully reinforce the “us versus them” dichotomy by wrongfully reserving only the actions of Muslims as terroristic.

What I find rather interesting about the Las Vegas case is that the State of Nevada under the sections 202.4415 and 202.4439 of the Nevada Revised Statutes explicitly define terrorism as and terrorist as the following:

Terrorism: “any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to:

(a) Cause great bodily harm or death to the general population; or

(b) Cause substantial destruction, contamination or impairment of…”

Terrorist: “A person who intentionally commits, causes, aids, furthers or conceals an act of terrorism or attempts to commit, cause, aid, further or conceal an act of terrorism”.

From a legal standpoint, it is quite evident that Paddock’s actions of firing 281 rounds in 30 seconds in a crowd of 22,000 civilians earn him the title of a terrorist.

More importantly, however, is that even if we chose to call Paddock a lone wolf it is imperative that we also label Omar Siddiqui and others alike with the same label to ensure legitimacy and consistency.

As a graduate from the Justice, Political Philosophy and Law program at McMaster, one of the more valuable things I learned in my program was to critically evaluate information and arguments instead of taking them at face value.

It is this message that I leave you in reading this, to evaluate and analyze complex information and arguments that you see before blindly accepting them.

As informed McMaster students, and the leaders of tomorrow, it is our duty and responsibility to ask hard questions and debate complex issues and only then come to conclusions.

I urge you to critique and evaluate my opinions above, to debate openly with other students, because it is only through such discourse we can come to understand the complexity of these problems and become more informed in our opinions.

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