Can’t we be “disturbed” like everyone else?

Last week’s shooting at Fort Hood was horrific.  Army Specialist Ivan Lopez murdered 3, wounded 16, and then he turned the gun on himself after being confronted by a military officer.  But this was not just any American mass shooting.  This was a shooting a military base.  And it was not just any military base.  This was Fort Hood.

Almost immediately, the story started to be less about what Lopez did at Fort Hood and more about what happened there almost five years ago, when, in November 2009, US Army major and psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan murdered 13 people and wounded 30 more before he was shot and taken into custody.  Hasan has been convicted, sentenced to death, and he is currently awaiting execution.

Shortly after the shooting, news outlets started informing us that Lopez’s crime was “not terrorism.”  It was quite an extraordinary conclusion.  It only took journalists a few hours to report this to us.  They could not have had much information at that time.  Lopez’s background had not yet been investigated.  Nevertheless, reports started emerging that Lopez had mental health problems, that he was “delusional,” that he was “deranged,” and that he was “disturbed.”

What could journalists have known at such an early point time to start reporting such things?  Nothing.  Well, nothing except the shooter’s description.  They knew enough.

See, we Arabs hear things on the news with different ears than everyone else.  When the media declares an act of violence “not terrorism,” we hear “not Arabs and Muslims.”  And as it turns out, we are always right.  Reporters knew that Lopez was not one of us, so they felt quite comfortable absolving him of any ties to terrorism.

They were able to come to the same swift conclusion about the Navy Yard shooting in September 2013 (12 dead), and the Newtown shooting in December 2012 (20 dead), and the Aurora theater shooting in July 2012 (12 dead), and the Gabby Giffords shooting in January 2011 (6 dead), and the Oikos University shooting in April 2012 (7 dead), and the Binghamton shooting in April 2009 (13 dead), and the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007 (32 dead).

Our media quickly diagnosed these murderers, just like they did Lopez.  They were found to be unbalanced, unhinged, and unstable.  On the other hand, we can all remember the Boston Marathon bombings of one year ago.  When it became clear that those criminals were Chechen Muslims, we received a very hasty (and very awful) lesson from all the news channels on Chechnya and its Muslim “insurgence.”  These Tsarnaev borthers were not “disturbed.” No.  They were calculating.  They had an agenda.  They did what they did because of who they are, where they’re from, and how they worship.  CNN sent reporters around America and all the way to Chechnya to speak with their relatives to get a more “in-depth” look at these killers.  I don’t remember seeing any exclusive CNN interviews with the relatives of Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, or James Holmes.

Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood in November 2009.  His name was quickly released to the media, and while reporters may not have immediately declared him to be a terrorist, they didn’t immediately clear him of it either.  And that’s the issue.  When a non-Arab/Muslim commits a mass shooting, he is “troubled.”  When one of us does it, the media digs, looking for (and perhaps hoping for) any links to those radical Muslims.

But I must admit, whenever I hear reporters declare that a mass shooting is “not terrorism,” I enjoy a little sigh of relief, knowing that I have been told, in not so many words, that it wasn’t one of us.

However, after these terrible incidents perpetrated by people to whom I have no cultural affiliation, my fellow Arabs and Muslims always take to social media, posting a picture of the assailant, telling us all, “What if he were Arab? What if he were Muslim? Wouldn’t he be a terrorist?  Shouldn’t we call him a terrorist too?”

No!  I don’t want everyone to call them terrorists.  I just want them to call us “disturbed.”


About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. Funny how time changes everything. 100 years ago, Arabs (and other immigrants of color) were trying to get classified as “white.” Today, the goal is getting labeled merely “disturbed.”

  2. We had this bad irony in Norway with Breivik (google him, but shortly he killed 74 kids on an island) Also known as the norwegian 11sept. One night when no-one knew who the terrorist was, everyone was thinking it was a “islamist”, and immigrantsand people who might look like muslim dragged out of busses beaten and ect. Media went wild of course, this was the 11sept we all had been waiting for.
    The day after the killer showed himself to be a facist extremist… but of corse… now he was no longer a terrorist, only “mentally disturbed”. (Used one year in court to reluctantly deciede that this guy was mentally healthy enough for prison).

    After this incident the society went
    further right and statistics shows that people have more prejuces againts muslim citizents now more than ever before. The language in media also become more harshly (research show) Thats the ugly irony. And and I am agree with you. The same pattern you can see in european media as well.

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