Ever since 9/11, the western media have represented non-white Muslim terrorists different from white non-Muslim terrorists. The tragedies of 9/11 changed people’s view of terrorism. The word was mainly associated with brown skin people, long beards, and loud voices. However, this image is completely inaccurate and does not represent the real numbers. Still, this misrepresentation by the media and Islamophobia are present in today’s news reporting on terrorism.

Terrorist attacks are unfortunately not something from the past. Everyday people lose their lives to violence and terror inflicted by those intending to harm and destabilize society. Most recently, New Zealand and the Netherlands had to take a big hit.

When a terrorist attack happens, news outlets worldwide cover the live events and update on the latests developments. But, every news outlet has a different way of reporting on the same event.

If a white non-Muslim gunman commits an act of terror by inflicting violence on random innocent people, he is a shooter, or ‘lone wolf’. But when a non-white Muslim gunman does the same, he is a terrorist. Experts blame this on Islamophobia and the rise of white nationalism, and we see this happening more often.

Terrorism and the Islam

What I’m talking about are the sad events that happened in Oslo and Utøya, Norway, and Paris, France. During the first attack in Norway, white non-Muslim gunman Anders Breivik killed innocent people in 2 different locations in Norway during a coordinated terror attack. 4 years later in Paris, 7 terrorists attacked several places in the city during a similar coordinated attack.

For too long, terrorism has been associated with the Islam. It was considered a ‘Muslim problem’, that did not occur among white communities. But is that true?

Terrorists from white communities are not something new. Instead, the media has just not been reporting honestly about it. It was always pushed away as ‘shootings’ by ‘lone wolves’ or ‘psychotic people’.

Norway 2011

Think about it. In 2011 Breivik kills 76 people in a bombing and a massacre in a youth camp. He planned these attacks way in advance and had everything thought out. The world followed the events closely on social media. How did the news report on this?

Heading of the Daily Mirror, July 28, 2011.
Heading of The Washington Post, February 21, 2012.
The heading of BBC News, August 27, 2012

These headings illustrate how western media portrays white terrorists. In this case, they use the words ‘lone-wolf sociopath’, ‘mass murderer’, and ‘killer’ to describe what Breivik is. But, Breivik is nothing but a terrorist,who killed dozens of people including children as young as the age of 14.

France, 2015

Now let’s have a look at the Paris attacks in 2015. During these horrible events in November 2015, 137 people lost their lives during a coordinated mass terrorist attack. This instantly became world news and people all over the world were watching what was unfolding in Paris.

The news outlets reported on the events, all using a similar syntax. Have a look at the headings below.

The heading of the Daily Mirror, November 15th, 2015.
The heading of the New York Times, November 14th, 2015
The heading of Consequence of Sound, November 13th, 2015

Here, it clearly shows that there was no doubt: the killers were ISIS terrorists. “Terrorists”, “Terror Attacks”, and “scene of slaughter”, were words used to describe the terrorists and their attacks. But what these horrible people did is exactly the same as other perpetrators of terror did (like Breivik).

Misrepresentation by the media

A study done by the IPSU found that terror attacks committed by Muslims received 7.7 times more media coverage than attacks by non-Muslims.

What is even more striking, according to a study by Georgia State University, out of 136 terror attacks in the U.S. alone (over 10 years), non-white Muslims committed only 12.5 percent of the attacks. However, they received more than half of all the news coverage on those attacks.

These studies show that indeed Islamophobia is growing and media outlets purposely choose to report more on terrorist attacks commited by non-white Muslims than white non-Muslims.

Colin Clarke, a senior research fellow at The Soufan Center, a New York-based think tank, says that for violence committed by a Muslim, the media “starts at terrorism and then works backward from there”. Whereas this is opposite when the gunman is a white Non-muslim, Clarke continues.


Mehdi Hasan, adjunct professor at Georgetown University, says that another issue with media representation of terrorists is that for white non-Muslim gunmen their health and sanity are often questioned.

We see this happening quite regularly. Media outlets categorize the gunmen as ‘psychopaths’, ‘sociopaths’, or ‘ill’. They ask questions such as ‘what was wrong with this shooter’ or ‘what was he thinking’.

Again, this is not the case when it’s a non-white Muslim gunman. Then the media quickly report on the events as ‘acts of terrorism’ and ‘horror’.

Where do we go from here?

Unfortunately, the misrepresentation of terrorist attacks is still a large issue to this day and we see it happening time after time. At times this can be very frustrating and especially for the Muslim community this might sometimes be extremely upsetting. This misrepresentation of terrorists by the media contributes to the large issue of Islamophobia.

All we can do is be more critical about the news reporting we are presented. Don’t take the message for granted. Instead raise questions and dare to speak up. Think about the syntax: the words that are used, labels that are given, etc.

Because in the end, terrorism simply means ‘The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.’ (The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations). And not only the 2015 Paris terrorists fall under this definition; Breivik does too.