On Friday morning, a man wielding a knife was shot and injured by soldiers patrolling near the Louvre Museum in Paris after he allegedly attacked them and shouted, "Allahu Akbar."
French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve described the incident as "terrorist in nature." U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted about the attack as well, invoking "radical Islamic terrorism" as a scourge Americans need to "get smart" about defeating.
The Louvre incident comes five days after a white terrorist named Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslim men at a mosque in Canada's Quebec City. Yet the global outcry around that far more costly attack has been almost nonexistent.
Trump didn't tweet about it. Instead, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, used it to justify the president's de facto Muslim ban. "It’s a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the president is taking steps to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to our nation’s safety and security," he said.
Canada's progressive prime minister, Justin Trudeau, condemned it in unambiguous terms. "Make no mistake — this was a terrorist attack," he said Monday.
And still, little of the Western world has treated it like one. Well before his rampage, accused killer Bissonnette was known to post misogynist, right-wing, anti-immigrant screeds on the internet. But his Muslim victims, were they still alive, would be far more likely to be treated as a threat than anyone who looks like him.
Muslim terrorists have killed more Americans than have white terrorists since 2001 — a period spanning less than two decades. In Canada, Islamists have killed two people since 1999 and appear to have killed none before then. Yet every year preceding those attacks — from the Oklahoma City bombing to the Ku Klux Klan, to white lynch mobs and police officers during Jim Crow, to Quebecois separatists and misogynist extremists to the American Indian Wars and beyond — the polar opposite had been true. White terrorism is, historically, the far more significant threat to both nations.
Nevertheless, there have been no calls to ban white men from crossing national borders, to have them detained at airports or to create databases cataloging their whereabouts. The panicked calls for heightened security that have characterized other recent attacks on North American, or even European, soil have evaded us this time around. What we have, instead, is a sheepish global silence.
It doesn't always pan out this way. After a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black parishioners in 2015 at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, Americans of all backgrounds have been forced to confront their nation's history — and ongoing reality — of white terrorism against black people.
But discussing Roof as a terrorist, as opposed to a "lone wolf" or "troubled outcast," is the exception to how things usually transpire, not the rule. The word "terrorism," in modern parlance, usually evokes a power imbalance — a punching-up, of sorts, pitting the underdog (often people of color, especially Muslims and blacks) against the status quo (usually white people in majority white countries).
This ignores the fact that European-American world dominance was achieved through a steady campaign of white terrorism. The European conquest of the Americas, slavery and lynchings are all examples. White terrorism — especially against indigenous people and black people — is why we have America. It's why we have Canada, too. Until 1996, indigenous children were still being placed in violent residential schools that forced them to assimilate. Tens of thousands of First Nations children were sexually assaulted at these schools. Between 1883 and 1996, more than 6,000 were killed.
Yet few pundits or political figures are willing to take the next step of indicting all white people for the actions of their compatriots. White people are rarely — if ever — held responsible for white violence. This is not something we can say about Muslims, who are routinely punished as a group for the actions of a very small minority. "Where are all the Muslims condemning this act of terrorism?" is a common refrain after Islamist terrorist attacks.
Minorities are reflexively treated as the greater existential threat. It's why black civil rights groups — such as Black Lives Matter — are so easily misclassified as hate groups or terrorist organizations. White terrorism, on the other hand — rather than threatening the status quo — is one of its defining features. When whites were lynching black Southerners in staggering numbers during the early 20th century, they did so in defense of white supremacy, not in spite of it.
Sunday's mosque attack was an extension of the wave of virulent Islamophobic sentiment that has roiled the francophone and Western worlds of late. Not only did the vociferously anti-Muslim Donald Trump win the U.S. presidential election in November, his French ideological counterpart — Marine Le Pen — is surging in polls for France's upcoming presidential election in May. Le Pen has been a vocal opponent of Muslim immigration to Europe and supports Trump's ban of Muslim immigrants. Bissonnette was a fan of both figures, reports say.
But you'll never see world leaders treat Bissonnette as part of a terrorist scourge the Western world must rise up against. This despite him posing far more of a threat — historically and as an individual — than any of his victims. Khaled Belkacemi was a professor at Laval University. Azzeddine Soufiane was a Morroccan-Canadian grocer, butcher and father of three. Aboubaker Thabti was a father of two who worked at a pharmacy. Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry — both fathers and roommates who immigrated from the Republic of Guinea in West Africa — worked in IT and for the provincial government, respectively. Abdelkrim Hassane was a father of three daughters and worked as a analyst-programmer for the Quebec government.
None of his victims were terrorists or could be considered remotely dangerous.
Bissonnette, on the other hand, was a white terrorist on a continent with a centuries-long legacy of white terrorism. His actions fall into a tradition spanning far beyond the dawn of the 21st century. Yet he is treated as an aberration rather than a product of his history and culture. Neither Trump, Le Pen or any other white person will feel obligated to deeply question why this tragedy happened or claim any degree of responsibility for it.
White terror always manages to fade into the ether like that. Keep moving along. There's nothing to see here.