*In the last week there was a coordinated series of terrorist attacks and two high ranking officials at the University of Missouri resigned. And though they appear unrelated, these two events originate from the same place.
The resignations at the University of Missouri follow a series of events in which students of color and Jewish students felt that the university wasn’t sufficiently concerned with issues that affected them. In addition, certain faculty members also expressed dissatisfaction with the job of the administration and its response to certain racial issues. On its face this is a case of racism and the response of some concerned students.
In Paris apparently Syrian (one person had a Syrian passport) terrorists attacked several places in Paris by shooting people, taking others hostage, and executing suicide bombings. On the surface this is clearly another instance of what appear to Muslim extremists attacking a western target.
But a closer look allows us to see these issues as different reactions on one continuum of possible responses based on the same stimulus.
The history of western civilization has many examples of one group disfranchising another. In the United States this has often meant white Americans taking advantage of black Americans and not having to face any consequences for it. Furthermore white Americans have often not even had to admit to their actions. The students at the University of Missouri were (consciously or unconsciously) aware of this.
People on the university’s campus acknowledge that the unrest following the death of Michael Brown. The key thing about his death is the lack of the police department concluding that they did anything wrong. Following that students at the university admit that they were disappointed with the lack of a response by their school. In fact all of the protests at the school have followed one theme: university officials need to acknowledge that things can be difficult for black people and work toward changing that fact.
The Muslims who perpetrated the attacks in France have internalized a similar disheartening message. Namely that western countries control Middle Eastern countries and dictate policy to them. Similarly Christians control and dictate policy to Muslims. All attempts to change this narrative have been unsuccessful.
When faced with this narrative those being taken advantage of naturally try to change the dynamic of the relationship and there are only but so many ways to enact change. One can talk about change and hope those in power hear you, agree with your arguments and change things; one can act non-violently and hope those in power see you, appreciate your efforts, agree that change is needed, and change; or one can act violently and attempt to remove those in power thereby enacting change themselves. Of course there are several options within these categories but each option amounts to one of these three.
This is where the two groups (students at the University of Missouri and Muslim terrorists) reacted very differently. The students decided to talk, talk some more, and act non-violently. The terrorists instead are trying to force change by perpetrating enough violence. Regardless of the method of activism though, the basic issue of one group disfranchising another needs to be addressed. Of course requests feel very different than demands. One makes you feel powerful while the other makes you feel powerless. Nevertheless the basic problem of hegemony caused both of these issues and if not addressed it will continue to yield problematic race relations in the United States and terrorism among Muslims.
The United States, similar to other western countries, has the opportunity to deal with both of these issues and in doing so can help make the country safer and better. I hope they take advantage of it.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.