It has been over 10 years since 9/11 in the U.S. and 26/11 in India. These are two of the most noted terrorist attacks of my time and after each one I saw the same thing happening. After 9/11, Americans jumped at the chance to spot and punish those they felt looked like a terrorist. Unfortunately, this caused a significant amount of unwarranted attacks on law-abiding citizens and immigrants. After 26/11, the same occurred in India. To me, this indicates that people somehow think they know what a terrorist looks like. It’s unfortunate, because though we would think those who look similar to Osama Bin Laden are terrorist, this is often not the case.
Last year while traveling in Delhi, a major Indian city, I encountered a terrorist without even realizing it. It happened while I was in a major shopping and tourist district. There were individuals from many countries in the district, some carrying backpacks, some wearing turbans, others wearing sari’s or jeans. It was no different than any other day in just about any other Indian city. I met a woman from New Zealand on the road that night, I got ran over by a man on a scooter and I watched as a drunk man walked down the street talking to every foreigner he met.
I left the shopping district around 10 p.m. and stopped at one of the local restaurants just outside of it then returned to my hotel room. There I turned on the TV to see live news reports coming in from the shopping district I was just at. At around 9:30 p.m., police had thwarted terrorist who were there to create some kind of event. They never got to complete their task thankfully, but I was startled by this. I had been there, I had walked in the place the terrorists were arrested, literally less than 20 feet away from the spot, and what struck me the most was that no one seemed out of place.
There were no men dressed in combat gear. There were no men dressed up like the terrorist we see on the news. No one had a hardened or mean looking face. They were all just people. Sure, some stood out as being foreign or being backpackers, but this is the only discernment anyone could make. Even the backpackers were not carrying packs that were the typical type seen on the news that were used by bombers. Yet somehow, there was a rather large group of terrorists there, walking alongside the crowd.
If you Google the question “What does a terrorist look like?” you may be surprised at just how many people are asking. Major news agencies have devoted precious printing space to answer reader questions, but is it enough? Of course, in some situations there will be noticeably strange behavior by some individuals that we can relate to terrorism, but in many others there will be none. There will be cases where the terrorist simply doesn’t interact or makes his move while an area is vacant so as to avoid detection when the event takes place.
The two events I mentioned earlier have caused an unfortunate amount of skepticism to be placed on Muslim looking individuals (I say Muslim looking because that same attention is also given to other religions and cultures in many cases because not everyone can tell the difference between them.) Some skepticism is also placed on brown-skinned individuals as well when there are countries with near white, yellowish, and black skin colors who have a sizable Muslim population as well. Very little attention seems to be given to non-Muslim extremist groups, either by the media or the general public.
There are hundreds of legally recognized terrorist organizations that haven’t shown to be as active threats at this time. You should consider that many people didn’t know or care what a Muslim was until 9/11 and by then it was too late for thousands of people.
CBS News: What Does a Terrorist Look Like?
Homeland Security Newswire: Study shows more non-Muslim terrorists in U.S