When Americans today hear the word “terror,” they typically picture a Muslim, who has carried out an act of violence against the American people. While terror may seem like a relativity new concept to Americans, one that merely began after the 9/11 attacks, terror has always been a part of American history.
The Indian Removal Act and subsequent Trail of Tears might be the first example of terror in America. From 1814 to 1824, Andrew Jackson negotiated treaties with various Indian tribes to remove them from their land for white settlement. Some Indian tribes voluntarily signed these treaties, in hopes of keeping small portions of their land and avoiding violence.
One tribe, the Cherokee, resisted the Government’s attempts at coercing them to give up and leave their land. The Cherokee created a written constitution, in which they declared themselves to be a sovereign nation. They took their case to the Supreme Court, which ruled against them, when the state of Georgia refused to recognize their sovereignty. In 1830, Jackson created the Indian Removal Act. According to the “Africans in America” series from PBS.org, this Act gave the president the authority to directly oversee treaties dealing with the Indian tribes’ removal.
In 1833, an illegitimate treaty, the Treaty of New Echota, was signed, which gave the Cherokee two years to leave their land. The Treaty was illegitimate because unrecognized leaders of the Tribe had signed the Treaty. After the two year time period was complete, the US Government could forcibly remove the Indians from their land.
According to the “Africans in America” series from PBS.org, which also includes connections to Indian Removal, “The U.S. government sent in 7,000 troops, who forced the Cherokee into stockades at bayonet point. They were not allowed time to gather their belongings, and as they left, whites looted their homes. Then began the march known as the Trail of Tears, in which 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger, and disease on their way to the western lands.”
The Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears were acts of terror against Indian tribes, who were tricked, or forced into leaving their lands. Indians were portrayed as savage beasts, which dehumanized them, and made removing them from their lands justifiable to the American people.
The September 9/11 attacks have painted a new image of what terror is to Americans.
Former President George Bush, quoted in the Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People 9.11.01, “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Bush gave his speech immediately following the 9/11 attacks. The language of the speech gives people only two choices: be for America, or be against America. People who are neither pro-American nor terrorists aren’t given any space to exist.
Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University and contributor to the collection Journalism after September 11 (2011), stated, “Work as a journalist became a specific way of being a patriot.” Journalists who criticized the American Government were thought of as being unpatriotic. They were encouraged to write articles that characterized America positively, while painting Muslim countries negatively.
Rosen, stated, “‘Speaking as a journalist,’ someone entitled to stand outside the political community, had become a morally hazardous act.” Journalists were expected to engage in political discussions, especially ones that called for the creation of laws against people, or countries perceived to be perpetrators of terror.
As a result of the 9/11 attacks and the image of terror, stereotypes were created. The bomber in the Oklahoma City bombing was assumed to be Muslim. The Daily Oklahoman, quoted in the 1995 blog by journalism historian W. Joseph Campbell on 4.19.15, “Although the men appear to be Caucasian, investigators do not know their nationality and have not ruled out that they could be of Middle Eastern descent.”
The bomber turned out to be white, and not of Middle Eastern descent. The newspaper’s reluctance to acknowledge the fact that the terrorist might not be Muslim is a clear sign of the stigma around what terror looks like following 9/11.
In the past, Indians were depicted as savages, which made legislation to take away their rights acceptable. This was done with the Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears. In the present, Muslims are characterized as dangerous, which allows laws to be passed to take away their freedom. This has been enacted through President Trump’s Executive Order 13769, which is called “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”
The Executive Order’s title makes the executive order seem like a good thing, where President Trump is keeping Americans safe from terrorism. According to an online article from the Washington Post by Carol Morello 1.27.17, “President Trump signed an order Friday to suspend admission of all refugees for 120 days while a new system is put in place to tighten vetting for those from predominantly Muslim countries and give preference to religious minorities.”
In reality, the Executive Order puts restrictions from certain countries and refugees traveling to America. All of these countries that are affected by the Executive Order have high Muslim populations, which adheres to the stereotype that Muslims are culprits of terror. The Executive Order also perpetuates the ideal that Christians, many of whom are white, are the victims in this situation.
While Christians throughout history have been persecuted, Muslims have also have been on the receiving end of violence over the years. According to Morello, “Syrians are subject to special attention because the Islamic State controls significant amounts of territory in their country. An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of fighting in 2011, with almost 5 million registered as refugees and more than 6 million internally displaced.” The Executive Order tells Syrian refugees that they are not welcome in America because they are Muslim.
The Executive Order is eerily similar to the Indian Removal Act. Both actions have excluded groups of people, who America has deemed to be treats. However, America is the one threatening these groups of people in these instances.