Your safety might depend on dropping your terror preconceptions

Story highlights

  • Dean Obeidallah: If we want to keep Americans safe, we need to be on guard against all threats, whoever the suspects
  • Many are less likely to be alarmed by non-Muslims engaging in what should be seen as suspicious activity, he says

Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM's weekly program "The Dean Obeidallah Show," a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report. Follow him @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Let's not play games or be "politically correct." Common sense tells us that the bombings Saturday in New York City and New Jersey were acts of terrorism.

But too often these days, we don't hear the word terrorism used by the media or elected officials until they know that the perpetrators involved have some kind of international links. And we know what that means: Muslims.
    The problem with that approach is that it makes us less safe as a nation.
    Dean Obeidallah
    Thankfully, on Sunday, the governors of both New York and New Jersey declared that the bombings in their respective states were terrorism even before the identity of those involved was known.
    As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated, "A bomb exploding in New York is obviously an act of terrorism."
    New Jersey Governor Chris Christie echoed that sentiment. (And both responsibly refused to speculate who committed the bombings, or what their motives might be, until more facts were known.)
    These two governors should be applauded for speaking the truth. In contrast, elsewhere, we often see political correctness turned on its head, and the word terrorism isn't used unless the person involved in the attack is a Muslim.
    The result is that Americans are often led to believe -- despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary -- that only Muslims commit acts of terrorism.

    Less alarmed by non-Muslims?

    Why is this so dangerous? Simple -- many people are less likely to be alarmed by non-Muslims engaging in what should be seen as suspicious activity.
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    Take the case of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who wanted to start a race war. He is on trial over the execution of nine African Americans last year in the Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina.
    The tragic thing is that Roof had been posting alarming images online in which he declared his support for white supremacist causes while -- holding a gun. No one seems to have reported him to the authorities. Imagine if that had been a Muslim with a gun?
    And in 2014 a married couple that had been spewing hateful views killed two police officers and a bystander before killing themselves. Shockingly, they had not even been secretive about their ideas, with one neighbor even noting the couple had been "handing out white-power propaganda and were talking about doing the next Columbine." This is truly white privilege run amok.
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    We need to ensure that people call the police about scary white people just the same way they would about a scary Muslim -- or any race or religion in between for that matter.
    In the case of the bombings Saturday, it may or may not turn out to be ISIS-related. It could also turn out to be something completely unrelated -- perhaps a personal grievance gone horribly wrong.
    I'm not in any way suggesting the bombers can't be Muslim, or that in this case they have to be "white people." We simply don't know as of now. But the identity of those involved with these bombings will not alter the fact that their goal was very likely not only to kill and maim specific people, but to terrorize us.
    Similarly, no one is saying that every violent event should be labeled terrorism, and law enforcement needs to be more restrained and follow the federal statutory definition of "domestic terrorism." We need to apply common sense. That's why although ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack in Minnesota, police are still investigating.
    But ultimately, if we truly want to keep Americans safe, we need to be on guard against all threats. And our media and elected officials can go a long way in helping us by using the word terrorism when it's applicable, regardless of the background of the suspects. That approach will go a long way in keeping all Americans safe.