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Why News Outlets Should Be Careful Using the Phrase 'Lone Wolf'

02/11/2015 06:09 EST | Updated 04/13/2015 05:59 EDT

In the wake of terror attacks across France, Canada, Australia and America, the media has erupted in a frenzy trying to make sense of the unfolding events. In the process, certain terms have become embedded in media rhetoric. Look at many news stories and the term "lone wolf" is splayed across headlines.

The Oxford dictionary describes lone wolf as "a person who prefers to act alone." In the media's case, the term describes a Muslim who is born and raised in the country where they committed heinous acts, and claims to carry out the work of Islamic extremist groups.

The term ""one wolf" paints a stark and primitive image of a person that we cannot control. Whomever or whatever is responsible for these acts of atrocity is very unlike the healthy and normal society in which they live. The term "others" violence, and takes onus away from the otherwise healthy pack.

News outlets are usually baffled when trying to understand how these murderers could be born and raised in the civilized West. In the flurry of media coverage surrounding the Charlie Hebdo attacks, anchors at CNN make a point to emphasize that the murderers spoke "perfect French," without accent.

The question is, how could one within the confines of civility express such incivility?

Such thinking merits a re-evaluation of our own perceptions of civility and progress that has long been held as the cornerstone of Western civilization, one marked by the love of free speech and democracy, as if other nations relish living in the shadows of oppression and barbarity.

While we should be shocked that these atrocities are committed, we should not be so shocked that they are committed within our borders, because this violence really is not as much of a "lone wolf" attack as we think. We are far more entrenched in this barbarous violence than we would have ourselves believe.

Violent ideologies are not defined by geographical borders, nor religion, they are defined by ideas that are shaped by experiences -- experiences that ferment in a hotbed of poverty, injustice and oppression.

Nations of the West are not exempt from violence, and certainly not from brutality. One needn't look far to see this: innocent Black men are dying at the hands of cops without justice, the rights of First Nations are being over looked, hundreds of thousands of innocent people who have died in Iraq and thousands more in Pakistan at the hands of the U.S. Not to mention, the ongoing effects of colonization.

The Columbine shooting, the Sandy Hook Massacre, and the murder of the three RCMP officers in Moncton all took place within Western borders, yet none were deemed lone wolf attacks. The Ottawa shooter is as much a product of civilized Canada as the Moncton shooter, as much as the Aurora movie theatre killer and the Sandy Hook killer is a product of America. We don't get to pick and choose which is a case of mental illness and which is a lone wolf act at our convenience.

Extreme behaviour is a reaction of extreme circumstances. Extreme racism, crime, policing, prison systems, poverty and injustice that are all rampant in Western nations and breed extreme behaviours. These lone wolves are not radicalized from the outside; they are radicalized within their own environment.

The question is, are these lone wolves really deviating from the pack, or is the pack hiding behind the shield of civility while also carrying out heinous acts on a mass scale?

CBC's current affairs program The Current recently did a piece about loaded words in the media, including the word "terror". They report a recent move by the BBC and Al Jazeera to eliminate words like terror, jihad, radicals and insurgents from their content.

The Current wrote on their website, "the language that news organizations choose does have real consequences -- It colours the way we all understand the world, and what's happening in it."

Policies are in place at the CBC to discourage the use of such words as terrorism when describing an event. Anna Maria Tremonti says some of the policies state "don't judge specific acts as terrorism or people as terrorists. Instead, describe the act or individual and then let the viewers, listeners, or readers make their own judgements."

Below are links showing "lone wolf" being used in headlines:

http://www.ottawasun.com/2014/12/15/lone-wolf-terror-attacks-hard-to-intercept--expert

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/new-security-bill-aimed-at-combating-lone-wolf-attacks-coming-this-week-1.2931216

http://www.news.com.au/national/how-we-can-stop-lone-wolf-attacks/story-fncynjr2-1227183537764

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/11/eric-holder-paris-unity-rally-war-against-terrorists

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2905631/New-York-City-police-high-alert-ISIS-releases-video-calling-lone-wolf-attacks-against-soldiers-intelligence-officers-civilians.html

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