Blaming Islam for terror is unjustifiable
Mosques in Europe have been hosting open-door events in recent weeks, a necessary and good thing. Brotherly Cup of Tea sessions in France and Visit My Mosque Day in the United Kingdom have helped answer many questions that the French and British public have about Islam.
Visits by US President Obama to a mosque in Baltimore in early February and by French President François Hollande to the Paris main mosque in January send a clear message that the problem facing the West is not the religion of Islam but the radicals who twist its teachings to fit their extremist and terrorist designs.
One hopes that after Donald Trump’s unfortunate call for a ban on Muslims (following the San Bernardino attacks), US presidential candidates will avoid anti-Muslim remarks. Such comments only make life difficult for law-abiding US Muslims and create a climate of collective scapegoating that is hardly conducive to civil peace or to common will against the terrorist problem.
During recent congressional testimony, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he expected the United States to remain “at least rhetorically” an enemy for many radical groups.
He went on to say that “home-grown violent extremists will probably continue to pose the most significant Sunni terrorist threat to the US homeland in 2016”. His alarm about domestic terrorism is probably justified but associating terrorism with the Sunni Muslim sect is unjustified since the followers of this majority sect of Islam are both diverse and overwhelmingly moderate. Careful wording can go a long way towards preventing dangerous generalisations and the introduction of sectarian overtones in America’s national security debates.
The results of a Pew Global Attitudes Project, published in early February, contain even more disturbing trends: 40% of Americans (and 65% of Republicans) polled said the next president should “speak bluntly even if critical of Islam as a whole”. Furthermore, about half of respondents in the Pew survey said “at least some US Muslims are anti-American”. In a previous Pew survey, 46% of Americans stated a sense that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence.
Identifying terrorism with Islam plays into the Islamic State (ISIS) narrative that tries to convince aspiring jihadists that ISIS is defending Islam against the enmity of the West. It also paves the way for the persecution of Muslims because of their faith. Ironically, 59% of the US public in the Pew survey said they think US Muslims face “a lot of discrimination” and 76% said “discrimination against US Muslims is on the rise”. In February, hate crimes against mosques were reported in Connecticut and Florida.
Linking extremism to the faith of 1.6 billion people across the globe is dangerous and wrong. Terrorists and extremists are hijackers of Islam and its sects, not their representatives.
Many in the Muslim world today see the need for an arduous reform effort that makes sure their religion is better adapted to the requirements of modernity. But it is foolhardy to say that Islam encourages terrorism.
Muslims also have the right to be equal citizens of the countries they live in and not have their loyalty questioned because of their faith. Obama sent the right message when he told his Muslim audience at the Baltimore mosque: “You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.”