With the rise of ISIS and other extremist groups like Boko Haram, the world has become deeply divided on the subject of Islam and Muslims. Islamophobia is on the rise, right from Donald Trump's presidential race to street attacks on Muslims. Tensions are running high elsewhere too, with protests against Muslim refugees by groups like Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) in Germany and the UK and the United Patriots Front (UPF) in Australia. Although it cannot be refuted that extremism exists in the Muslim community, the other side of the coin is that the hardest hit victims of this extremism are Muslims themselves.
Are all terrorists Muslim?
"All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims" is a quote that is being bandied about a lot these days. How true is this?
Approximately 2.5% of all terrorist attacks on US soil between 1970 and 2012 were carried out by Muslims.
- According to an FBI study on terrorism 6% of all terrorist cases in the US from 1980 to 2005 were committed by Islamist organizations, against 42% carried out by Latinos, 24% by extreme Left Wing groups and 7% by Jewish extremists. This means that well over 90% of the terrorist attacks in the US were committed by non-Muslims.
- The database of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) reveals approximately 2.5% of all terrorist attacks on US soil between 1970 and 2012 were carried out by Muslims.
- Of the more than 300 American deaths from political violence and mass shootings since 9/11, only 33 were perpetrated by Muslim-Americans, according to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. In the same month Wired reported that Post 9/11, only 33 Americans died in terrorist attack done by Muslims against 180,000 Americans who were murdered for reasons unrelated to terrorism.
- Less than 2% of the terrorist attacks in Europe between 2009-2013 were religiously motivated.
Does Islam really play role in terrorism?
There are so many contradictions between what terrorist organizations do in the name of Islam and what Islamic principles really are. The vast majority of Muslims have no sympathy for extremist ideology, although that's not what critics of the religion would have you believe.
Many analysts argue that the rise of Wahhabism has led to religious extremism in the Muslim community. It is true that many scholars adhering to Wahhabism are also blatant takfiris who claim that anyone outside their ideology is an apostate even if he/she is a practicing Muslim. But this repels most Muslims instead of attracting them.
The fact is that alienation, which is exacerbated by Islamophobia, and a misguided quest for identity are what lead many youth to become jihadis.
The fact is that many extremists have actually been non-practicing Muslims (like Paris attacks mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud) and know very little about Islam. There are many Western recruits of terror groups who only came to know about Islam through the internet, further making them vulnerable to extreme ideas. There are also many vulnerable Arabs who are recruited in the name of honour of the family, nation and religion. Some have joined extremist organizations just to avenge their family members' deaths by American drone attacks. Quoting a Le Monde, story, this article from the Guardian mentions that a quarter of French jihadis in Syria are from non-Muslim backgrounds. The fact is that alienation, which is exacerbated by Islamophobia, and a misguided quest for identity are what lead many youth to become jihadis.
Other reasons behind terrorism
Lately, the world has seen rise in the violence in Syria, Iraq, Libya and many other nations by ISIS. Instability in the ISIS-held regions started with the US invasion of Iraq in 2002. Millions of people around the world expressed their protest against the Iraq War, but this did not deter the US from its agenda, which turned out to be more sinister than the ostensible aim of overthrowing dictatorial regimes. The fact is that oil was the big draw for the US. There are allegations that the CIA even funded rebel groups like Al-Qaida at that time.
Julian Assange in an interview to RT (Russia Today) claimed that the US had orchestrated the whole turmoil in the Syria since 2006, with an aim to overthrow Assad's government to counter the rising influence of Iran:
[The] plan was to use a number of different factors to create paranoia within the Syrian government; to push it to overreact, to make it fear there's a coup...so in theory it says 'We have a problem with Islamic extremists crossing over the border with Iraq, and we're taking actions against them to take this information and make the Syrian government look weak, the fact that it is dealing with Islamic extremists at all.'"
He claimed also that the most serious part of the plan was to "foster tensions between Shiites and Sunnis." He stressed that each ally of the US in the region, including Israel, is driven by personal ambition.
"Part of the problem in Syria is that you have a number of US allies surrounding it, principally Saudi and Qatar, that are funnelling in weapons. Turkey as well [is] a very serious actor. [They] each have their own hegemonic ambitions in the region. Israel also, no doubt, if Syria sufficiently destabilized, it might be in a position where it can keep the Golan Heights forever, or even advance that territory. So you've got a number of players around Syria that are looking to bite off pieces..."
Independent political analyst Dan Glazebrook asserts that neither the US nor its allies like the UK were ever concerned about fighting extremism. In fact, there is evidence that these countries helped many insurgent groups.
In this time of crisis, where extremism of various kinds is on the rise, it is necessary to come together with effective strategies to counter religious extremism of any form while also fighting the root cause of it. People around the world need to open their eyes and not be fooled by Islamophobic propaganda. The Muslim community, too, needs to inculcate the real spirit of Islam in the heart of themselves and their children.
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