CNN recently published an article entitled Study: Threat of Muslim-American terrorism in U.S. exaggerated; according to a study released by Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “the terrorist threat posed by radicalized Muslim-Americans has been exaggerated.”
Yet, Americans continue to live in mortal fear of radical Islam, a fear propagated and inflamed by right wing Islamophobes. If one follows the cable news networks, it seems as if all terrorists are Muslims. It has even become axiomatic in some circles to chant: “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but nearly all terrorists are Muslims.” Muslims and their “leftist dhimmi allies” respond feebly, mentioning Waco as the one counter example, unwittingly affirming the belief that “nearly all terrorists are Muslims.”
But perception is not reality. The data simply does not support such a hasty conclusion. On the FBI’s official website, there exists a chronological list of all terrorist attacks committed on U.S. soil from the year 1980 all the way to 2005. That list can be accessed here (http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005/terror02_05) and in the pie chart picture at the bottom.
Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Soil by Group, From 1980 to 2005, According to FBI Database
According to this data, there were more Jewish acts of terrorism within the United States than Islamic (7% vs 6%). These radical Jews committed acts of terrorism in the name of their religion. These were not terrorists who happened to be Jews; rather, they were extremist Jews who committed acts of terrorism based on their religious passions, just like Al-Qaeda and company.
Yet notice the disparity in media coverage between the two. It would indeed be very interesting to construct a corresponding pie chart that depicted the level of media coverage of each group. The reason that Muslim apologists and their “leftist dhimmi allies” cannot recall another non-Islamic act of terrorism other than Waco is due to the fact that the media gives menial (if any) coverage to such events. If a terrorist attack does not fit the “Islam is the perennial and existential threat of our times” narrative, it is simply not paid much attention to, which in a circuitous manner reinforces and “proves” the preconceived narrative. It is to such an extent that the average American cannot remember any Jewish or Latino terrorist; why should he when he has never even heard of the Jewish Defense League or the Ejercito Popular Boricua Macheteros? Surely what he does not know does not exist!
The Islamophobes claim that Islam is intrinsically a terrorist religion. The proof? Well, just about every terrorist attack is Islamic, they retort. Unfortunately for them, that’s not quite true. More like six percent. Using their defunct logic, these right wingers ought now to conclude that nearly all acts of terrorism are committed by Latinos (or Jews). Let them dare say it…they couldn’t; it would be political and social suicide to say such a thing. Most Americans would shut down such talk as bigoted; yet, similar statements continue to be said of Islam, without any repercussions.
The Islamophobes live in a fantasy world where everyone is supposedly too “politically correct” to criticize Islam and Muslims. Yet, the reality is the exact opposite: you can get away with saying anything against the crescent. Can you imagine the reaction if I said that Latinos should be profiled because after all they are the ones who commit the most terrorism in the country? (For the record: I don’t believe in such profiling, because I am–unlike the right wing nutters–a believer in American ideals.)
The moral of the story is that Americans ought to calm down when it comes to Islamic terrorism. Right wingers always live in mortal fear–or rather, they try to make you feel that way. In fact, Pamela Geller (the queen of internet Islamophobia) literally said her mission was to “scare the bejeezus outta ya.” Don’t be fooled, and don’t be a wuss. You don’t live in constant fear of radicalized Latinos (unless you’re Lou Dobbs), even though they commit seven times more acts of terrorism than Muslims in America. Why then are you wetting yourself over Islamic radicals? In the words of Cenk Uygur: you’re at a ten when you need to be at a four. Nobody is saying that Islamic terrorism is not a matter of concern, but it’s grossly exaggerated.
For several years the news media have focused our attention on the phenomenon of suicide terrorism. Our television screens have been filled with images of bloodshed, destruction and death in places like Jerusalem, Baghdad and London. In these news reports, the very image of the "suicide bomber" has been wedded to phrases like "Muslim extremism," or "Islamic Holy War." Looking behind these media driven clichés, Robert Pape who teaches at the University of Chicago has compiled the first complete database, reflecting a careful examination of every documented case of suicide bombing from 1980-2003. Pape's conclusions are contained in a new book, "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism."
Pape argues that the news reports about suicide terrorism are profoundly misleading. "There is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world's religions," Pape reports. After studying 315 suicide attacks carried out over the last two decades, the political science professor concludes that suicide bombers' actions stem from political conflict, not religion. While television viewers and newspaper readers in the US hear more about events in Israel, Iraq, Madrid and London, Pape points out that the Tamil Tigers, a group that most Americans have never heard of, are responsible for more suicide attacks over the last two decades than any other group. The Tamil Tigers have have been influenced by a Marxist/Leninist ideology which is largely atheistic and disavow any connection with the Hinduism practiced by many of the people the the region of Sri Lanka where they operate. The Tamil Tigers are engaged in a struggle for independence from the central Sri Lankan government.
Pape's strong conclusion is that religious fundamentalism is NOT the source of suicide bombings or terrorism. "What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland." This is true in Sri Lanka, it is true in the Middle East (where many terrorist groups consider themselves secular rather than religious) and, yes, in Iraq, where former Baathist supporters of Saddam Hussein may use Islam as a cover and even a recruiting tool, but are motivated by clear political objectives: the pressure the US to leave Iraq so that the way will be clear for their own return to power. Worldwide, the struggle is about power and politics, not religion.
Bottom line: Asymmetrical warfare makes the world safe for suicide terrorism, while religion is a smokescreen and cover for what is actually happening. Focusing on "Muslim extremism" is therefore likely to make matters worse, rather than leading to a solution to the problem..
Moreover, when one considers earlier examples of mass murder and violence in history, the violence perpetrated in the name of God pales by comparison with the violence committed by those who disavow religion. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor recently, Dinesh D'Souza makes the point:
It is strange to witness the passion with which some secular figures rail against the misdeeds of the Crusaders and Inquisitors more than 500 years ago. The number sentenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition appears to be about 10,000. Some historians contend that an additional 100,000 died in jail due to malnutrition or illness.
These figures are tragic, and of course population levels were much lower at the time. But even so, they are minuscule compared with the death tolls produced by the atheist despotisms of the 20th century. In the name of creating their version of a religion-free utopia, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong produced the kind of mass slaughter that no Inquisitor could possibly match. Collectively these atheist tyrants murdered more than 100 million people.
Wanton violence and slaughter is, of course, deplorable whether committed under the cover of religion or secular ideology. In this, peace loving theists and atheists can agree ... and make common cause in the struggle to rid the world of war. And when the guns and bombs are silenced, we can get back to the question of God.
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