National and International Issues

De-hyphenating Islam and Terrorism

As dust settles down on New Zealand’s recent worst twin mosque attacks, where its Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received global acclaim, not only for handling the situation most admirably but also daringly identifying the attack by a white Christian as an act of terror, when all others fell short on callings of their conscience. As she makes it to Time Magazine’s top 100 most influential people, it is clear she is the first world leader to make a serious effort to de-hyphenate Islam and terrorism. It is amazing that this had to come from down under of the globe and not Europe where Islam and Christianity had been crisscrossing paths for over a thousand years. 

President Donald Trump can be forgiven for his not so friendly sentiments towards Islam since U.S. is a recent entrant to humanity’s march of history over millenniums. But when some years ago, Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade coined the phrase, ‘Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims’, he deliberately misled his audience by linking terrorism with Islam and caused immeasurable harm to inter-faith harmony. If that was not bad enough, he would often follow his ill-intended statement with the question: ‘Why don’t we see Christian, Buddhist, or Jewish terrorists?’ 
This is nauseating considering that those who have committed terrorist attacks in the U.S. since this despicable phenomenon of terrorism raised its head, only two percent or less are Muslims. An FBI study shows that between 1980 and 2005, 94% of terror attacks were committed by non-Muslims. Actually, 42% terror attacks were carried out by Latino-related groups, followed by 24% perpetrated by extreme left-wing elements. Another study by University of North Carolina found that since 9/11, Muslim-linked terrorism has claimed the lives of 37 Americans which is a very small fraction of countrywide murders of its citizens which literally runs into thousands, including attacks on abortion clinics, and gun violence which exposes the enemy within. 
In Europe too, in the last five years, of those who committed terror attacks, less than two percent are Muslims. Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, noted in its report released last year that a vast majority of terror attacks in Europe were perpetrated by separatist groups. For example, in 2013, there were 152 terror attacks in Europe. Only two of them were “religiously motivated,” while 84 were predicated upon ethno-nationalist or separatist beliefs.
There are groups like France’s FLNC, which advocates an independent nation for the island of Corsica. In December 2013, FLNC terrorists carried out simultaneous rocket attacks against police stations in two French cities. And in Greece in late 2013, the left-wing Militant Popular Revolutionary Forces shot and killed two members of the far-right political party Golden Dawn. In Italy, the anarchist group FAI engaged in numerous terror attacks including sending a bomb to a journalist. And the list goes on. All these incidents were played down by media but no prizes for guessing what would have happened if any of these crimes were committed by a Muslim who had ever passed through a Muslim country.  
Even after one of the worst terror attacks in Norway in 2011, when Anders Breivik slaughtered 77 people to further his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and pro-“Christian Europe” agenda as he stated in his manifesto, how much press did it receive in the U.S.? Yes, it was covered to an extent, but certainly not the way when a Muslim is involved. There were no experts appearing on prime time TV asking how to stop future Christian terrorists, a question asked so forcefully in case of a Muslim terrorist. In fact, even the suggestion that Breivik was a “Christian terrorist” was met with outrage by many, as was the case with New Zealand’s incident. 
There are extremist Buddhists who have killed many Muslim civilians in Burma. In Sri Lanka, Buddhist extremists went on a violent rampage burning down homes, businesses and slaughtering Muslims. As per a 2013 U.S. Department of State’s report on terrorism, there were 399 acts of terror committed by Israeli settlers in what are known as ‘price tag’ attacks, which caused physical injuries to nearly a hundred Palestinians and vandalized places of worship. In Kashmir, India is perpetrating the worst kind of state terror but there is silence of the lambs from the so-called civilized world. 
Islam has been used as an instrument to advance the interests of the superpowers. The concept of jihad, or holy war, for example had faded into oblivion four centuries ago with the failure of Ottoman Empire’s last campaign against Vienna in 1683, which coincided with shifting of power from migrating populations to sedentary populations, living in large centralized empires. Had U.S. President Ronald Reagan not dusted off the concept of jihad in Afghanistan and not boosted funding for Afghan mujahideen to nearly USD 30 million per year from a meagre half a million in 1979, would anyone have heard of this form of resistance with religious zeal, is something to ponder over. There is no denying the fact that Muslims turned out to be their own worst enemies when pseudo clerics turned jihad into a multi-billion industry and smeared the name of their glorious faith.  
Did Islamophobia always exist in the form we see it today? 
Well, yes and no. It is true that that up to 16th century, it was dangerous to translate and publish Quran due to apprehensions that it would seduce faithful Christians. Perceptions about Islam, however, began to change with its first publication in 1543, with a mixed effect. Some European intellectuals studied it for better understanding for combating its message, while others like theologian Michael Servetus, used numerous Quranic injunctions to support his own rejection of the Christian concept of trinity. 
Servetus called Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) a true reformer who preached a return to pure monotheism that Christian world had introduced. During 18th century, a number of European authors presented Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), as an anticlerical hero and Islam as a pure form of monotheism with Quran as a rational paean to the Creator of the Universe.  
Others like George Sale, Whig Edward Gibbon, Goethe and Voltaire described Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as an iconoclastic, anticlerical reformer who had banished the ‘superstitious’ beliefs and practices of early Christians – the cult of saints, holy relics, and quashed the power of corrupt and avaricious clergy. The Quran helped U.S.’ founding father Thomas Jefferson to conceive a philosophical outlook beyond confessions and boundaries of his own Christian faith. These days, his personal copy is used to swear-in Muslim Congressmen and women.  
There was near consensus on creed of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), as free from suspicion or ambiguity; and the Quran as a glorious testimony to the unity of God. The Prophet of Mecca rejected worship of idols and men, of stars and planets, on the rational principle that whatever rises must set, that whatever is born must die, that whatever is corruptible must decay and perish. One intellectual described Islam in these words: ‘In the Author of the universe, his rational enthusiasm confessed and adored an infinite and eternal being, without form or place, without issue or similitude, present to our most secret thoughts, existing by the necessity of his own nature, and deriving from himself all moral and intellectual perfection. These sublime truths thus announced in the lauguage of the prophet, are firmly held by his disciples, and defined with metaphysical precision by the interpreters of the Koran. A philosophic theist might subscribe the popular creed of the Mahometans; a creed too sublime, perhaps, for our present faculties’. 
For far too long, terrorism has been lumped together with Islam. New Zealand’s Prime Minister made a brave attempt to de-hyphenate the two. The least we hope her daring effort achieves is to compel some to realize that falsehood paddled by Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade is a lie and that not all terrorists are Muslims.

The writer is a retired Vice Admiral of Pakistan Navy.
E-mail: [email protected]

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