Washington D.C. – As long as we automatically see every act of violence committed by a Muslim as ‘Islamic’, we will never be able to stop terrorism.
The heinous terrorist attacks on Barcelona on Thursday are a reminder that no single country is immune from the malicious intent of criminals bent on sowing the seeds of chaos, fear, and destruction. Moroccans across the globe were dumbfounded to discover that the authors of these attacks are of Moroccan origin, and they took to social media in droves to condemn them and express their sympathy for the victims and victims’ families and solidarity with Spain.
Immediately after the attacks, Western media were quick to identify the terrorists by name and nationality, fanning the flames of supposition and stereotyping about the causes of the attacks and the origin and religion of the perpetrators. This tendency to explain the causes of the attacks by linking the terrorists to Islam locks the debate in a superficial approach that, rather than helping understand the terrorists’ motives, instead fuels more fear and suspicion directed towards Muslims in general.
For anybody who has an Arabic-sounding name or is remotely connected to Islam – however superficial their knowledge or their practice of the religion is, and even if they are atheists or non-practicing secularists – if they commit a murder, the only way to rationalize and frame their crimes is to link them to Islam. Whenever a criminal from a Muslim country is involved in a criminal act, talking heads – the so-called experts on Islam and terrorism – immediately assert that the motive of the attack is fundamentalist terrorism, and that Islam is the primary motivator of their heinous acts.
These experts are not remotely interested in trying to understand whether the originators of these attacks have any emotional, personal, professional, or mental problems that might have pushed them to unleash their hate against innocent people. Instead they look for the most trivial comment or status posted on their social media profiles and present such as strong “evidence” of their allegiance to their terrorist groups.
In their search for damning evidence, a Quran found in the home of the killer or a prayer rug are often evidence enough that they held terrorist views. And when they fail to find any link between them and terrorist groups, ISIS comes and claims responsibility for the attacks. These experts’ goal is to present a ready-made analysis that proves that Islam legitimizes the killing of innocent people, thus equating Islam with terrorism.
Such self-professed experts, who continue to take Western TV channels by storm, never question the credibility of ISIS’ claims, nor do they examine whether the perpetrators of the crimes have any link to terrorist groups. As long as ISIS has claimed responsibility, there is no need for them to analyze further and potentially discover a different reading or analysis of the causes of the attacks.
Meanwhile, they overlook the fact that that ISIS has become a magnet willing to claim responsibility for any crime that takes parts in any part of the world. ISIS has even claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack that left 39 people dead in the Philippines in June, a claim that turned out to be bogus and baseless.
While rushing to blame a whole a religion for terrorist attacks and arguing that Islam’s sacred book contains many passages that call for war and violence, they forget (or perhaps do not know) that war and violence in Islam are governed by strict rules that apply to a specific historical context that can by no means be equated with the context of the terrorist attacks nowadays. As King Mohammed VI stated in his speech on August 20, 2016, jihad is governed by strict rules, chief of which that it can only be used in cases of self-defense and can only by the Commandership of the Faithful, not by an individual or group of people.
Those who claim that the terrorist attacks committed in Spain are grounded in the text of the Quran should ask themselves whether the perpetrators of the attacks have any clue about this Quranic text and its complexities, and whether they have either read or abides by it.
The Danger of Double Standards
The mainstream approach adopted in recent years to analyze the phenomenon of terrorism overlooks the fact that crime and violence are inherent to any society irrespective of its religion, history, and economic status. Criminals have existed throughout history. In the United States for instance, there have been countless mass shootings over the past two decades in which people with little or no criminal records have killed many innocents. We should ask ourselves why when an American or a European is involved in such mass murders, terrorism is never mentioned as the motive, while in contrast for any crime perpetrated by Muslims, terrorism is always the first supposition.
That being said, it would be dishonest and delusional to absolve Muslim countries of any of the blame for spreading an extremism ideology that hijacks a whole religion and its followers. The large amount of petrodollars that Saudi Arabia has spent in the past five decades to disseminate their Wahhabi ideology has no doubt played a key role in creating an environment enabling the emergence of terrorist movements.
It is incumbent on Muslim scholars and intellectuals to bear their morale responsibility and fight the spread of this ideology. However, over 1.6 billion of Muslims are not blame when a second-generation immigrant who happens to be nominally Muslim or a convert commits a murder or an act of terrorism. Falling into the trap of analyzing the causes of these attacks from the same approach and automatically linking them to Islam serves the purpose of terrorist groups like ISIS, whose main goal is to drive a wedge between western societies and Muslims.
When suspicion looms over Muslims minorities living in the West, they become the target of conduct and laws that contribute to their marginalization. This marginalization could lead some members of the Muslim community to revolt and engage in criminal acts that will labeled as terrorist. When they do so, they do not do it because they want to achieve a goal, but as a reaction to their exclusion and as revenge against their society.
Islamization of radicalization
Olivier Roy, a prominent French professor and authority in the field, wrote in an article published last year that the phenomenon we are seeing nowadays is not a radicalization of religion, but an Islamization of radicalism.
After studying the profiles of more than 100 terrorists implicated in terrorist attacks in the past two decades, Roy concluded that their common denominator had nothing to do with achieving a common outcome for the Islamic Umma or establishing a caliphate. Instead, these criminals are pure nihilists who aim to cause destruction and chaos. In addition, they had no religious education, the majority of them having converted to Islam, or they are second-generation immigrants who “reconverted” through the internet just before moving into action.
These terrorists, who have a past marked by involvement in petty crimes, armed robberies, frequentation of nightclubs, consumption of alcohol and drugs, prison times, and absence of practice of religion, are fascinated by pure revolt against the system and their societies. As Olivier Roy put it, for these terrorists, violence “is not a means. It is an end in itself.”
In his study, Roy argues that the empirical data available to researchers provide no evidence about the existence of a link “between terrorist violence and the religious radicalization of Islam through Salafism, the ultra-conservative interpretation of the faith.” According to the same author, these criminals, who lived on the margin of society, find in ISIS a framework through “which they can achieve their aspirations.”
Need to refocus the debate
There is a need to refocus the debate away from any double standards. Obsessively trying to link any criminal act to Islam and Muslims does not and will not help understand this phenomenon and eradicate it. Murders and mass murders will always happen, as long as hundreds of millions around the world do not benefit from globalization and are left behind without a purpose in life, without a job, and without a future.
Whenever there is despair and an absence of prospects, the vulnerable turn violent against their societies. When they commit these acts of violence, they do not necessarily commit them for a purpose, but because they want to take revenge against a society that has left them behind.
Continuing to frame any attack committed by a criminal who has an Arabic-sounding name while refusing systematically to do the same when a white American or European is involved in similar criminal attacks is counterproductive. In addition, it sends a chilling message to all Muslims that whatever the motives behind their revolt might be, their involvement in a criminal act would never be understood as a result of their marginalization, despair or of their professional, emotional or family problems, but only as act of terrorism whose goal is to spread Islam and enable Muslims eventually to take over the world.
This shortsighted analysis only plays into the hands of xenophobes and bigots in Western societies and contributes to the growth of Islamophobia. This erroneous analysis, which sees more than 1.6 billion Muslims into potential terrorists, turns Muslims minorities living in Western countries into a fifth column ready to turn on their societies.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis