Thu, Jun 22, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Blaming Islam for terrorist attacks obscures a new reality

Terrorists are mostly troubled and isolated young men whose only intention is to make their attacks — and themselves — matter

By Joumanah El Matrah  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain People

As terrorist attacks in Manchester, London, and, more recently, Melbourne, Australia, unfolded over the past weeks, we have all collapsed into bewildered dismay at the violence perpetrated. Within the horror of these events, it is clear that things have changed.

Regardless of this change, the now familiar denunciations began: about the need to interrogate Islam; about the failure to hold Muslims to account; about the failure to take on extremists and to have held too dearly to our liberal values of diversity and pluralism and the evils of political correctness.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s “enough is enough” heightened the intensity of these calls.

I understand the sentiment. I understand the anger. I understand and agree that questions need to be asked. I do not agree that accusations and blame are necessary or can be meaningfully apportioned. It is not an honoring of lives lost.

Whether we are trying to find answers or, for some, search for reasons to voice anti-Muslim vitriol, censuring Islam results in the same questions being asked and the same accusations being made.

This ignores the fact that the violence being perpetrated today has changed from what it was. To stay narrowly focused on Islam impedes our understanding of this change.

We have come to increasingly define criminal acts as terrorism by the impact of the violence, when traditionally terrorists have been defined by their intention to change society and to force governments to act in specific ways by causing terror.

Terrorism by Muslims has traditionally been a type of guerrilla warfare when one side was greatly overwhelmed by the force and power of the other. It was a strategy of war. Muslim terrorism was never and, I would argue, still is not about furthering Islam.

It was almost always about land rights, theft of natural and economic resources, and global monetary policies that left entire populations in Muslim countries living in deprivation and destitution. Even when the rhetoric was Muslim, terrorism was almost always in pursuit of a nationalist cause.

Traditionally, terrorist organizations recruited soldiers in a way an army might — it sought out those who could be controlled and were disciplined. Those prone to indiscriminate acts of violence were excluded.

What has changed is that there are no longer soldier-like terrorists serving a perceived higher cause. Those being selected and aspiring to membership of the Islamic State group are an entirely different breed.

Rather than disciplined actors, today’s terrorists are either troubled men with a propensity for violence or opportunistic criminals. In no way can this be said to meaningfully represent the higher cause of defending Islam.

In the Australian context, Abdul Numan Haider and Farhad Jabar Kahlil — who both attacked police officers — appeared to be profoundly isolated young men consumed by inner turmoil.

Man Haron Monis — who was responsible for the Sydney siege — and Yacqub Khayre — who was responsible for a siege near Melbourne — both had a long history of violence, and Khayre struggled with drug addiction.

Many of the Australian men who traveled to Syria and Iraq have long histories of petty crime and drug trafficking or drug abuse.

It is not insignificant that both gangs and terrorist organizations seek to recruit disenfranchised young men and those in prison.

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