In the aftermath of the Brussels and Pakistan attacks, we once again find ourselves in a heightened climate of panic and anxiety. The widespread fears emanating from these attacks, while understandable, nonetheless can get the best of us, tempting us to buy into deceitful propaganda that views all Muslims as enemies.
The Christian tradition calls its followers not to bear false witness. So how do we live out this calling? What does it mean not to bear false witness against Muslims in the age of ISIS? Here are three false assumptions, if not outright lies, often repeated about Muslims and terrorism, along with some facts that can help us have more honest conversations about our Muslim neighbors and about the violence we encounter in western nations.
1. Muslims do not condemn ISIS or terrorism.
Every time ISIS-inspired attacks strike close to home, a chorus of voices calls upon Muslims either to condemn ISIS or to speak out more forcefully against them than they are.
The problem with these calls is that they ignore the many instances in which Muslims have condemned ISIS and terrorism. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Al-Azhar’s Grand Mufti, the Arab League, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Muslim Council of Britain have all condemned ISIS in no uncertain terms. More than 100 Muslims scholars signed an open letter to al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliph, to condemn his interpretations of Islam.
In fact, there are so many condemnations of ISIS by Muslim individuals and organizations that it’s almost impossible to keep track of them. What’s worse, in the age of the Internet, when a simple 20-second Google search on “Muslims condemning terrorism” will yield scores of sites detailing Muslim condemnations of ISIS, how is it that so many politicians and journalists still ask why Muslims are not speaking out?
Asking why Muslims aren’t condemning ISIS is no longer an innocent question. At best, it’s a lazy question whose answer lies at our fingertips. At worst, it’s a question that betrays a willingness to turn a blind eye to the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and thus a question that says more about “us” than “them.”
2. Muslims are more prone to violence than Christians and non-Muslims.
Western discourse on terrorism conflates Islam and violence. Some presidential candidates insist that we must use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in order to properly identify the “cause” of violent extremism. Prominent anti-Muslim authors such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali maintain that the source of “Islamic violence” lies “in the foundational texts of Islam itself.” Recent commentators on the Brussels attacks, such as Nabeel Qureshi, argue that the source of radicalization is in the violent trajectory of the Qur’an. All of these critics assume Muslims in the West are more prone than others to endorse violence because of their religion.
There’s plenty of evidence to refute this simplistic view. Almost two-thirds of Muslims in the U.S. believe that military attacks on civilians are never justified, compared to only 43 percent of Catholics and 40 percent of Protestants. When it comes to torture, almost three-quarters of white Christians believe the CIA’s violent interrogation and torture of suspected terrorists during the war on terror was justified.
In terms of mass shootings, 134 people in the U.S. died from these in 2015 alone, compared to 69 people who have been killed by Muslim extremists in the 14 years since 9/11. The years since 9/11 have also witnessed more than 220,000 murders, a number that dwarfs the number of deaths at the hands of Muslim extremists.
As for terrorism, FBI records indicate that 94 percent of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1980-2005 were committed by non-Muslims. Europol statistics reveal that only 2 percent of terrorist attacks in Europe between 2010-2014 were carried out by religious extremists.
We must certainly focus on how to prevent Muslim extremists from carrying out violent attacks. The episodes in Paris, San Bernardino, and Brussels are horrific and reflect a dangerous trend. But the belief that Muslims are the primary source of violence and murder in Western nations, or that Muslims in the West are more likely to endorse violence than other groups, is flat-out wrong.
3. Muslims must be subject to surveillance and registration if we are to eliminate terrorism.
Barely had the dust settled from the Brussels explosions before Sen. Ted Cruz politicized the tragedy and took aim at Muslim Americans. He proposed for law enforcement “to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” to prevent ISIS-inspired radicalization. His proposal complements other repressive plans, including Donald Trump’s desire to implement a registration program to track Muslims.
The most obvious problem with these efforts is that they depend on the assumption addressed in the second point, that Muslims in the West are more prone to violence than non-Muslims. But the problems with these proposals run deeper. We’ve in fact had both registration and surveillance programs implemented in the post-9/11 era, with little to show from them.
The Department of Homeland Security oversaw the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System between 2002-2011. The DHS required tens of thousands of non-immigrant Muslim men to register with the government. The system was suspended in 2011 after yielding zero terrorist convictions.
The New York Police Department implemented an extensive surveillance program of Muslims, infiltrating mosques, monitoring conversations, and conducting warrantless surveillance of Muslims in other venues. The NYPD disbanded the program in 2014. The chief of the intelligence division admitted that the program had not produced one criminal lead. That’s why it’s so remarkable that Bill Bratton, the NYPD’s current commissioner, condemned Cruz’s proposal outright, stating: “He doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about.”
Surveillance and registration programs broadly targeting Muslim populations don’t prevent terrorism. They simply stigmatize Muslims and perpetuate the lie that violence against innocent people is primarily a “Muslim thing.” It’s time to expose this lie and those who would use it to further their presidential ambitions.
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We cannot give in to propaganda and falsehoods that paint Muslims as particularly prone to violence. Remember that ISIS wants Islamophobia. ISIS wants the non-Muslim majority to turn on Muslims, to discriminate against them, to treat them as enemies. Islamophobia is key to ISIS’s recruiting efforts.
We must maintain our resolve to tell truths about our Muslim neighbors, about ourselves, and about the violence that we encounter in the West. These are the truths that will help us understand and defeat ISIS. These are the truths that will set us free.