Terrorism exists and it’s a global phenomenon

2014-10-23 13:45

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All Muslims are painted with the same brush, but the majority do not support the ideals of groups like the Islamic State

According to the Global Terrorism Database, from 1970 to 2013 there were 4?954 incidents of terrorism that resulted in the deaths of 12?176 people and 10?162 injuries worldwide.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism – a research and education centre at the University of Maryland in the US focused on the causes and consequences of terrorism in the US and across the world that maintains the Global Terrorism Database, covering more than 113?000 terror attacks and described as the most comprehensive unclassified database on terrorist events in the world – has determined that 32% of the perpetrating groups were ethno-nationalist or had separatist agendas; 28% were driven by single issues such as animal rights or opposition to war; and 7% were motivated by religious beliefs.

This doesn’t cover wars and insurgencies; they’re generally localised and geopolitically specific acts of madness, initiated by self-proclaimed caliphs or gung ho imperialists.

Beheadings, on the other hand (excluding legally sanctioned ones, as happens in Saudi Arabia every month in scores) count as acts of terror.

So, on the reasonably unassailable basis of the facts and definition above, it is clear that Islamic terrorism is relatively small beer.

Islamophobia, meanwhile, is relatively ubiquitous from Maine to Manchester and Mumbai to Murmansk, and beyond.

As a secular, atheist, Muslim-born, swine-eating, wine-drinking heathen, I am assailed left, right and centre. Hence the framing above and the fusillade below.

Now that we’re clear that only 7% of terror acts are attributable to religious nutters and that Muslim religious nutters account for but a part of that, let’s also understand whence the focus on Islam and the attendant Islamophobia, over the last two or so decades, derives.

It is directly attributable to the Muslim-extremist actions of that fraction of 7% who are motivated by religious beliefs to commit acts of terror, to the actions of radical and perverse Islamic ideologies and the funding of these by some Middle Eastern and US interest groups.

Then there are the globally disproportionate, fossil fuel-hungry, arms industry-fuelling actions of Western countries – led (disingenuously) by the US – that destabilise the world and conduct numerous wars by proxy.

The militant group, the Islamic State (formerly Isil or Isis), notwithstanding, most Muslims simply get on with life in much the same way as others mired in religious beliefs worldwide.

The Islamic State itself interferes with the rights of Muslims to go about the business of their diverse but unified faith. Muslims really ought to be left alone, provided they don’t force their beliefs and practices on others.

That some Muslim countries continue to conflate “din” with “daula” (religion with state) presents a problem in that regard – one that pioneering modern-era leaders like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk of Turkey and Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia sought to correct.

For a host of reasons alluded to above, Muslims won’t be left alone – whether they’re part of a dark and radical minority or a mainstay of the law-abiding adherents of a significant religion across the world.

Even those who aren’t Muslims but might “look Muslim” are placed in the same pot – to be boiled and examined at will.

So, given this singular and global focus on Islam in the world at present, The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life report on Islamic beliefs – titled The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society – is a telling, well-researched and timely document.

The researchers surveyed more than 38?000 people in one-on-one interviews in 39 countries.

Unfortunately, they left out Saudi Arabia and Iran, where, they note, “political sensitivities or security concerns prevented opinion research among Muslims”. This alone suggests that including those countries would have given the data an even more extremist slant.

In summary, here’s what they said: most adherents of the world’s second-largest religion are deeply committed to their faith and want its teachings to shape not only their personal lives but their societies and politics.

In all but a handful of the 39 countries surveyed, a majority of Muslims say Islam is the one true faith leading to eternal life in heaven and that belief in God is necessary to be a moral person.

Many also think their religious leaders should have at least some influence over political matters. And many express a desire for sharia – traditional Islamic law – to be recognised as the official law of their country.

The percentage of Muslims who say they want sharia to be “the official law of the land” varies widely across the world, from fewer than one in 10 in Azerbaijan (8%) to near unanimity in Afghanistan (99%).

But solid majorities in most of the countries surveyed across the Middle East and north Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and southeast Asia favour the establishment of sharia, including 71% of Muslims in Nigeria, 72% in Indonesia, 74% in Egypt and 89% in the Palestinian territories.

While only 8%, on aggregate, believe suicide bombing in defence of Islam is justified, at least half of Muslims who favour making sharia law the law of the land also favour the stoning of unfaithful spouses.

The majority is opposed to abortion, sex before marriage and homosexuality, and most believe a wife must always obey her husband.

That said, the survey is substantial and nuanced, and it is clear that Afghanistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian territories represent a more strident and conservative Islam than the rest – making a one-size-fits-all approach untenable.

The survey does highlight that overall, most Muslims see no inherent tension between being religiously devout and living in a modern society.

Nor do they see any conflict between religion and science. Many favour democracy over authoritarianism, believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time and say they personally enjoy Western movies, music and television – even though most think Western popular culture undermines public morality.

All the same, what is clear (to me, at any rate) is that Islam is in need of an enlightenment that never came.

But that’s my personal view and I dare say, many Hindus, Jews, Burmese Buddhists, First Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Opus Dei adherents and other Christian fundamentalists either missed the bright lights of enlightenment or are still waiting (or not) for its advent.

The question relevant to the divide in Islam between those who seek to pursue an enlightened course and those proponents of radical Islamic political movements like Wahhabism and Salafism is: who commands the pulpit in a religion that doesn’t have a clergy?

Moderate Muslims speak of other features of historical Islam, such as Sufism, “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God”, and the many humanist and knowledge-enhancing currents that derive from Islam’s golden age.

The radicals, on the other hand, see Sufism as a heresy and like many who seek to turn their beliefs into dictat, they achieve centre stage over the moderates.

Whether the enlightenment is about to fire up the firmament or not is moot. I choose to eschew religion in general.

But, for better or worse, Islam is in the spotlight and I am disproportionately affected, lumped together as potentially part of the fraction of the 7% of nutters who commit acts of terror. That’s why I wear my heart on my sleeve.

It’s about the worldwide coalition of the stand-up-to-be-counted secularists and not about a selective homogenisation of religious fundamentalists to suit a dubious agenda.

Cachalia is commentator, independent strategic consultant and founder of Mentisfactum (made by mind)

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