Are most terrorists Muslim?

Sharif Abu Laith

It’s become a common assumption that although not all Muslims are terrorists the sad reality is that most terrorists are Muslims. With this assumption is there any surprise why many non Muslims view Muslims with suspicion, writes lecturer on political and Islamic affairs Sharif Abu Laith?

After witnessing high profile attacks like the one we saw with the killing of the British soldier in Woolwich, we are told the attackers were Islamic radicals, motivated by their hatred of all things Western wanting to see the establishment of Shariah law on all!

A point reiterated by Boris Johnson who after stating that the Woolwich attack had nothing to do with British foreign policy nor Islam went on to state in the Telegraph: “The Islamists want universal Shariah law, and other mumbo jumbo.” Obviously Shariah law is part of Islam, a fact that almost all Muslims will acknowledge. So, as the logic goes, if believing in and wanting Shariah law is one of the key motivating factors for terrorism, and most Muslims believe in this then it makes sense as to why most terrorists are Muslims. But most terrorists in the EU are not Muslim.

Terrorism in Europe

The EU is home to an estimated 13 million Muslims yet terrorist activity that is religiously-inspired particularly by “Islamists” is a tiny minority.

According to the official statistics from Europol for the year 2006 there were 472 foiled, failed or successful terrorist attacks out of which only one was religiously motivated or as the report recorded was “Islamist inspired.”

Some may claim that this was an abnormal year but yet the Europol report on terrorism show a remarkably low percentage of Muslims involved in terrorist activity.

For 2007 out of 583 terrorist attacks only 4 were “Islamist inspired.” In 2008 of the 515 terrorist attacks there were no attacks by Muslims, 2010 of the 249 attacks only 3, for 2011 again no attacks by Muslims (or religiously-inspired) and for 2012 of the 214 attacks only 6 were religiously inspired. Of the 6 recorded years (2009 report not available) less that 0.4% of attacks were conducted by Muslims or as the report states, religiously/Islamist inspired. By far the most number of terrorist attacks was for secular non-Islamic reasons such as left wing, or separatist attacks.

Yet we constantly see the governments and media emphasizing the importance of Muslim terrorism. Take for example the amount of outrage and media coverage of the killing of the British soldier in Woolwich compared to the killing of two British soldiers in Northern Ireland in Antrim in 2009. They were targeted by the Real IRA shot by a person pretending to be a pizza delivery driver. Yes it made headline news at the time but not to the extent that we’ve seen for the Woolwich killing.

Cobra emergency meeting deployed, Cameron cutting short his visit to France, world leaders sending their condolences, discussions about policy changes to root out “extremism,” discussions over universities, mosques and a “Snoopers Charter” that seeks to record every individuals internet activity for up to a year amongst other powers (data collection for emails, texts, social media, online gaming etc) to monitor British citizens.

Exaggeration and ignoring foreign policy

Quite clearly there is an exaggerated, frenzied response when Muslims commit acts of violence in comparison to non-Muslims. Why is this the case? A number of reasons can be posited. Islam and Muslims are still seen as foreign, although these were British-born attackers (although parents originally from Nigeria) speaking in a typical London accent, their adopted belief is seen as “eastern”, not part of the British landscape. As Nick Robinson of the BBC initially stated that witnesses had said the attackers “looked like Muslims” i.e. foreign. This latent xenophobia and ignorance of Islam and Muslims lends itself to a greater sense of fear cultivated further by the media.

Then there is the deliberate attempt to obfuscate the discussion of British foreign policy. By focussing on the religion of the attackers, by claiming or insinuating the problem is inherent within Islam and Shariah, many people are misdirected by the misdemeanours of the British government abroad. They are at war in Afghanistan, have invaded Iraq on false pretences, give unstinting support to Israel including weapons, and support some of the nastiest dictators in the Muslim world so long as they service British interests.

A discussion about foreign policy would bring to light some of the nasty actions the British government has done in the past and continues to perpetuate on the Muslim world. The fear being that ordinary people will begin to question and pressurize the British government over its role in fermenting anger and frustration that in isolated cases spills over into unlawful violence.

Law abiding Muslims of Europe

So it’s easier to perpetuate the myth that somehow there’s a hotbed of radicalism in the Muslim community, having false grievances, ready to explode into violent action, hating everything western and seeking to “dominate the infidel.” However, as has been clearly shown from the above Europol statistics, almost all Muslims are peaceful members of their communities who, although being faithful to Islam and critical of unjust policies, have never engaged in any violence and believe it to be a violation of the Shariah.

In fact those tiny numbers of individuals who act unlawfully are acting based upon ignorance of the rules of Islam and not in congruence to it. Therefore to ban the teaching of Shariah or jihad only exacerbates the problem and does not solve it. To clamp down on mosques will only isolate these individuals further.

To address the violence of isolated individuals is not to ignore what incited their anger in the first place, that is the foreign policy. To project that the problem exists within the Muslim community when it quite clearly isn’t the case or that certain key aspects of Islam ferment this violence only seeks to distract the wider population from foreign policy abuses.

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