The essay was originally published in The Dallas Morning News.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines terrorism as “the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.” In recent years, the term has been exclusively reserved for attacks carried about by Muslims anywhere for any reason.
According to researchers from the University of Alabama, terrorist attacks committed by Muslims receive 357% more U.S. press coverage than those committed by non-Muslims. While the president failed to use the word terrorism or acknowledge white supremacy as a motive for the terrorist attack in Christchurch against Muslims, he immediately used the word in his first tweet about Sri Lanka. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wasted no time talking about the global threat of “Islamic terror” and the steps we must take to address it.
There are several issues with how this gets politicized. For one, it amounts to incitement and contributes to a vicious cycle that endangers innocent Muslims by assigning them collective guilt. The majority of the victims of groups like ISIS are actually mainstream Muslims. The people who get blamed for the actions of groups like ISIS are also mainstream Muslims. And the hate crimes that follow are against mainstream Muslims.
In Sri Lanka, Muslims have been protesting against the specific group and individuals that carried out these vicious attacks for years and reported them to the authorities on multiple occasions. Some of the casualties of the attacks were in fact Muslims. But facts don’t matter to people who use fear as an intoxicating political tool. Right wing commentators, like Glenn Beck, even tried to implicate Muslims in the Notre Dame cathedral.
There is another element of this that needs to be addressed. As mainstream Muslims, we have been at the forefront of combating extremist groups and disputing their legitimacy for years. This has not come without risk. I know, because ISIS has called for my assassination personally for work I’ve done here in Dallas with the interfaith community.
When Islamophobes, politicians, or pundits deem these groups to be “Islamic,” they give them a sense of legitimacy and authority that actual Muslims do not endow them with. They make it harder for us as Muslim scholars to address these degenerates for what they are; outcast criminals. They have no claim to our text. They have no authority in our midst.
My organization, Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, published an infographic video this week demonstrating how extremists and Islamophobes read our scripture the same way, and fuel their agendas through each other. Our response to these attacks needs to be to give these terrorists neither the authority they seek in our faiths, nor the division they seek in our communities.
In Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said in a statement to Parliament about the terrorist, “We will give him nothing, not even his name.” She centered the victims and shined with her humanity.
We too must do the same. We must deny them all their names, their goals, and their claims to legitimacy. The extremists in Myanmar that are carrying out a genocide against Rohingya Muslims are not Buddhist extremists. The extremists here in the United States that terrorize synagogues, mosques and black churches are not Christian extremists. The extremists that terrorized Sri Lankan Christians in their churches and people of various backgrounds in hotels this Easter Sunday are not Muslim extremists. All of the above are merely terrorist scum. They deserve to be belittled as such. And all of us who desire to live in peace and harmony with one another are part of the same human family. We demand to thrive as such. We choose togetherness over terror.