HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Muslim = or ≠ Terrorist?

Most Americans would say that Muslim = Terrorist or at least that they are very closely related. In a recent poll by Zogby Analytics, 68% of participants stated they have an unfavorable attitude towards Arabs and 73% stated the same towards Muslims. These rates have increased from the first poll in 2010. It seems that the growing sentiment and mental image of most Americans is that Muslims are not to be trusted. According to a study in 2010, there are 1.57 billion Muslims in the world. How, then, can people believe they are all terrorists? Although the percentage of Muslims who are terrorists is not accurately known, we may speculate that it cannot be a high number. If the majority of Muslims were terrorists, there presence would be higher and the attacks would be countless. However, this is not the case. I believe the Muslim negative image in the United Sates is due to the media and the lack of exposure to Muslim people. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, there were 2 million Muslim adherents in the US in 2010 making up only 0.6% of the US population. If a person only sees and hears about horrific attacks and threats from Islamic Terrorist groups on the newscast, radio, internet, etc. and doesn’t know any Muslim personally, it is difficult for them to create a positive perception.

In reality, the majority of Muslims condone Terrorism in the name of Islam and many are victims of these terrorist attacks. As seen in the graph below, the majority of terrorist attacks have occurred in countries were Islam is a prominent religion.

Terrorist Attacks

Thus, many Muslims are against terrorism because it misrepresents and contradicts their religion and because they are frequently subjects of the attacks.  There are in fact numerous anti-terrorist Muslim organizations, for instance: Free Muslim Coalition, Muslims Against Terror, and The American Muslim.

Anti-terrorist groups

Now that we are on the same page on Muslims with respect to terrorism, I wish to ask: Why do these Islamic terrorist groups exist? If the majority of Muslims agree that terrorism directly contradicts Islam, then, what motivates these people to become terrorists in the name of Islam?

I do not pretend to know all of the motivation and causes of terrorist groups but I will give a brief insight on the matter. For one, there are some passages in the Quran that may be interpreted as soliciting this kind of action. For example:

Quran passage

Having violent passages in a holy book is not a rarity; you can find violent passages in the Christian bible in the Old Testament. However, in all religions these passages are not to be taken literally. Many religious terrorist groups (not only Islamic) justify their actions through these passages in their holy books. Aside from this, Muslims may be driven by their desire to establish sharia law officially and even a caliphate (in ISIS’ case.)muslim fbpage

Many of the recruits for terrorist groups are poor and secluded people. These people are many times easily manipulated finding a sense of purpose, solidarity, and resources in the group. Also, uneducated people are targeted because they can be read passages and be educated to believe the group’s message as the truth. Poverty, illiteracy, and oppression lead to people that are more vulnerable and susceptible to the influence of terrorist groups.  It is not a coincidence then that many Muslims are successfully recruited; since in the regions where Islam is prominent, there are high rates of poverty and illiteracy.

I ultimately want to leave the reader with this: Muslims are definitely ≠ Terrorist.

Sources:

http://b.3cdn.net/aai/3e05a493869e6b44b0_76m6iyjon.pdf

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30883058

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/12/why-muslims-hate-terrorism-more.html

http://povertydata.worldbank.org/poverty/region/MNA

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23 Comments

  1. dnicoloso3 says:

    Although the point of the post is correct (almost trivially true), it fails to address the actual reason behind the negative perception of muslims. Suspicion of a particular group is ultimately a cost risk analysis. Although the instances of organized muslim attacks on non-muslims are rare, they do happen with a non-zero frequency. Given the severity of the attacks, many people would rather be suspicious of the group then risk the remote possibility of attacks. Unfortunately, I can see no reasonable way to reduce this perception, since it is a utilitarian fear.

    • khospedales3 says:

      I wouldn’t exactly call it a “utilitarian” fear as it’s the sensationalist media that constantly portrays terrorist attacks as “Muslim attacks” rather than attacks by religious extremists, making a true logical evaluation implausible for the general public. If people were properly informed of how distant terrorist groups really are from the core religion they claim to follow, such fears would almost cease to exist. But of course, sensationalist media will always be sensationalist media, so I agree that there’s no clear way to alter this perception.

      • dnicoloso3 says:

        I suppose utilitarian may have been the wrong word. What I meant to say is that we should expect most people to be highly risk averse. Even if the probability of a severe harm is small, people will weigh it heavily in their decision making.

      • zhuyutong202 says:

        I do not believe these fear are always perpetrated by the media. I believe its the frequency and the scale with which the attacks occur and its almost always by Muslim extremist. Just imagine there are literally an army of extremist (ISIS) that is willing to kill every american that they see. Also there are extremist groups in many different countries around the world, such as Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and even in China and they are all muslims. While I do not believe Muslims = Terrorist, I also do not believe these fears are irrational. Not, when there might be more than a hundred thousand Muslims that are willing to kill under the name of their religion.

    • nsumi3 says:

      I think that’s it’s not nearly as intricate as a “cost-risk analysis.” People who are suspicious of generalized groups of people based on the actions of a few (and Muslims are assuredly not alone in the United State’s history of ostracism) tend to rely on reflex or “gut” reactions to incidents. Their ignorance of the group, combined with an obliviousness to deeper truths, cause them to be unnecessarily suspicious of millions of innocent people.

      The most reasonable way to combat fear born from ignorance is with education. Mass media is certainly one tool to this end, but I would not say that it is the most effective. Furthermore, while it takes only an instant to cultivate fear, it can take many years to remove it, making the process difficult, but not impossible.

  2. jjacob7 says:

    I disagree with your opening statement that most Americans would make the generalization that Muslims equate with terrorism or violence (though certainly some do). However, most would probably equate terrorism almost wholly with Islam. Most don’t go much further analytically than that – they might just believe that Islam is a “violent religion.” I appreciate that your post sought to extrapolate some of the underlying cultural issues that surround the pervasiveness of violent extremism within Islam, including socioeconomic disparities. Recognizing the distinctions between religion, culture, and geopolitics is more likely than blaming an entire religion of 1.6 billion adherents to lead to a long-lasting means of addressing the threat of terrorism. Regrettably, many stick to fairly simple cause-and-effect arguments to explain this complex phenomenon, which leads to fairly ignorant displays such as this one from earlier this week: http://rt.com/usa/223787-texas-islam-conference-protest/

  3. Travis says:

    I also agree that many United States citizens do not hold Muslims in a very flattering light. Due to past instances such as 9/11, the United States has formed stereotypes about Muslims, and as you pointed out these stereotypes are everywhere. I also agree with you that there are Muslims who are against terrorism. I remember that one of the texts/passages Professor Byrd assigned stated that there are different groups of Muslims, and the Muslims that tend to become terrorists are those that believe that anyone who opposes Islam as a religion should be struck down. There are other groups of Muslims that are more peaceful and criticize the more radical Muslims. In order for people to see past the stereotypes, they would have to learn more about the history of Muslims and Islam, but unless it’s in the form of a movie, television show, or other type of media, what are the odds of people actively seeking better understanding?

  4. missypittard says:

    Both the article and earlier comments make great points. Something to note, even if a trivially small percentage of Muslims are terrorists, any percent of 1.57 billion is still a significant group of people hell bent on terrorizing the general populous, no matter the motivation. Despite the stereotypes and correlations between terrorism and religion, there remains the question of what action can be taken by today’s global leaders. Is there any reasoning with these groups who feel a pseudo “Manifest Destiny” to restore shariah law?

  5. jyount6 says:

    My interpretation of the negative press about Muslims or people of Islam is basically that it is a shouting match: he who shouts loudest gets heard. When those giving news appeals to people’s sense of fear (a strong emotional motivator) they are heard. Then when something bad happens like a terror attack, that only reinforces what people are now catching on to. Nobody hears about the peace in the region, because that doesn’t scare people. And when people aren’t scared, they are more rational and aren’t as easily manipulated. So we can sit and shout all day long that Muslims aren’t all bad and that their religion and culture are peace promoting, but it still doesn’t ring as loudly as the peal of fear. And 9 times out of 10 bad things don’t happen, but that one time is what people are going to remember. In the end, no matter what you do you are going to have opposition in this country and maybe we should be promoting national unity on some of these issues in order to see any change of perception. Hopefully improvements in education would open the floodgates of understanding and unity.

  6. lalaninatl says:

    I think a lot of the negative connotation has to do with media sensationalism, but what I think people should further investigate is why the small portion of Muslims are becoming terrorists in the first place. I for certain do not believe anyone would willingly take up a cause to harm others without good reason. For some, I think they have suffered from outside country interference with their lands. The media today reports a lot on casualties that occur at their home land, so I feel like in a lot Middle Eastern states where there are armies from other nations that have struck accidental civilian casualties they feel like they are being terrorized on their end. I also don’t know too much about it, but I believe Israel has had some effect in for the Palestenians. Hopefully, treaties are struck up and everything will be peaceful again.

  7. cfundora says:

    While I agree that the negative image of Muslims and Islam is heavily influenced by the media, extremism/fundamentalism can be found in any religion (ex Norway shooting). Whenever such tragedies happen, the media likes to capitalize on it to further perpetuate muslim stereotypes which continues to drive a wedge between populations. Also, one should consider that religion is subjective, therefore one person’s interpretation could be completely different than someone else’s which is why we shouldn’t equate Islam and terrorism. While the crimes committed by extremists groups (ISIS) continue to be horrific, its important to recognize how state governments play a role by being unable to provide basic security/needs/infrastructure which indirectly influences people to join said groups.

  8. austinsoper says:

    The sad reality is that Islam is a beautiful religion; one that practices minimalism, humility, and abstention from senseless desires, three things that are very much lacking in American culture. But as some of the above commenters have mentioned, xenophobia combined with almost daily instances of Islamic extremist related violence, and a very black and white perception of good vs. evil have created a class of disillusioned patriots, who are no less racist for being such. Though members of other religions commit atrocities with equal or greater frequency, they often do not have the same shock value as attacks carried out by Islamic extremists, which often get much more media attention and garner more overall fear due to their perceived randomness. People fear what they don’t understand, and most Americans blatantly choose not to understand when faced with the cost-risk analysis.

  9. khospedales3 says:

    The bit about lack of exposure to Muslim people really hits the nail on the head.

    I’m reminded of Westboro Baptist Church, religious extremists right here in our own country. Most people don’t pay them any mind because Christianity, though not an official religion of our country, is so deeply entrenched in our culture that the extremist point of view could never penetrate the minds of the general public. No sane person believes “god hates fags” is a true message of Christianity because you can probably find a Christian within a 50ft radius who will tell you otherwise.

    But when the media portrays Islam as a barbaric religion that preaches “kill the infadels,” you’re probably not going to find a Muslim within 50ft to tell you otherwise. The idea that religious extremism and Islam are one and the same is rampant in our society because the opposing viewpoint is such a small minority that it can’t hope to beat out the majority. We don’t have the Muslim culture present in our society to act as a natural rebuttal to that biased perspective.

    • vlobo3 says:

      When we live in an age that tends to always inform about “bad” news versus “good” news, this kind of stereotype on Muslims seems obvious. I agree with you that it is very unfortunate that such negative stereotypes can be associated with Islamic peoples, but I have to disagree with the statement “Most Americans would say that Muslim = Terrorist”. In fact, most people who would say something of the sort are not very educated on the matter, since they probably get their information from just mainstream media, or have had no exposure to any Muslims in their communities (sadly, that is a good number of Americans).
      I would say that many Americans misunderstand the religion and its beliefs or do not really know much about the religion at all. As such, one of the first thoughts I had of this kind of misunderstanding is of Christianity and the Westboro Baptists (like one of my colleagues stated earlier). I have had too many friends buy into this stereotype of the Westboro Baptists, and project that onto the entirety of the Christian community. So, many Christians speak out against this group to counter the negativity they have produced. Likewise, there are a number of Muslims who have started groups against ISIS and other terroristic groups. Currently, they do not get much coverage by the media, but they are out there. Hopefully, these groups can help change this stereotype to a more factual description of the Muslim community.

  10. corypope6 says:

    I thought that it was very thought-provoking that you pointed out how the Old Testament includes passages of violence. In fact, in many areas of the Old Testament, God instructs the people of Israel to kill all men, women, children, and even livestock. I have not read a great deal of the Quran, but I assume that there cannot be anything worse than that in it. You also make a great point regarding the assumption that all Muslims are terrorists. However, I do agree with missypittard in that any percentage out of 1.57 billion people is still a significant number. With regard to the recruitment of terrorists, I think that the United States should attempt a different strategy other than military force. We have been trying to work from the top down instead of the bottom up. You pointed out that most recruits are uneducated. Maybe we should try to establish some educational institutions or something of that sort…

  11. mdsmith910 says:

    It seems as though people unfairly bias the Middle East in association with terrorism. I believe that people who voice their opinions about Middle Easterners should learn about their history, and then come to a conclusion. It seems as thought we live in a world where people are very quick to judge, unfortunately sometimes I even hold myself accountable for that.

  12. owest3 says:

    It is sincerely unfortunate that most Americans have the dark opinion that all Muslims are threats to Western society. It is evident that the terrorist attacks of the past decade have left a significant mark on Americans, but as described in the post, most Americans do not know about the violent terrorist attacks that frequently take place in the Middle East. The United States is not the ultimate goal for the ISIS terrorists groups. Their current goal is to gain more followers from the Middle East and to gain more support from their own region before extending a violent hand towards the West. Hopefully in the future, America can step back from their biased view of the Middle East and see the reality behind the Islam religion.

  13. jkempa3 says:

    The press does often report on negative events that often surround Islam. I am curious to know how much action the anti-terror Muslim groups are taking and why it is not those actions that are being reported on in the media? These seem to be the groups that are in the best position to change public opinion by showing the public what actions they are taking. Many people are unaware that such groups even exist.

  14. ssweeny3 says:

    This could even be widened to say that not only Muslims but the countries of the Middle East, even those that have little or no Terrorist activity have a bad stereotype involved with them. Usually, when somebody says Middle East there is automatically an assumption that something related to terrorism is happening. However, a big reason that this message from the media sounds like Muslim = Terrorist is because the media has a bad habit of only talking about stories that are bad things that have happened to the world. Even in America, the news only talks about the next deadly disease or the latest tornado that has destroyed a town. Well, when a high majority of the bad things that come out of the Middle East are terrorist attacks that are directly related to those who reside in the Middle East.

  15. emartin36 says:

    I think that these statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. It is obvious that any American educated on the subject would not agree with claims that Muslims are equivalent to terrorists, and these numbers are very possibly coming from a heavily biased source. That being said, I believe that education is the answer to debunk these stereotypes. Given simply the vast number of Muslims in the world compared to the relative infrequency of terrorist attacks, it is obvious that these acts are those of a small minority. This is the information that people need to understand. It is the active minorities that are often the most loudly heard, and Americans need to comprehend just how small these minority groups are.

  16. ashumway3 says:

    I think this blog brings up a very interesting point on how we might hope to combat terrorism early on, so as to get to the root of the problem instead of involving ourselves in a violent and abstract “War on Terror.” As you said, many new recruits come from areas of illiteracy, poverty, and low socioeconomic status. Perhaps the best way to begin to resolve the problem of terrorist attacks in the middle east would be through education and economic support of these areas so that people would not be so easily swayed to believe in these extremist groups and their goals. Furthermore, education on the Western front would be extremely useful through increasing understanding of the complex issues of the region.

  17. nrassam3 says:

    Why is the media constantly pointing its guns toward Muslims?
    Negative Pole
    it looks like an agenda toward Muslims so Americans would rationalize the conquest of Iraq and Afghanistan. If someone breaks into your house will you welcome them or fight back? All of what is going on in the middle east ties to it’s oil resources.
    Positive Pole
    History repeats itself, beside terrorism and Islam, I believe that Muslims are going through the same cycle that Christians went through during renaissance. People came to realize that it is best to separate government and religion. This pressure from the media toward Muslims is polarizing the opinions of Muslim groups on the ruling matters, should we be governed by Shari’a law or by a new constitution.

  18. vlobo3 says:

    When we live in an age that tends to always inform about “bad” news versus “good” news, this kind of stereotype on Muslims seems obvious. I agree with you that it is very unfortunate that such negative stereotypes can be associated with Islamic peoples, but I have to disagree with the statement “Most Americans would say that Muslim = Terrorist”. In fact, most people who would say something of the sort are not very educated on the matter, since they probably get their information from just mainstream media, or have had no exposure to any Muslims in their communities (sadly, that is a good number of Americans).
    I would say that many Americans misunderstand the religion and its beliefs or do not really know much about the religion at all. As such, one of the first thoughts I had of this kind of misunderstanding is of Christianity and the Westboro Baptists (like one of my colleagues stated earlier). I have had too many friends buy into this stereotype of the Westboro Baptists, and project that onto the entirety of the Christian community. So, many Christians speak out against this group to counter the negativity they have produced. Likewise, there are a number of Muslims who have started groups against ISIS and other terroristic groups. Currently, they do not get much coverage by the media, but they are out there. Hopefully, these groups can help change this stereotype to a more factual description of the Muslim community.

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