By Shruti Sonal:
It has been repeated time and again by analysts and media persons alike that while not all Muslims are terrorists, all terrorists are Muslims. The statement has been carefully used by those who claim they’re not equating terror with religion. However, the term ‘Islamic’ has almost become a prefix of the word terror. Challenging this notion, an article was published by Daily Beast in January 2015, which pointed out well-researched evidence that a majority of terror-related cases are carried out by non-Muslims. In fact, less than 2% of the terrorist attacks over the past 5 years were committed by Muslims. A report released by Europol last year highlighted that vast majority of terror attacks in Europe were perpetrated by separatist groups such as France’s FLNC and Greece’s left-wing Militant Popular Revolutionary Forces. Other non-Muslim terrorists’ organizations present in other parts of the world include, among others, Lord’s Resistance Army (Uganda, Sudan), Aum Shirnikyo (Japan) and New People’s Army (Philippines).
Even as America led the global war on terror, an FBI report stated that between 1980 and 2005, 94% of terror attacks in the U.S. were committed by non-Muslims. While Latino groups accounted for 42% of the attacks, left wing extremist groups made up 24% of the total. Wired reported that “Since 9/11, 33 Americans have died as a result of terrorism launched by their Muslim neighbours. During that period, 180,000 Americans were murdered for reasons unrelated to terrorism.”
The above data and evidence highlights the way mainstream media chooses to define terrorism and also focus on certain events, while ignoring some others. In the absence of a universally accepted definition of terrorism, such projection of the term inevitably leads to Islamophobia, influencing people’s perception that all bearded Muslims are potential terrorists. It also favours the geopolitics led by USA, as the “clash of civilisations” showed post 9/11. Not only did it help justify grave violations of human rights at home but also legitimised the intervention in the Middle East and Afghanistan in the name of “War Against Terror”. Additionally, it also prevents adequate attention being given to acts of atrocities committed against Muslims in places like Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims are under threat from Buddhist extremists (which is generally considered a peaceful religion).
While it cannot be denied that Islamic fundamentalism is a phenomenon that needs to be dealt with, one must be careful while defining acts of terror. While white non-Muslim shooters in America often get away with being labelled as a “deranged or mentally disturbed lone shooter,” each act of violence committed by a Muslim is judged by the yardstick of being a part of a wider network of Islamic terror. Similarly in India too, the acts of violence by Hindu extremist groups are seen as isolated incidents, not coming under the purview of religiously motivated terrorism. This, unfortunately, allows different public sentiments to be created around, say the incident of Chapel Hill shooting and Charlie Hebdo shooting, or the hanging of Yakub Memon on one hand and cases revolving around Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi on the other. Terrorism, understood as a deliberate use of force to attain political ends, must be understood in a context broader than Islamic fundamentalism to allow a truer understanding. It will allow a non-biased analysis of incidents of violence relating to race such as the recent shooting in Charleston, and thus, expand the notion of politically-motivated terror beyond the realm of religion.