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Perspectives on politics versus faith and the myth of radicalization in terrorism coverage

Perspectives on politics versus faith and the myth of radicalization in terrorism coverage

Peace for Paris image by artist Jean Jullien

In his Loose canon column for the Guardian, Dr. Giles Fraser opines that the narrative of radicalization is a myth which helps us avoid our responsibility in creating the conditions which have led to terrorism committed by young, formerly secular, men.

From the op-ed:

We buy into the radicalisation hypothesis because we want evil to be mysterious and other; something that has nothing to do with us. We want to tell ourselves that we are secular and enlightened and so have no part in all of this bloodshed. It’s what people commonly do with evil – we conceptualise it as being as far away from us as possible. But if Islamic terrorism is really all about politics, then we have to admit that the long history of disastrous western interventions in the Middle East is a part of the cause of the horror that continues to unfold. In other words, we have to face our responsibility.

Writing for Slate, Ben Norton reviews statistics on terrorist attacks worldwide and in Europe to make a similar point. Noting the racial, religious, and ethnic differences between victims worldwide, Norton supports Fraser’s claim that the dominant media in America and Europe see terrorists as ‘mysterious and other’. He also explores the stated motivations and aims of terrorists, and points to a lack of coverage even in Europe of terrorist attacks that don’t fit the religious extremist narrative.

From the Slate article:

Actual evidence, on the other hand, shows that less than two percent of terrorist attacks from 2009 to 2013 in the E.U. were religiously motivated. In 2013, just one percent of the 152 terrorist attacks were religious in nature; in 2012, less than three percent of the 219 terrorist attacks were inspired by religion.

The vast majority of terrorist attacks in these years were motivated by ethno-nationalism or separatism. In 2013, 55 percent of terrorist attacks were ethno-nationalist or separatist in nature; in 2012, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of terrorist attacks were inspired by ethno-nationalism or separatism.

Did your church join in prayers for victims in Paris and less familiar locations? Do you fear a backlash against innocent people, based solely on prejudice or stereotypes of their faith?


More on Jean Jullien


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Marshall Scott

You know, I’m would be more impressed with the governors grandstanding about a single refugee if they were also proclaiming an end to unregulated gun sales at gun shows and flea markets. If there were a terrorist among the refugees (and I’m not asserting there is), he or she would not come with a Kalashnikov. He or she would buy it here, and in all likelihood no one would notice. On the other hand, lots of folks born here have obtained guns through unregulated or shadow purchases, and have managed to wreak havoc.

Jim Strader

I would like to offer a reflection as we are now just a week from celebrating Thanksgiving – a holiday that we as a nation have re-interpreted – given the public responses of numerous governors, mayors, public interest groups, and citizens.

Thanks-giving. Violent and murderous events in Baghdad, Beirut, and most publicly addressed in Paris by the media have instigated a heated and often rhetorically divisive debate regarding whether or not the United States and its states should welcome Syrian refugees into our nation. This complicated yet simplistic set of arguments seems particularly hostile to people who seek refuge and freedom from religious and political tyranny as well as a safe place to live and thrive. It seems to me that these are the conditions that our ancestors, especially pilgrims from England sought before us. Given this perspective, may we please remember that refugees from political and religious oppression did indeed come and settle this land. Regrettably, many of them stole the land and murdered the indigenous people who occupied it. Perhaps we subconsciously remember our Puritanical and colonial European ancestral roots all too well. Perhaps we still loathe people who are unlike us. We define them to be barbarians and uncivilized. Perhaps we are too timid to admit to our own sins embedded in the eyes of our subconsciousness even as we strike out to remote the speck in the eyes of the strangers around us. Conversely, humanity is evolving. We may exercise hope and peace rather than injustice and fear. We have capacities to connect and know one another far more closely than during the European expansionist period. We have immense capacities to provide care and compassion to one another, when we are willing to take such risks. The largest percentage of refugees who come and dwell in this nation are women and children. They come to live here as other people of numerous nationalities and cultures have arrived before them.

Therein – I invite us all to speak out loud and recall the truest meaning of our national holiday “Thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving – a holiday that Abraham Lincoln offered to this country’s citizens during a violent period of civil war. Slaves and refugees sought shelter and relief from tyranny and economic/personal enslavement. Thanks-giving – thanks for the freedoms we have in the United States. Thanks for a God who hasn’t arrived and kicked our selfish and divisive asses to the curb and who instead invites us to live and be with one another as Jesus of Nazareth, The Christ, did. Thanks-giving, for finding some means of reconciliatory hope in all of the messiness of modern life. Thanks-giving to the refugee Syrian Samaritans who will teach us about our fearful proclivities for walking on the other side of the road when a brother or sister lies beaten and near death in close by ditches. Thanks-giving, not thanks-taking or thanks-withholding. That original Thanksgiving Day was, at least according to our urban legends, a moment when strangers became friends, refugees and residents dined with one another, and God and humanity alike were blessed by common prayer and communion. May it be so for us and Syrians and Muslims from other nations who worship a loving God as we do and who struggle to survive for righteousness sake in these tumultuous times.

Philip B. Spivey

I think Fraser’s piece is spot-on , but this is not new information. We know that, in the Middle East, the Balkans and in outposts of Russia, terrorism—defined as acts of public violence that are politically motivated and not state-sponsored—is a consequence of long-held resentments that are given a face through horrendous acts of violence; the more horrendous, the better.

In the United States, our home-grown-terrorists over the centuries have coveted their right to enact laws and practices that reinforce white supremacy and the destruction of Federalism; they resent, what they see as the erosion of their rights as American citizens.

The tipping points in both of these regions are different: In Europe and the Middle East, it stems from perceived (and actual) injustices over generations. The fight is lead under secular or religious banners. Separating a just cause from its means—terrorism—is difficult, if not impossible because the the cause and the means by which they are to be remedied pretty much cancel on another out. The same was true for 9/11 in the United States: A horrendous act of terrorism morphed into a 13 year war with the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and a destabilized Middle East; and a generation of American youth who whose lives will never see their full flower.

In the United States, the tipping point for our home-grown terrorists have been the inexorable march of human rights progress: today, we see a continuing backlash against this progress that is expressed in the the continued imprisonment and deaths of black men and women throughout our country.

The irony, of course, is that to my way of thinking, the radicals in Europe and the Middle East emerged from a soil of oppression and exploitation over centuries; as Dr. Fraser suggests, these events have a certain historical determinism. In the United States, what we have is a privileged class—primarily white men—who feel aggrieved because, at they say: “My country is being taken from me”. Their full flower can be seen today in the U.S. Congress.

I don’t fear the outcomes of home-grown terrorist acts in the United States because, so far, Americans have rallied around its victims. It’s different when the perpetrators are Muslim people of color and it’s victims are Western. In these instances, I fear our responses to the acts more than I fear the acts themselves. When these acts are used to whip up widespread fears of people of color who happen to be Muslim, in the wake of the current migration crisis, we will have the makings of Western radicalism, the likes of which we’ve never seen.

Re: Home grown American terrorists? The struggle continues

Bottom line: the banner of “religion” 1.) will be used to justify acts of violence —and— 2.) Islam will become the object of violence. It’s time we spoke out against both perversions.

Paul Woodrum

Seems domestic terrorism is far more common in the United States than foreign terrorism, yet bothers us less. Even if Episcopalians were to become radicalized, an example used by Mike Huckabe, we would probably great it with a big yawn, but one radicalized Muslim among millions of refugees sets our security nodes tingling.

Paul Powers

Also, is there a standard definition of a “terrorist act”? Was the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church classified as a terrorist act? What about Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, etc.?

David Allen

Those are examples of domestic terrorism. I understand terrorism to be heinous acts meant to strike fear in a given population.

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