What comes to your mind when you hear the word “terrorist”?
For many, the word ‘terrorist’ conjures up images of balaclava-wearing Muslim extremists carrying assault rifles and flags bearing Arabic writing.
It’s a stereotype that has been fostered in part by particular media organisations – and fuelled by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, who last week tweeted ‘Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.’
But while there have certainly been a number of atrocities committed by Muslim extremists in recent times, it is dangerous and factually incorrect to believe that terrorist attacks are predominantly committed by people professing to be Muslim.
And equating Islam to terrorism unfairly perpetuates discrimination against the vast majority of Muslims who are law-abiding members of our community – in some instances, even leading to violent and targeted attacks against innocent people.
Late last year, Islamic leaders raised concerns about the growing number of cowardly attacks on Muslim women, who are easily identified by the hijab.
These women have suffered verbal abuse as well as physical attacks – including one instance where a mother was spat on and had her pram kicked.
Several mosques have also been vandalised and damaged.
“Terrorism is a Muslim Thing”
Associating terrorism with Islam is simply factually incorrect.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of recent terrorist acts have been committed by people who do not have anything to do with Islam whatsoever.
A recent study based on data compiled from the FBI website found that Islamic extremists accounted for just 6% of all terrorist attacks on US soil between 1980 and 2005.
A similar study was conducted based on data gathered by Europol, the EU’s primary law enforcement agency.
It found that just 0.4% of terrorist attacks in Europe between 2006 and 2008 were carried out by groups linked to Islam.
Rather, most terrorist attacks are carried out by other groups who do not claim any association with Islam.
For example, Federazione Anarchica Informale is an Italian anarchist organisation that has been held responsible for a number of terrorist attacks across the EU in recent years.
The group was responsible for sending several bombs to prominent European institutions.
They also claimed responsibility for sending explosives to a number of embassies based in Rome, as well as a package containing a bullet which was addressed to then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
More recently, the group has targeted the United Kingdom, conducting attacks which affected rail and television services in England.
But many have not even heard of this group!
The New Irish Republican Army is yet another terrorist organisation that has orchestrated a large number of bombings and shootings across Ireland and wider Britain in recent years.
Most recently, members of the group sent a series of letter bombs to members of the British Army, and also shot a projectile at a Northern Ireland Police Service vehicle.
A recent article titled “10 of the Worst Terror Attacks by Extreme Christians and Far-Right White Men” states that: “Most of the terrorist activity in the U.S. in recent years has not come from Muslims, but from radical Christianists, white supremacists and far-right militia groups.”
But these groups do not tend to receive the same level of media attention as terrorist groups linked to the Islamic State – an organisation that has been repeatedly condemned by the Islamic community, and whose victims are mainly Muslims themselves.
Closer to home, Sydney is still standing strong following the attack on the Lindt café by Man Haron Monis late last year.
Though he identified as being Muslim, Monis was not linked to any organisation and was repeatedly denounced by Muslim leaders since 2009 – even the police classed his disgraceful actions as a ‘lone-wolf’ attack.
The flag that was held by hostages in the attack was incorrectly attributed to ISIS when, in fact, it had nothing to do with that group at all.
Rather, it was the Shahada flag, which bears a religious creed which is represented commonly in Islam – in fact, it appears on the flag of Saudi Arabia.
Monis has been variously described as ‘evil’, ‘mentally disturbed’ and ‘psychopathic’ – and had been accused of various violent offences in the past.
The incident was quickly decried by prominent Muslim leaders across Sydney, including the Grand Mufti of Australia.
Muslims have also questioned why, when a Muslim commits an offence, it is attributed to Islam; yet when radical members of other faiths commit offences in the name of their religions, those acts are not seen as linked to the religion itself: prime examples of this are the atrocious acts of David Koresh in Waco, Texas and the hundreds of lynchings of African-Americans, Jews and other ‘non-whites’ at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) – both of whom claimed to be Christian leaders and used religious doctrine to justify their acts.
While there were serious concerns about targeted attacks on Muslims in the weeks following the Sydney siege, Australians overall have taken a united stance against Islamophobia.
However, in the wake of the tragic Charlie Hebdo attacks, the portrayal of terrorism in some media outlets continues to foster misinformed perceptions of Islam and Muslims, and this propagates a misconception amongst some that the terms terrorism, fundamentalism, Islam and Muslims are somehow inseparable and interchangeable.
Perhaps we should be uniting against all forms of terrorism, rather than perpetuating disharmony and disunity.