When you read a dictionary definition, you think of it as the final verdict: perfectly accurate and abiding. But words are more ambiguous than that; they adjust and evolve over time. ‘Terrorist’ is a perfect paragon of this.
According to the Oxford dictionary, the definition of a terrorist is, “a person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political claims.” But lately, whenever the word comes up in a conversation, this ‘terrorist’ is immediately distinguished as a Muslim and he is also characterized as an ‘Islamic-follower even before his name is revealed. This perfectly highlights societies’ misjudgments towards Muslims and Islamic-followers.
Today’s popular belief is that all terrorists are Muslims. But it is unjust and immoral to think that terrorism belongs to one religion. If one argues by the statistical point and the spread of terrorism in the Islamic countries, then this is a completely ludicrous accusation as there are Muslims everywhere in the world. It may seem like terrorism originated and developed in Islamic countries but this misconception began due to zealots and radical organizations that used Islam to acquire followers. These cults still exist and they use labor, money and other resources from Islam to grow and thrive. They exploit Islam, an otherwise peaceful and pious religion, and wield it to propel their propaganda, gather followers, and garner support and power. Having said that, Islam is not the issue; the issue is radical groups and zealots assembling great political, media, and financial power. This power needs to be monitored and suppressed, with a different strategy for each kind.
One might argue that the Qur’an, the central religious text of Islam, justifies violence and destruction. But all religious text can be interpreted differently. For instance, the Gita’s famous saying, ‘a virtuous war must be fought’ can be seen as justifying violence. It is left to the reader to interpret ‘virtuous’ and how a war can be fought nobly. The Qur’an also contains few brutal and consuming passages, which are left a touch ambiguous. But the point of the ambiguity is to leave it to the readers to decipher the message. Some take it in the allegorical sense, while others take it literally. Occasionally, this ambiguity drags moderate and uninvolved Muslims into extremist movements highly influenced by literal interpretations of the Qur’an. Hence, if anyone is at fault, it is the extremists’ interpretations, not the Qur’an’s ideology.
Another common misconception that is often brought up is that moderate, modern or educated Muslims do not speak against terrorism. In fact, leading Muslim groups and scholars constantly reprimand the extreme and egregious views of violent Muslims, while refuting radical teachings. You just have to open your eyes to see this! For instance, hundreds of Muslims flooded the streets of London, carrying banners of peace and unity on the 6th of December 2015. The Husaini Islamic Trust UK organized this march and Mohammed Al-Sharifi, a part-time activist and a volunteer, stated, “We are trying to undo people’s misconceptions about Islam – this is a multi-faith event and we are trying to promote universal human values.” What was really astounding was that the organizers said the march was not covered because “the media was reluctant to give a platform to moderate Muslims.” So it is not a lack of moderate Muslims trying to uphold who they are and what they stand for, but the media, who never give prominence to moderate Muslims.
The media has lavishly painted Islam as a religion determined upon world abomination. Time and again, the world is portrayed as victims of the malevolent Muslim and Arab zealots. But this is not even remotely representative of the Islamic population in the world. Do some Muslims engage in terrorism? Certainly. Do some Christians engage in terrorism? Certainly. There are even Buddhists who engage in terrorism. But our media simply do not report the non-Muslim attacks with the same enthusiasm.
It is not just the media that give more attention to terror attacks like those in Paris; heads of state often do so as well. For instance, minutes after the Paris attacks, Presidents Obama and Hollande publicly lamented the tragedy. Secretary John Kerry denounced these terror attacks as “heinous, evil, vile acts.” These attacks led to the death of 128 people. In the September of 2015, there was another attack led by the Saudis, who bombed a Yemeni wedding, killing 131 civilians. But this massacre didn’t go viral, and Obama and Hollande did not even acknowledge the tragedy, let alone respond to it. The media did cover it, but not with the same enthusiasm that they would cover a Muslim terror attack. This just goes to show how our media tends to exaggerate and amplify Muslim terror-attacks more than any other attacks. They might do it to make people aware of the ruthless Muslims, or just to earn some more money. Nonetheless, it puts Islam in a bad light and reiterates false stereotypes such as, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”
To find solutions, it is imperative not to point fingers at any particular religion. In fact, it is time for all nations and all religions to come together to eliminate radical religious terror and false stereotypes. Unity is the key to peace but we have not done enough to coalesce the world’s religions. It is time that we did.