Monday, November 16, 2015

The Last Thirty Days

13 NOV 2015: In the last thirty days, these terrorist acts were perpetrated by Islamic militants, fundamentalists, and radical adherents.

The difficult question for the western mind, is this Islam expressing itself?  Or is it individuals who chose criminal behavior for personal advantage?  Should our outrage be expressed against all Muslims or solely against the violent?

There are perhaps 1,600,000,000 Muslims in the world today.  About 85% are Sunni, and the remainder are Shia.  There's tension between the sects, similar to Protestants vs. Catholics in Northern Ireland in the last century, and violence has similarly followed.  

For the great majority, though, would every Muslim stone his daughter if she refused a marriage proposal?  Of course not.  Would every Muslim carry a suicide bomb into a rival temple?   No.

How many among the world's Muslims would actually do violence like that described in the list?

According Brigitte Gabriel, a favorite of conservative media, "The radicals are estimated to be between 15 to 25 percent, according to all intelligence services around the world."  That was her answer, in part, when asked by an American University headscarf wearing law student about waging an ideological war with Muslims. "You're looking at 180 million to 300 million people dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization...."  That's a particularly vicious misstatement and perhaps deliberate since the correct information is easily acquired from publically available sources.

Western European intelligence agencies estimate that less than one percent of the Muslim population living within their borders are at risk for becoming radicals.  For now, they are not radicalized, and more importantly, they are not violent and have no intent of becoming so.  The estimate is based on affiliations with fundamentalist congregations or groups advocating a Sharia legal system, etc.

Terrorism today involving Islamic players is primarily Sunni vs Shia Muslims. In order of incident prevalence, we find Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria as the target locales; more than a thousand incidents each year. There continue to be a smaller number of acts by radical Islamists targeting Hindu, Jew, and Christian victims. In Europe, however, 98% of terrorist incidents were by non-Muslim groups during the most recent 5 years. To keep things in context, homicide takes 40 times more lives than terrorism. Islam isn't the end of the world, it's not even on the list of problems we face.  Terrorism is, however.  

While it's easy to make simplistic statements about Islam and Muslims, we might note that the conflicts we observe make the headlines rather than the more prevalent peace that is typical of the great majority.

The conflict we do see among Muslims is much like that which exploded between Catholics and Protestant Christians in Northern Ireland. The issue was not religion but discrimination and power. Elsewhere in the world, peaceful coexistence was the norm.

Today's clash between Sunni and Shia can be traced to similar discrimination and oppression, again more political than religious. The spillover attacks against western powers are similarly traceable. Religion provides a unifying name for the angry disenfranchised, but it isn't the cause any more than Christianity caused the Crusades or the slave trade or the slaughter of native Americans. In each case, the objective was power and dominion.

Modern terrorism does in fact have roots from which violent behavior emerges.  Such behavior is chosen for advantage, and labels are added to justify the choice.  The root is and perhaps has always been injustice, inequality, oppression, and a lack of representation.

Between 2004-2013, the UK suffered 400 terrorist attacks, mostly in Northern Ireland, and most of them were non-lethal. The US suffered 131 attacks, fewer than 20 of which were lethal.  France suffered 47 attacks. But in Iraq, there were 12,000 attacks and 8,000 of them were lethal.

From the Global Terrorism Index 2014 Report:

  • 17,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, that’s 61% more than the previous year.
  • 82% of all deaths from terrorist attack occur in just 5 countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.
  • Last year terrorism was dominated by four groups: the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIL, and al Qa’ida.
  • More than 90% of all terrorist attacks occur in countries that have gross human rights violations.

The report said the three main factors found globally to correlate with terrorism were:

  • High social hostilities between different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups
  • The presence of state-sponsored violence such as extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses
  • High levels of overall violence, such as deaths from organised conflict or high levels of violent crime

Seeing Islamic terrorism in the larger context doesn't make it inconsequential, but perhaps we might see a little more clearly.  Objectivity is needed for the years ahead.