The attack by Al Qaeda on the Charlie Hedbo office in Paris adds to the growing number of atrocities committed by terrorist groups who claim a radical Islamist philosophy. In response, many Muslim people have spoken out against these heinous attacks, including some using a social media campaign #NotInMyName to protest not only the acts of terror but also the use of Islam as a justification for violence. While many have embraced the Muslim world in protesting terrorism, others such as Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch have implied or stated that all Muslims are to blame for these attacks. The assumption that all Muslims are responsible for terrorism not only increases discrimination against those that are innocent and peaceful, but also undermines the law enforcement and military efforts to fight terrorism.
The #NotInMyName movement was started by a group of British Muslim people in response to the actions of the Islamic State. The purpose was clear -- people wanted to state that the actions of radical Islamist groups like the Islamic State are not representative of all Muslims. This movement is part of a long history of dozens of Muslim leaders who have condemned terrorism since the 9/11 attacks. And many people supported innocent Muslims, including a group of Australians who started the "I'll Ride With You" campaign, offering to meet Muslims who were frightened of anti-Islamic violence to ride public transportation with them.
Rupert Murdoch's recent statement that "Maybe most Moslems are peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible" ignores the protests against terrorism from the Muslim world. This statement also does not acknowledge the thousands of Muslim soldiers and law enforcement officers who serve our country with honor, or our military allies against terror in the Muslim world. It also omits the fact the substantial number of Muslims killed in terrorist attacks; one study found that Al-Qaeda kills eight time more Muslims than non-Muslims.
But Murdoch is not alone: research suggests that fewer and fewer Americans have favorable views of Muslims; in October of 2001, a poll found that 47 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Islam whereas a recent poll found that only 27 percent have a favorable view. And these negative attitudes may have direct consequences for Muslims. One 2003 study of 1,016 Arab-Americans found that Muslims Arabs reported higher rates of discrimination (50 percent) than Christian Arabs (30 percent) and that in the entire population, discrimination was associated with higher psychological distress. Further, hate crimes against Muslims rose 50 percent in 2010 and continue to remain high.
More, rather than aiding the fight against terrorism, these attitudes may undermine anti-terrorism efforts. The National Counterterrorism Center clearly states that promotion of inclusion and tolerance, as well as building trust with law enforcement, is critical to reducing vulnerability to radicalization. A recent 2012 investigation found that widespread surveillance of the Muslim community by the New York Police Department did not improve efforts to identify terrorists. It has been further suggested that these efforts reduced trust in law enforcement. In a study of 300 Muslim-Americans, it was found that lower trust in law enforcement was associated with decreased willingness to cooperate with police on terrorism investigations.
Anger and suspicion in response to the ongoing terrorist threat is understandable. And there is little room for political correctness in our fight against terrorism; we need to aggressively seek out all those responsible, bring them to justice and prevent future attacks. But when we don't distinguish the guilty from the innocent and globally condemn an entire group of people for the vicious acts of a small few because they share the same religion, we move from justice into religious intolerance. And that religious intolerance not only undermines our ability to fight terror, but it erodes the strength of the moral foundation that makes our country so great.