Fifteen years after the September 11th attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, the religious extremism that made that tragedy possible is more apparent than ever. In 2001, Richard Dawkins was hatefully criticized when he suggested that the 9/11 attacks could have only occurred with a weaponized Islam. But today, with ISIS blatantly advertising their religious motivations, it's undeniable that faith, whether it's the faith of al Qaeda, ISIS, or others, plays a significant role in global terror.
Part of the fear of identifying religion, particularly strains of Islam, as being a source of extremist behavior is the concern that such critique will lead an already embattled minority to face even more prejudice and discrimination. And that is certainly an understandable fear. Since 9/11 there has been a marked increase in hate crimes against American Muslims, an overall increase of which spikes even more dramatically when terrorist attacks happen around the globe. Coinciding with the meteoric rise of Trump's presidential campaign, anti-Muslim sentiment is now reaching new heights, with 21 percent of Americans stating that they support Trump's temporary ban on Muslim immigration. Just as concerning is the fact that 25 percent of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam, rating it at the bottom of all religious categories -- even below atheism!
Islamophobia, or more relevantly, fear of Muslims, has led to persistent prejudice against a community of people who are just as compassionate and patriotic as anyone else.
Islamophobia, or more relevantly, fear of Muslims, has led to persistent prejudice against a community of people who are just as compassionate and patriotic as anyone else. So even while we call out the factual religious roots of extremism, we should keep in mind that blanket criticism of American Muslims is just another kind of bigotry.
But our opposition to fanning the flames of hate need not preclude us from discussing and condemning religiously motivated extremism, something President Obama failed to do in his remarks to the United Nations two years ago when he said that ISIS is "not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents." While some liberals also expressed concerns, conservative media outlets in particular excoriated the President for his stance, with Breitbart describing his position as "feigned" and "out of touch with reality." The President's claim that the United States is not at war with Islam is correct, but pretending that we're not confronting extremists within Islam is plainly false.
Even while we call out the factual religious roots of extremism, we should keep in mind that blanket criticism of American Muslims is just another kind of bigotry.
The reverberations surrounding the President's continuing remarks led Republican candidate Donald Trump to demand that his opponent Hillary Clinton resign if she unable to use the term "radical Islamic terrorism." Perhaps as a result, and more directly in response to the Orlando nightclub shooting, Hillary Clinton broke away from the President's stance, announcing on CNN that she would use the words "radical Islamism." Donald Trump further demanded the President resign if he could not utter the same phrase, but that demand continues to be unmet.
Recently the ISIS publication Dabiq, a magazine dedicated to promulgating propaganda among ISIS sympathizers, informed Western nations of Why We Hate You and Want to Fight You. Contrary to the growing belief that ISIS is somehow "unIslamic," the reasons they provide are inherently religious. They list their hatred of our nonbelief in Islam, our secular liberal society, the existence of many atheists amongst us, our crimes against Islam, our crimes against Muslims, and the invasion of Muslim lands.
Dabiq makes its final key point, stating that even if the United States and the Western consortium were to cease their bombing campaign in the Middle East and even if they were to release all Muslim prisoners, halt their torture and cease usurping Muslim lands, ISIS would still conduct operations against the West and citizens of the West because their "primary reason for hating [us] will not cease to exist until [we] embrace Islam." Furthermore, Muslims who hold Western beliefs have committed apostasy in their eyes and therefore should be sentenced to death as a form of religious retribution affirmed by the Qu'ran, which states that not believing is worse than killing, and therefore the killing of apostates is permitted.
Muslim extremist motivations are explicitly religious, the violent crimes they commit against other human beings are "permitted" by their faith, and those giving their lives for the religiously rooted cause are emboldened by their beliefs. Indeed, without a faith that persists in spite of contrary evidence, ISIS could not exist. So let's recognize that we are dealing with an insidious global phenomenon that takes its nourishment from a form of faith. Let's recognize that this faith resides within Islam, even if it doesn't represent a majority of Muslims. And let's boldly challenge these inhuman religious conclusions without reservations.