Question: Is Terrorism a Phenomenon That Occurs Only Among Muslims?


It is clear to anyone who follows the news or studies history that terrorism is a world wide phenomenon that occurs among people from all nations, ethnicities and religions. In fact, upon closer inspection, it becomes obvious that terrorism is not tied to religion, but to politics. In most cases, terrorist groups claim to represent political movements and usually have political demands. Cases of terrorist groups that commit their crimes for no reason and without having any political demands are very rare, if not non-existent. This is true in all societies regardless of religion.

Islam prohibits all forms of terrorism and violence against civilians (see the question: Does Islam Approve Of Using Violence and Terrorism Against Civilians?). However, not every Muslim adheres to every aspect of the teachings of Islam. Islam prohibits consumption of alcoholic beverages, but there are still Muslims who do consume them. Similarly, there are some Muslims who commit crimes of terrorism, even though it is prohibited by Islam. Sadly, they usually try to justify their actions using Islam in an attempt to gain legitimacy among other Muslims. The actions of these few should not be seen as an accurate representation of Islamic teachings.

It is useful to look at the countries where terrorism occurs most widely and the circumstances of these countries in order to understand some of root causes of terrorism. For example, at the time of writing this answer, terrorism is most often associated with Afghanistan and Iraq. It is true that the majority of the populations of these two nations are Muslims. However, it is also true that Afghanistan was invaded in 1979 by the Soviet Union, which led to a destructive decade of war against the Soviets, followed by a decade of civil war among the militias that developed during the war. These wars led to the dismantling of all infrastructure and the creation of many social ills due to the lack of proper government. All of this was followed by more war during the rise and fall of the Taliban movement. Therefore, even though some groups may try to use Islam to gain legitimacy, it is clear that Afghanistan was not a normal society by any means. An entire generation was born and lived their entire lives in a state of war, and the only thing they learned was the art of war. Therefore, it is not surprising that this type of society would generate violent groups that try to impose their vision using violence, which is the only way of life they have ever experienced.

Iraq has a similar history, having lived under brutal dictatorship for many decades, and a savage 8 year war with neighbouring Iran, followed by a second gulf war. This was followed by a brief civil war between Kurds, Sunnis and Shias which was brutally suppressed by the government. Almost a decade of devastating economic sanctions followed, and then another devastating war which led to the toppling of the government and the collapse of all infrastructure and institutions. Again it is not surprising that such a violent history and such a dysfunctional state and society would give rise to violent terrorist groups who only know violence as a means of voicing their opinion.

Other examples include Algeria, where political problems between the various parties and the cancellation of elections won by one party led to violence between the various groups and the birth of terrorism there. Another example is Palestine, a land that has been under occupation for 60 years, and a people who have been living as refugees and have been mistreated and brutalized by the occupation forces for many decades. All these examples show that terrorism can be linked with political upheaval and is not necessarily a product of the religion practiced by the people.

In order to strengthen this argument, it is only necessary to look at other instances of political upheaval in the world, in non-Muslim nations. In Northern Ireland, the political climate and the aspirations of the local people for independence from the UK have led to many bouts of violence and terrorism over the years. Bombings of trains and stations, shootings and riots are some of the common stories and images we have seen from Northern Ireland, a nation that is divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Another example is the ETA organization in Spain, which is also seeking independence, and its followers are Catholic. They have been involved in many bombings in Spain as well. Another well known case is that of Sri Lanka, where the government has been fighting the Tamil Tigers for many years. They have been seeking independence, and have used all forms of violence including suicide bombings during their struggle. The warring sides are Hindu and Buddhist. Also in India, there have been several local terrorist groups involved in bombings and massacres of civilians, and these groups have ranged from communists to nationalist Hindus. Even in the United States, Christian anti-abortion activists have resorted to bombings and assassinations at times. The Oklahoma city bombing was carried out by Christian extremists. The siege of the Branch Dividians, a Christian group, in Waco, Texas in 1993 by the FBI and ATF is another example. There are many other examples of terrorist groups that target civilians in the brutal wars of South America and Africa as well, all between non-Muslims.

Therefore, given all of this information, it is clear that terrorism is linked to political upheaval and conflict, and is not really driven by religion. If it was caused by a specific faith, then it would have been limited to people of that faith. However, as seen from the previous discussion, terrorism has occurred on all continents, among all religions and all peoples.

Some people might argue that while it may be true that terrorism does occur among followers of all religions, it occurs more frequently among Muslims. This is due to two factors. The first is that most media outlets now focus their attention on acts of violence in Muslim nations such as Iraq and Afghanistan. This is due to the political climate that exists in the world today, and due to the involvement of many nations in the international forces that are involved in these conflicts. Therefore, while a bombing may occur in Sri Lanka on the same scale as one that occurs in Baghdad, the one in Baghdad would be covered as the main headline story while the one in Sri Lanka may not make it into the news at all, unless you scour the internet to many different sources in order to find it. This is a fact of the world we live in today, and the political climate of the "war on terror".

The second factor is that sadly, Muslim nations today have more than their fair share of political upheaval in the world. Therefore, they have more civil wars and more conflicts and this leads to more violence than other regions of the world. There are many reasons for this political upheaval. One is that most Muslim nations fell under occupation of foreign European powers in the late 19th and early 20th century, and only started to gain independence in the second half of the 20th century. Even after independence, many foreign powers maintained strong influence on the regimes ruling these nations in order to protect their own interests. The regimes allowed the foreign powers to continue to exploit resources, and in exchange the foreign powers propped up these regimes even though they are mostly dictatorships that do not represent their people. This combination of repressive government that does not represent the people and foreign domination of the resources and politics of these Muslim nations has led to explosive political climates that have frequently burst into civil war, revolutions and upheaval. There is no end in sight to this instability, until the peoples of the Middle East are able to gain control of their own fate and install governments that truly represent and work for the best interest of their people.