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Fecteau: Terror and Response

Saturday, May 27, 2017


The memorial in Brussels

With the recent terrorist attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt and the suicide bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, Islamic terrorism is back in the spotlight (or perhaps it never left?). Terrorism is not unique to Islam, but we tend to think Islam and terrorism are joined at the hip – completely false. 

After such highly publicized attacks in Brussels, Paris, Orlando, and Nice, perhaps there is some slight, but misattributed justification for attributing Islam to terrorism – though statistics show other groups make up a much larger bulk of U.S. domestic terrorism. While reluctantly understandable, this drives people into the arms of those that want to harm us. 

What do terrorists expect to gain when they commit a terrorist act in the name of Islam? For the narrow-minded terrorists themselves, their death or sacrifice – they don’t call it suicide, which is forbidden in the Quran — is merely a stepping stone to paradise. They are fighting for Allah and will reap the rewards of their Jihad – or so they believe. 

At a strategic level, Islamic terrorism is simply a tool to divide us. Terror groups such as al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State seek to make any action taken by the predominantly Christian West to be an act of war against all of Islam – similar to the Crusades. These terror groups, in turn, hope to incite an overactive anti-Muslim backlash creating an Army of recruits to its demented, sadistic cause. 

It is easy to blame all Muslims in the United States; after all, Muslims make up only about 1% of the U.S. population, and some look distinct from what someone might falsely attribute to being a typical American. After 9/11, it should be no surprise, there was an uptick in attacks on Sikhs across the United States even though they are of a vastly different religion. 

These disgusting stereotyping also undermine our fight against those that only seek to destroy us. This is a powerful recruitment tool in the age of social media where isolated loners seek answers to address their inadequacies and shortcomings. In recent years, especially with this past U.S. presidential election and other national elections across the globe, political leaders embraced bigotry and xenophobia towards Muslims to stir up their predominantly white, Christian base. 

We saw the cancerous impact of such demagoguery when Somali Islamist terror group al-Shabab used clips of then presidential candidate Donald Trump discussing a Muslim ban in a recruitment video. Mr. Trump has since, obviously, become president, and has issued a modified version of that Muslim ban – the U.S. Courts have since ruled it is unconstitutional. 

This anti-Muslim rhetoric is not only unhelpful but toxic to defeating our adversaries. This suits the terror groups well especially when it comes time to appeal to vulnerable, impressionable individuals – not necessarily Muslim — seeking to make meaning in his or her life. Islam does have come pronounced problems, but failing to grasp that Islam is a complex, nuanced religion of 1.8 billion people is both egregiously wrong and ignorant; furthermore, this makes a sincere discussion difficult to have, and tangible solutions harder to produce. Instead of building bridges, terrorists hope we build walls to tolerance and understanding. 

In a world with unrelenting coverage of terrorist attacks, hatred and prejudice are easy, but learning from each other, building a community together, and creating a world free of terrorism, that is far more difficult, yet productive too. Islamic terrorism and all terrorism should be condemned, but so should the disgusting, bigoted rhetoric that enables such terrorist acts; that would be a fitting response.  

Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) of Pawtucket, Rhode Island was a Democratic candidate for office in 2014 and 2016. He is a former White House national security intern and Iraq War veteran. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewFecteau


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