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What’s Islam got to do with it? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Since the terrorist attack carried out by right-wing Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik last Friday, we have heard a lot of talk about Islam and Islamic immigration. If you wanted to confirm this for yourself, all you have to do is search the name “Breivik” or “Norway” alongside the term “Islam” on any internet search engine, and you will be greeted by hundreds and thousands of websites and articles about this horrific terrorist attack. The brutal nature of the attack, the huge number of casualties, and the motives of the perpetrator have horrified Norway and Europe, sending shock-waves around the world.

References to Islam were immediately made whilst news was still breaking of this attack, and there were intimations that this was the work of an “Islamist” terrorist group. However Muslims breathed a sigh of relief after it was revealed that this terrible attack was carried out by a Norwegian right-wing extremist, and had nothing to do with any so-called Islamic terrorist group, whose actions and operations have only served to tarnish the reputation of Islam. It initially appeared that Islam had no connection whatsoever to this horrific terrorist attack in which more than 76 people were killed, and a similar number of people were injured, the majority of whom were Norwegian youths. However this belief did not last long, and the media coverage of the attack soon returned to the issue of Islam, particularly after the identity of the perpetrator was confirmed, and the motive behind his attack was revealed.

Breivik, as has been revealed over the past few days, explained his extremist ideas and motivations for this terrorist attack in a manifesto published on the internet which he began to compile a number of years ago. This manifesto also included a diary that Breivik began to write last May, recording his plans and preparations in the run-up to this horrific terrorist attack. Breivik also discussed his right-wing extremist ideology in this 1,500 page manifesto, detailing his deep-rooted hatred of Islam, which he described as being a “threat to western civilization” and “Europe’s Christian identity.” He also strongly criticized “multiculturalism.”

Many continue to talk about the danger of anti-Islamic rhetoric, and linking Islam to terrorism because of the practices of a few members of this religion that has more than a billion followers around the world, stressing that the terrorist acts carried out by this minority have affected Muslim countries as much as they have affected non-Muslim states. Indeed the number of Muslim casualties of terrorist attacks possibly exceeds the number of non-Muslim casualties. Many wise individuals have stressed that terrorism does not take religion, race, or color into consideration; rather terrorism is a scourge that nobody is safe from. It will take a huge amount of effort and international coordination to confront this, and nobody benefits from criminalizing Islam and falsely claiming its ties to terrorism, regardless of who commits the act, whether it is eastern or western extremists and fanatics.

The terrorist attack in Norway confirmed this, and revealed the extent of the danger caused by the intensification of anti-Islamic and anti-immigration rhetoric. This is something that nobody can deny, particularly as the issue is no longer limited to a minority of extremists or fanatics, but rather such rhetoric has expanded to include many politicians and political commentators, to the point that it is almost drowning out the voices of reason. However the real tragedy is that there are regional leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who put forward programs and make statements that feed these fears and intensify the feelings of hostility [towards Islam]. These leaders do so by continuing to issue statements about Islam, immigration, western identity, and cultural pluralism. For example, the controversy surrounding the niqab and hijab –these Islamic symbols being viewed as an attack on western civilization or identity – is still fresh in the mind. In addition to this, Merkel’s statements to the youth wing of her Christian Democratic Union party, in which she said that multiculturalism has completely failed in Germany, still resonates in the minds of many people who are following the controversy that was raised over the issue of Muslim immigration into Germany, particularly from Turkey.

In order to uncover the extent of this hostility, all that anybody needs to do is look at the results of the German study that was published during the same period of Merkel’s remarks, in addition to being aware of the fact that Merkel’s statement was preceded and followed by statements from a number of other German politicians criticizing the Muslim immigrants, and indeed the religion of Islam itself in some cases. This study found that 60 percent of Germans favor “imposing restrictions on the practice of Islamic rituals”, whilst 13 percent of Germans believe that Germany requires “a new Fuhrer to rule the country with an iron fist.” Such sentiments are not confined to Germany, although it would be true to say that the extent of this hostility varies from one European country to another. However there are a number of opinion polls conducted in other European countries which reflect the growing hostility towards immigrants, Islam, and Muslims. This atmosphere has given rise to a strengthening of the right-wing in Europe, and is reflected in decisions such as Switzerland’s ban on minarets, and France and Belgium’s ban on the niqab. This has also produced a climate where it is easy to attack Islam, and portray it as a danger to “western civilization.”

Despite America’s multiculturalism and freedom of religion, it was not immune to the rise of right-wing voices who specialize in attacking Islam and Muslims, and this was reflected in the controversy over the construction of a mosque close to Ground Zero in New York, or in the media storm surrounding the call for a day of “Quran burning” by a fundamentalist Christian preacher, or even the innuendo surrounding US President Barack Obama and his Islamic background. A number of US writers and political commentators have made reference to the fact that in his manifesto, Breivik explained that he was influenced by the writings of a number of European and American [right-wing] extremists, who have persisted in attacking Islam and proclaiming it a threat to “Western civilization” and “Christian identity.”

Those monitoring the repercussions of the terrorist attack in Norway must be aware that the Western media does not talk about “Christian terrorism”, despite the numerous references to the fact that the perpetrator of this terrorist attack is a right-wing fanatic who hates Islam and Muslim immigration, and rejects cultural pluralism. If Breivik were a Muslim, we would see most headlines and media reports refer to “Islamic terrorism”, rather than talking about a “fanatic.”

Terrorism is not tied to any religion, rather it is a global plague that must be eradicated; it is the enemy of humanity, and a threat to all mankind regardless of religion, race, or creed. As for trying to link terrorism with Islam, this is not just wrong, but a sin, for terrorism is something that affects everybody, and nobody is safe from this, as the Norway attacks proved.