(revised from “Mosque-like Establishments at (or near) Ground Zero” posted on October 6, 2010)
Following the deadly shooting in Orlando, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump lambasted President Obama for not using the exact term “radical Islamic terrorism.” Beyond the shift in nomenclature, Trump has gone so far as to suggest a ban on immigrants who profess this religious faith (I suppose they could lie – or we could bring back the inquisition), that we monitor mosques, and even engage in “racial” or, I suppose, “religious” profiling. We could limit their movement or maybe even use reeducation (assimilation) camps. According to Trump, such restrictions and monitoring will prevent Muslims already here from becoming radicalized while blocking the entrance of future terrorists, thus helping to prevent any future attacks on the US here at home. The broader narrative envisions what Huntington labeled a “clash of civilizations,” but which proponents really see as a clash of civilization against incivility or barbarism, painting the Islamic religion itself as violent and even evil.
Perhaps they indeed have a point… but why draw the line of demarcation at the denominational level? These “radical” terrorists (can you really be “a non-radical” terrorist?) are not just Muslim, but religious fanatics, motivated by an uncompromising faith that asserts to know the truth based not on evidence or rational thought, but on sacred texts, weird stories, and metaphysics. Though their motivations and even frustrations are at heart political, it is religion that provides these terrorists their overriding sense of purpose, and a tool to distinguish right from wrong in a broader sense than the here-and-now. Their religion, it seems, at least in their eyes and heart, justify their actions in part by anointing and celebrating deeds designed to spread and honor their faith; their religion minimizes the importance of life in the here and now; and their religion promises them all a reward in the afterlife.
Perhaps then out of respect for the victims of such terrorist acts there should be limits and monitoring not just on Muslims, but on all religious people. History clearly demonstrates the potential for any religion to radicalize and support and justify violence – not just Muslims. This is particularly true for all the religions bent on proselytizing, on spreading the faith, on literally “taking over the world,” and/or on imposing their views and laws on everyone (tell me again why I can’t buy booze on Sunday). Indeed, religion lies behind the terrorist attacks. But targeting just the Muslims while allowing other religious institutions to carry on without restriction seems almost to fan the religious flames, privileging one religion over another when, if we cast the net wide enough, all could be considered potentially threatening and should be condemned.
Many will reject this idea as nonsense. Protestants and Catholics will surely point out that “they” did not blow up the twin towers, bomb marathon runners in Boston, or kill so many at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Indeed, why condemn all religions when the terrorists are of one particular religion (the Christian mass shooter in Charleston?) ?
Maybe they have a point… why condemn an entire class of people (the religious) for the actions of a few (the Muslims)? But where then should we draw the lines of demarcation? Who should be included and who should be excluded? According to the same logic, why condemn an entire class of people (Muslims) by the actions of a few (the terrorists)? Just as we can differentiate among religions – despite their commonalities and history of violence — surely we can differentiate between these two groups – despite their commonalities — and not consider them to be synonymous. So, rather than call them “radical Islamic terrorists” why not simply “religious terrorists”?
Stephen D. Morris