Global HotSpots

The Libel Equating Islam With Terror

The homegrown attacks in the U.S. and Europe have more in common with secular mass shooters than with Mideast jihad.

Credit: Oleg Zabielin


  • The slandering of Islam as a uniquely violent and repressive religion is now overt and widespread.
  • The Islamic apocalypse/Day of Judgment is almost identical to Christianity’s Armageddon.
  • Christians have been more comfortable with Old Testament Yahweh than with Jesus, on violence.
  • Homegrown attacks have more in common with secular mass shooters than with Mideast jihad.

Americans are in the grip of a particular hysteria – once again. First it arrived in the panic provoked by the atrocity of 9/11. The symptoms of that Post-Traumatic Shock are still with us. Now it returns in the panic in the aftermath of San Bernardino and the Paris shootings.

This time, the slandering of Islam as a uniquely violent and repressive religion is overt and widespread. Witness the ugly language of Republican presidential hopefuls.

Religious Extremism: Two-part Analysis by Michael J. Brenner

Part I: The Libel Equating Islam With Terror

Part II: The Christian Terror of Saint Augustine

Bigotry and lawlessness are sweeping across the land. The latter category includes the unlawful declarations of state governors that they will not permit persons from Syria who are Muslim to enter their territory.

President Obama, characteristically, has been restrained and formalistic in reacting to this affront to American principles. Unfortunately, emotions are aflame and sober thinking becomes invisible.

Putting some emotional distance between ourselves and the events in Paris (or subsequently San Bernardino), it is hard to see any objective change between the threat today and the threat on November 12.

Realistic threat assessment

After all, we all knew that this sort of incident could happen and would happen sooner or later. It has antecedents: London, Madrid, Charlie Hebdo.

They were all carried out by locals with, perhaps, the partial exception of Madrid. They all did have external connections but there is no evidence that there is a central command (a General Staff or Morgan Chase Executive Committee) plotting and directing campaigns.

Rather, diffuse motives met opportunity and means – means which were actually devised by non-Muslim extremists first.

The real puzzle is not how they made it past our defenses, but rather how they did not do so more often or on greater scales. Consider the discrepancy between the formidable capabilities of the terrorists groups and the very limited operations that they have conducted in the West.

As to plots foiled and defenses circumvented, in the United States, we can infer that there have been none of consequence. Why? The FBI proudly touts even the most insignificant of allegedly foiled plots, playing up and exaggerating the importance of each.

Usually they are plots set up as FBI stings in the first place, too. We have not heard of more serious plots being stopped.

The optimistic conclusion from this observation is that the risk is not that great. The pessimistic conclusion is that if these guys ever get their act together we’re in real trouble – since there really is no defense, it seems.

Motivations and intensity

One hypothesis in favor of the former is that there are in fact very few candidates in the West for taking on suicidal missions. If those attracted to ISIL were truly fanatical believers, wouldn’t that number be much higher?

By contrast, if they are mainly thrill-seekers, borderline sociopaths, and sexually repressed teen-agers excited by the prospect of sex slaves and/or an alternative outlet for their raging hormones – then it is understandable that they would lack the fortitude and conviction to kill and to be killed.

This is especially true in their home country, banal Western settings where there is not the intense emotional encouragement and example of their salafist fellows.

That may help to explain why the two earlier mass killings in the United States (Dr. Nadal Hassan and the Tsarnaev brothers) were by people who exhibited relatively little religious passion or in-depth knowledge of scripture.

Dr. Hassan, in the years leading up to the incident, had received tutoring in Islam. It should be borne in mind, however, that he has since affirmed that his motivation was political (U.S. actions in the Middle East).

It was not religiously motivated to conform to some purported requirement of Islam. Unlike an ISIS fighter, he has not claimed that he killed because his religion obligated him to do so.

The Tsarnaevs, for their part, were close to illiterate on matters of Islamic scripture. The same holds for the French-born Paris terrorists. They seem closer to the nihilistic, secular mass killers who have murdered many more in schools, theaters and post offices across the United States than any terrorists have.

What they seem to share is an emotional emptiness, a void where souls are supposed to reside.

Remove the beam from your own eye

Caution is in order when ascribing to a religion’s theology and doctrines a unique potential for instigating dramatic, sociopathic behavior.

True, not all religions are the same. But Islam, Christianity and Judaism are first cousins. Each successive version of the same narrative accepts the validity of its antecedent prophets’ claims.

They also share the same eschatology: The Islamic apocalypse/Day of Judgment is almost identical to Christianity’s Armageddon as viewed by believers in the Book of Revelations. Indeed, it is forecast that the endtimes will be preceded by a Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

There are millions of non-Muslims here in my state of Texas who are prepared to embrace it right now – or at least when football season ends.

Violence from many quarters

As to what Islam preaches about violence, we should bear in mind both the contradictory passages of the Koran and the contradictions in its antecedent scriptures. After all, Muslims recognize Moses and Jesus as God’s prophets.

The Old Testament and the New Testament alike are valid expressions of the Divine – albeit superseded by Mohammed’s transmission of Allah’s word. Hence, they implicitly incorporate Yahweh’s instruction for Joshua to kill every living being in Jericho including babies in the Hebrew book of Deuteronomy.

They also implicitly accept Jesus’ pacifist preachings. As for Christians, they have been far more comfortable with the Old Testament God Yahweh than the New Testament Jesus on matters of coercion and violence – as demonstrated by 2,000 years of history.

No unique failing

The proposition, therefore, that Islam conveys a creed of violence unique among the three monotheistic religions is absurd.

The Christian Right are our politicized Christian Salafists. Only a few, thank goodness, have taken to violence.

Then again, there are centuries of enlightenment history and acculturation in a genuine humanism between them and the earlier ages when Christians rampaged in a manner little different from what we see emergent in the Islamic world today. The underlying worldview and mentality are there.

Tags: , , , ,

About Michael J. Brenner

Michael Brenner is Professor Emeritus of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. [Texas, United States]

Responses to “The Libel Equating Islam With Terror”

Archived Comments.

  1. On December 9, 2015 at 2:14 pm Andrew responded with... #

    Whilst you do at least mention Islamic theology you have left out the Medina phase of the Koran and only reference the Meccan. The Medina phase of the Koran advocates, beheading, enslavement, daily humiliation, terror, and war against non Muslims.
    The key metaphor here is that during the Meccan phase Mohammed was keeping his head down as a small minority and not wanting to antagonise his neighbours. “Allah will cause the infidel to turn his back”. In contrasty that was followed by going to Medina taking control of it, orchestrating the beheading of the Jews, dictating all the hatred in the Koran, followed by, once the numbers of muslims increased, the return to Mecca and the destruction of Meccan pagan civilisation. The link between Islam and civilisation destruction is then replayed when Muslims go on their pilgramage to Mecca and go around the black rock to simulate the Arabs circling it and turning the temple idols of infidels to dust. That in turn was the metaphor played out in 9/11 turning the twin towers to dust as a prelude to the destruction of the west.
    In the modern internet age teaching and preaching from the Koran and about Mohammed inevitably leads to terror and in so many way is a guide for ISIS and any Muslim seeking to bring down the West or indeed any civilisation.
    So by example it is not surprising that 77% of Syrians pre ISIS agreed with the financing of groups in Iraq blowing up UK and US troops.
    So no libel at all unless of course you seek to extract the Koran and Mohammed from Islam – actually if the Medina phase of the Koran were banned just leaving the bits you are referencing then that might be a starting point…

  2. On December 11, 2015 at 8:35 am Donald responded with... #

    We’ve lived with this type of terror in the United States for a long time with leftist extremists constantly threatening to kill anyone who fails to adhere to the tenants of their religion. They force us at the barrel of a gun to buy food, shelter, education and all sorts of stuff for other people. If anyone refuses to pay they’ll forcibly seize your assets, incarcerate you and if you resist they will most certainly hunt you down and kill you dead like a dog. More recently they’ve begun forcing people to pay the medical bills of other people. There is no end to their religious fervor, or their insatiable greed.

  3. On December 21, 2015 at 4:43 am Arijit Thakur responded with... #

    The ’emotional emptiness’, the ‘void where souls are supposed to reside’ is a result of a conscious effort to be an exclusive group. It is a conscious effort as the ones making the effort know that they are trying to achieve exclusivity. However, in many cases, those making the effort do not know that it would result in the emotional emptiness.

    The question is why some people try to establish themselves as an exclusive group? I believe it is the superiority complex inherent in human character that makes us fond of exclusivity. You need confidence to succeed in life. However, when that confidence converts to a superiority complex, you begin to fail on a massive scale. That is what has happened to most Muslim communities across the globe.

  4. On December 28, 2015 at 10:23 am A2ZWorldTravLR responded with... #

    No amount of scholarly finger pointing and restrained rebuttal alters the fact that religion has failed to change human nature. Religions being human wishfulness, reflect human contradictions. Attempts to justify or acquit this reality is at the end of the day, vacuous. With increasing knowledge of the mysteries of life and the universe, a handful of countless religions limp along and remain a dividing rather than a unifying force.