Should terrorists be labeled with a religion?

129 people have died in Paris this weekend as a result of a supposed ‘Islamist’ attack. Many news outlets…

Image: Jay Galvin

129 people have died in Paris this weekend as a result of a supposed ‘Islamist’ attack. Many news outlets have been reporting about how a group of ‘Islamist extremists’ are the cause of this horrific loss of life. Is it right to label these callous murderers as Islamists? What about this attack was Islamic? I will try to show you how utterly ludicrous it is to label these attacks as being associated with Islam and more widely how it is as equally ridiculous to brand any act of terror with a religion.

No significant established religion in this world sanctions terrorist attacks. As much as some people would like to believe it, it just isn’t true. No archbishop, chief rabbi, pope, guru or caliph has ever, in modern times, claimed responsibility for or ordered an act of terror. Why is it that radicals brandishing a flag with Islamic writing on shouting “allahu akbar” immediately get associated with the religion of Islam, much to the anger of Muslims the world over. The people that carry out attacks in the name of Islam are clearly deranged and clearly have little idea of the main tenets of Islam. Mehdi Hassan, in an Oxford Union event, highlighted how the teachings of Islam are peaceful and promote living a peaceful life. Sceptical readers at this point are likely to point out certain passages in the Qur’an that appear to condone rape and other non-peaceful acts, however this is a common feature of many religious texts. The bible, for example, contains numerous violent verses, this does not mean that Christianity is a violent religion but merely that there are passages from which a wider meaning can be gathered. IS are to Islam what the KKK are to Christianity so why don’t we associate the lynching of a black man by the KKK with a Christian act of terror? It’s because there is nothing Christian about the KKK and nothing Muslim about IS.

So how do you solve the problem? The first port of call is eradicating the term from journalists’ vocabulary. It has got to the stage where it would seem strange if the word extremist was mentioned without being preceded by Islamist, which is problem because it both entrenches divides in society by linking terrorism to a significant tranche of our population and falsely blames a whole religion for what are the actions of a few radicals calming to be acting in the name of god. Secondly, more Muslims should be denouncing these acts publicly. Whilst it is not my view, it is certainly the sentiment of others that many Muslims are quietly condoning these acts of terror by not voicing their opposition to them. Our thoughts should be focussed on how we can prevent radicalisation and how we can reduce the risk of such an attack happening on our own soil. Bombing the middle east to shreds probably won’t do much.


  1. “Why is it that radicals brandishing a flag with Islamic writing on shouting “allahu akbar” immediately get associated with the religion of Islam”

    I think you answered your own question there.

    Unless there’s an authority which decides which religion people are then you have to accept their statement that they are doing it for their religion – that this is their motive. It’s simply not your call to make. Try to imagine walking into a mosque and telling a group of ordinary Muslims at prayer that their prayers are not Islamic. That would be offensive and presumptuous wouldn’t it.

    Or for that matter telling a Protestant he is not Christian because he has a different interpretation than that of the Pope.

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  2. 21 Nov ’15 at 10:40 am

    Daniel Gronow

    Panikos’s sentiments echo my own. IS is an Islamic group, using scripture to justify their actions. Of course no religious leader has condoned their acts of terror, but neither do they or you have the right to preclude IS’s (pointedly literal) interpretation of the Qur’an. Religion and the promises of martyrdom are arguably the only ways a person can be convinced to strap explosives to their chest and detonate among a crowd. To assert that the IS attacks are NOT associated with Islam is beyond ‘utterly ludicrous’. Radicalisation can only be prevented through a censuring of religion.

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  3. btw you shouldn’t conflate islam (a religion), with islamism (a political idea).

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    • 23 Nov ’15 at 7:59 pm

      Daniel Gronow

      I’m very much aware of the differences between Islam and Islamism, and indeed of the differences between Islamism and IS’s jihadism. However, I don’t see your point. IS take a resolutely literal interpretation of the Qur’an, in which Muslims are told to kill apostates and fight unbelievers unless they convert to Islam. The notion of a worldwide caliphate is one propagated by the scripture. Ergo, to call IS an Islamic group is perfectly valid, because in their eyes they are perhaps the most devout of all Muslims. It goes without saying that the majority of Muslims are not Islamists or fundamentalists, but the conflation stands.

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      • I’m not sure you do, or my point would be less contentious. Islamism is just the movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. It does not necessarily refer to Islamic fighters, militants, or extremists. IS is very obviously Islamist (it’s in the name).

        The writer refers to Islamism with inverted commas in the first paragraph (twice) and then goes on to ask what about the attack was Islamic and uses the words fairly interchangeably throughout.

        That’s why I pointed out they were different things.

        p.s. the idea of the caliphate ISIS use isn’t from the Koran it’s from a combination of the Hadith, Islamic history, and the work of several Islamic figures (many recent, esp. after the dismantling of the caliphate in 1924).

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        • 24 Nov ’15 at 8:40 am

          Daniel Gronow

          The principles of Islamism can be drawn from Islam. The religion is used to justify the movement. Scothern may have unintentionally used the two words interchangeably, but the conflation stands. IS certainly don’t see a difference between Islam and Islamism, and that’s the group we’re describing.

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    • One problem is that you are trying to contend that IS has no links with some sort of mainstream Islam. Alas that is not so.

      Another problem is this attempt to pretend IS is like some different religion – entirely separate – it is demonstrably not. You’re trying, for semi-decent motives, to dissociate most or all muslims from IS (or al-quaeda? or any other jihadi group?)

      But it’s probable the links to mainstream religion are rather stronger than the KKK in America, which currently isn’t going to cities hundreds of miles away and murdering 100s of civilians.

      The regressive left, in any case, DO (wrongly) conflate the religious right in the US with the KKK. It doesn’t mean the scenarios are exactly analogous – there is no reason why they should be.

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      • I’m not trying to disassociate ISIS with Islam or Islamism – I’m not making any political point at all. I just want people to be more accurate with their language and realise what the different words they use actually mean.

        As a matter of fact, my view is that IS is obviously Islamic and Islamist.

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  4. “Why is it that radicals brandishing a flag with Islamic writing on [it] shouting ‘allahu akbar’ immediately get associated with the religion of Islam…”

    After reading that passage, I assume this article is intended to be satirical. But to answer your question, “Should terrorists be labeled with a religion?” … if they are committing terrorist acts for ideological reasons based on their religion, then yes. Expanding the “No True Scotsman” fallacy out to the length of an entire article isn’t going to change the self-proclaimed motivations of the terrorists. If Christians were still rounding up pagans en mass and burning them at the stake we would be calling them (in modern terminology) Christian extremists and Christian terrorists regardless of what the priest down the street said about the “real” teachings in the Bible.

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  5. Intellectually this is a ridiculous piece. The only reason it has been written is because some on the left have got themselves into an indefensible corner, arguing that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. Of course any sane person knows it does.

    It is often said “most normal muslims wouldn’t do this sort of thing” and we’ve gone along with this. But he number of keeps attacks going up, sometimes the perpetrators are doctors or people with respectable jobs.

    Ex-Islamists tell us that recruitment is going on big-time in the mosques. We hear scary stats telling us just how many Western muslims “sympathise” with the jihadis, and talk to many muslims (not all) and you here this tone of constant complaint: that it’s the west’s fault, the west is racist (so why are they here?).

    They often seem to care less about all the dead people and grieving families, more about the political mileage they’ll get from saying “we’ll be blamed for this. [I dare say they will] The west is racist etcetc”

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