In 2011 a deranged terrorist overseas used a car bomb to kill eight people before proceeding to kill an additional 69 with a gun. He was not a Muslim. And while the media reported the man was a fundamentalist Christian, absolutely nothing about this individual’s demented world view resembled the predominant themes of New Testament ideology. Nevertheless, such identifiers as Christian extremist, Christian fundamentalist, and anti-Muslim Christian extremist were repeatedly woven into news reports and commentary regarding one of the most heinous acts of terrorism ever.
It is important to note that the perpetrator (name intentionally omitted) of the aforementioned terrorist act in Oslo, Norway claimed to be “100 percent Christian,” and it is just as important to note that other self-proclaimed Christians, such as Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, denounced the man’s faith, saying, “No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder.”
For the record, as a Christian, I agree with Bill O’Reilly’s assessment. O’Reilly clearly believes that perverted Christianity is not Christianity, and he is right. There are no such things as “Christian extremists” or “Christian terrorists.” Those are contradictory monikers; there are simply extremists and terrorists who falsely claim to be Christian.
So why are terrorists from the Middle East accepted by Western society as Islamic? There seems to be a hazardous double standard applied when the religion is no longer Judeo-Christian and skin pigmentation shifts a few shades darker than that of Bill O’Reilly.
I will grant that the terms “Islamism” and the related “Islamist” are generally accepted as referring to a specific brand of Islam that promotes violent jihad, but just because something becomes generally accepted doesn’t make it accurate or righteous. Labeling blacks in America with the n-word was generally accepted into the twentieth century. The term Islamism was not bequeathed graciously to extremists by mainstream Muslims. Instead, the term Islamism has been applied for decades by non-Muslim academics who seek to differentiate between non-militant Muslims and militant Middle Easterners.
Recently I spoke to Alan Hunt, host of the nationally syndicated Alan Hunt Show, and made the point that it is no more logical to call a suicide bomber in Iraq a “Muslim terrorist” than it is to call the Oslo terrorist a “Christian Terrorist.” Hunt disagreed. In his opinion, the prefixes of “Muslim” or “Islamist” were fair because such a large swath of Muslims (he quoted 20-40%) claim to support the actions of terrorists, while very few, if any, Christians supported the actions of the Oslo terrorist.
That argument is weak.
A religion can be perverted by a few or by many, 1% or 99%, but either way, a perverted religion is no longer representative of the religion itself. It becomes something wholly different based on how it is utilized, just as a paperweight becomes a weapon when it is maliciously hurled at someone’s face.
Even if Alan Hunt’s opinion seems somewhat reasonable, there are more than a few white supremacists who both call themselves Christians and support terrorist actions (see Christian Identity Movement). That being the case, at what point does it become acceptable to allow those extremists to represent the entirety of Christianity? At what point is it acceptable to ascribe a title of “Christian extremists” to those intolerant bigots? When they comprise 1% of all self-proclaimed Christians? 5%? 51%? Apparently for Hunt, a suitable standard would be 20%.
Compassionate, reasonable people are doing humanity a huge disservice anytime they use names like Islamist extremist or Muslim terrorist. Such labels empower the terrorists. Such labels lend legitimacy to the terrorists as religious martyrs, when in reality they are nothing more than sacrilegious scum, misinterpreting cherry picked verses from a holy text to support their predetermined phony conclusions. And perhaps worst of all, such paradoxical labels denigrate and unfairly persecute millions of Muslims who seek a peaceful existence. That peaceful existence is one that author Karen Armstrong defended on behalf of Muslims after 9/11/2001. It’s a shame her defense did not do more to sway public opinion. Perhaps if peaceful Muslims would have heeded her advice to “reclaim their faith from those who have so violently hijacked it,” things might be different.
Yet things are not different, and that leads to a critical question:
Why don’t peaceful Muslims (a majority, even by Alan Hunt’s claims) do more to denounce the violent acts and bogus religious proclamations of Middle Eastern terrorists?
The answer is self-evident: extremists don’t tend to take criticism very well. Speaking out publicly against radical Islamism automatically makes the critic a direct target, and in countries where oppressive regimes rule with force and systematically condone terrorism, is it any wonder that 20-40% of Muslims “say” that they support terrorism too? Fear is a powerful emotion, powerful enough to make people say things they don’t truly believe. Even Peter denied Christ three times.
As the search for the Boston terrorist (or terrorists) continues and as suicide bombers and IEDs continue to claim the lives of innocent adults and children abroad, we need to consider the implications of attributing religious labels to the least religious among us. In the sickest of minds, the adjectives “Islamist” and “Christian,” when placed in front of the word terrorist, only serve to justify the unholiest of actions.