Once and for All, Does Islam Play Too Fast and Loose With Violence?

Immigrant Islamic communities often regard restrictions on public expressions of faith as forcing them to reject their heritage. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

Immigrant Islamic communities often regard restrictions on public expressions of faith as forcing them to reject their heritage. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

Those in the West who think Islam provides justification for Islamist extremist violence are often not privy to the protests from mainstream Muslim. Whether due to bias against Islam or just “if it bleeds, it leads,” the issue is not given much exposure in mainstream American media. But is there actually any truth to it? To begin with, it’s frankly unnerving that Islam’s founder was, at one point in his life, a warrior.

At Foreign Policy in Focus, Hannah Gais of the Foreign Policy Association is not afraid to dig down into this question and get her hands dirty. She writes:

Framing violent acts committed in the name of God as either exclusively motivated by religion or not at all misrepresents and oversimplifies our relationship with faith. Such a polarity feeds both Islamist and right-wing extremist narratives as well.

With regards to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Ms. Gais explains that France reacted to clerical involvement in government by mandating secularism, or laïcité.

Immigrant communities in particular often regard restrictions on public expressions of faith as forcing them to reject their heritage. … wrote Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse of the Brookings Institution in a 2006 report. “To them, integration sounds more like ‘disintegration.’”

It’s this perceived tension between private religiosity and public secularism that’s at the heart of the debate over Islam’s role in attacks like the recent ones in Paris. … Even if the Kouachi brothers were nothing more than criminals, if they did believe they were acting on a religious impulse, that can’t be easily dismissed from their motive to kill.

But

Within this framework, religion is a means, not an end. Extremists of any creed may use and abuse religion to justify and legitimize their own violent political interests.

Religion is just a handy vehicle, Ms. Gais explains, with which to redress their grievances. Placing “the blame for fringe beliefs on some inherent vulnerability within the entire faith,” she writes, “risks overlooking the root causes of terrorism while providing rationale for discrimination.” But — and this is a big “but,”

On the flip side, claiming that Islam or any other creed has nothing to do with terrorism risks ignoring why religion is used as a justification for violence. Seemingly religiously motivated conflicts can be found worldwide, from sectarian violence in Iraq and Syria, to Christian militias in the Central Africa Republic, and to “sword-wielding Buddhist mobs” in Burma.

Attempting to completely absolve religion of being complicit in violence only

… means we’re not attending to the needs of those who are most at risk of joining extremist groups. Grasping for any compelling existential narrative that comes your way can be a cry for help — a sign that some deep-seated needs aren’t met.

Before leaving comments excoriating Ms. Gais for blaming Islamist extremist violence on Islamic teachings, take a minute to re-read her article. You will see that, to the contrary, Islamist extremists, especially in Europe, are, to repeat, attempting to use Islam as a handy tool to legitimize violence as a means of throwing off oppression by European governments and, in the Middle East, by their own governments. The world ignores them at its own peril.