How not to talk about Muslims after a Fringe Terrorist Group attacks

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

1. Stop calling Daesh “the Islamic State.” They are manipulating you. They aren’t a state and they aren’t Islamic. If some fringe cult took over some villages in Mexico and called itself “The Vatican,” then committed terrorism, would journalists blithely say on air “Today, the Vatican killed 39 and injured 200 with a bomb belt”? People in the Middle East hate this small desert fringe, and they term it “Daesh,” not “Islamic.” They should know.

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2. Call the terrorists “Muslim” if you have to characterize them, not “Islamic” or even worse, “Islamics.” There is no such thing as “Islamic” terrorism. The word “Islamic” has to do with the ideals and verities of the religion of Islam, and is analogous to “Judaic.” There are Muslim criminals and Muslim terrorists, just as there are Jewish criminals and Jewish terrorists. But there are no Judaic terrorists, and there aren’t any Islamic ones either. But it is all right just to call them terrorists or cultists.

3. Stop suggesting that there is something wrong with Muslims that they keep producing terrorists. All the major world faiths produce violent people. In the Rwanda genocide of the 1990s, Christian Hutus murdered between 500,000 and 1 million other people, and the Christian churches were deeply involved in enabling this slaughter. Indeed, Christian missionaries had played a sinister role in importing the idea of racial divides and racial hierarchies into Rwanda in the first place. That the American mass media have virtually ignored sanguinary episodes such as the Rwanda killings and the central role of the Christian churches in them in itself helps create an image of Muslims as unusually violent. If you only report on Muslim violence, then that is what people will think.

4. Call terrorism ‘terrorism’ no matter who commits it. When Basques blew up a gas station in Madrid, the US press did not report it, much less terming it ‘terrorism.’ In terms of sheer numbers of attacks, terrorism more often looks like that in Europe than it looks like Brussels on Tuesday.

5. Muslims are a sixth of humankind and hail from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, and languages. There are 40 million Chinese Muslims. There are 23 million Russian ones. Ethiopian Muslims and Senegalese Muslims have little in common despite being African, and neither has much in common with Bangladeshi Muslims. To tag all of them with the actions of some violent Brussels slum-dwellers of North African heritage is weird. It is exactly like assuming that all American Christians want to kill Tutsis, just because Hutu Christians did.

6. Show some basic humanity and sympathize with Muslim victims of terrorism (and they are the main victims nowadays). It is right that we show solidarity with the Brussels victims and that we say “we are Brussels.” But why aren’t we “Istanbul” or “Beirut” or “Baghdad” when those cities are blown up by Daesh?

7. Recognize that most Muslims actively despise Daesh and similar violent cults. There are only like 30,000 Daesh fighters, and that’s in an area with lots of armed groups. They don’t like Daesh and won’t join it. Half of the population routinely flees if Daesh takes over. (There is a little propaganda trick Islamophobes play with these statistics, saying that even if 2% of 1.6 billion Muslims actively supported Daesh, that would be a lot of people. But this trick is easily refuted by reality. Almost no one has gone to fight for Daesh, in statistical terms. If 600 Britons went to Syria out of 3.6 million British Muslims, that would be .016% support. Moreover, people who tell pollsters they think well of Daesh mostly have no idea what it is– they are just falling for point #1 above, hearing that it is “Islamic” and so it might have a positive connotation for them until they actually meet it.

8. Show your Muslim neighbor (or even more likely in the US, physician) some love. Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) does these horrible things to get people of Christian heritage to be beastly to the Muslims in their midst, spreading hatred and anger and a sense of victimization. Daesh is hoping to use *you* to drive other Muslims into their arms. They want to make you a recruitment officer. They want you to hate and they want you to fear. There is only one way to combat this tactic of sharpening contradictions. Refuse to hate and refuse to be afraid. Bend over backwards to be nice to Muslims. They’re human beings, just like you, but they are being stalked by very dangerous people. Not all those dangerous people are even of Muslim heritage. Some 40% of Daesh suspects arrested in the US have been converts from other religions. And some of the dangerous people are US presidential candidates like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

37 Responses

  1. Thanks much Juan!

    I frequently go to your blog to see some refreshing sanity after hearing of such tragic events.

    • “…and some of the dangerous people are…..Donald Trump.”

      One wonders how much of Trump’s apparent anti-Muslim bias relates to the fact his wife was raised in Slovenia, which has had a history of such bias:

  2. Juan, you might want to tell your guest posters to stop referring to the Islamic State, as just two posts before this one that phrase was in the first sentence…

  3. Another excellent, factual and enlightening post. As a non-Muslim who abhors terrorism and radicalism, I find these posts extremely useful and reassuring, because they enable us to move beyond the simplistic and inaccurate portrayal of Muslims as terrorists by the media and by some politicians with sinister agendas. Following the terrorist outrages in Belgium, Donald Trump repeated his call for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, and Ted Cruz went beyond his promise of “carpet bombing” ISIS in Syria, and called for the patrolling and securing Muslim neighborhoods.

    In the recent groveling speeches by presidential candidates at AIPAC, all speakers directed their venom towards Iran, with Ted Cruz calling Ayatollah Khamenei a “genocidal maniac”, not realizing that most of the terrorist acts in Syria and in the West are carried out by radical Sunnis who are the mortal enemies of Iran and the Shiite.

    I have been consistently critical of human rights violations by Iran’s clerical regime. However, it is remarkable that out of hundreds of suicide bombers who have been identified, there has not been a single Iranian national among them. There have been a few cases of suicide bombings in the Iranian province of Sistan va Baluchestan on the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, but they have been carried out by militant Sunni separatists who have attacked Shiite mourning ceremonies or Iranian officials.

    Unless we can correctly identify and isolate the terrorists we will not be able to win this ghastly battle. Accusing all Muslims of collusion or of sympathizing with the terrorists will only help the cause of the terrorists.

  4. Nevertheless, the world of Islam has been going through a turmoil since its colonization, traces of which are still felt.

    The Muslims have generally lost the original, transformative Islam, which has generally been kept alive by the Sufis.

  5. The kindest, most sincere people that I have ever met are from Muslim backgrounds. They try to do everything right for their community, for their Allah. It is because they are so sincere that they take such undeserved fear and suspicion to heart.

  6. #7 is very incorrect “there are only like 30,000 Daesh fighters” that is the number of foreign fighters (people that have traveled from other countries to fight with Daesh). Total Personnel estimates are closer to 200,000 total fighters.

  7. Ted Cruz annoys me the most with his deliberate bigoted language in demonizing Islam and Muslims choosing words such as ‘Islamic terrorism’ or ‘radical Islam’, claiming its being ‘PC’ saying otherwise. Not surprisingly he tapped a nut like Frank Gaffney as one of his foreign policy advisors. Being ‘PC’ is not calling these guys out for their hate and insane views.

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  8. I agree with most of this, but regarding point # 1, I will note that Western media did pretty uniformly go along with the nomenclature of “The Real IRA” when that was a thing.

  9. As usual the Republicans have gone off the deep end in their condemnations. For those who didn’t see it, Hillary Clinton gave a speech this afternoon at Stanford. Unlike her horrid pandering at AIPAC, this speech was measured, sensible and reasonable. She condemned the anti-Muslim rhetoric of Trump and Cruz. She unequivocally opposed sending more US troops into the region. It looks like she has decided her best campaign approach is to act statesman-like to present a stark contrast with the shoot from the hip approach of Trump, whose ignorance often seems boundless.

  10. Thanks for this article – I now have some really great information and I’ll be sharing this on my Facebook.
    Oh and about Ted Cruz and Trump? I agree they are VERY dangerous people.

  11. My most recent MS magazine has an article by Mona Eltahawy in which she says DAESH is an anagram considered derogatory by the group itself because “in Arabic it contains a pun meaning, approximately, ‘crush these bastards underfoot’ –which is precisely why those of us in the Middle East who despise the group use it.” Dr. Cole, can you comment on this?

  12. Thanks for this Juan. I prefer to call anyone who commits these atrocities as mere criminals. They are simply filthy criminals, nothing more, nothing less. The response has to be a heavy and concerted police operation, not a “war”.

  13. In the Brussels attack and the Paris attack the Turkish authorities have advised the French and the Belgium authorities that some of these individuals being terror suspects but the European authorities have done nothing about it. European authorities have two deficiencies in fighting against terrorism.
    1. There attitude that your terrorist is not my terrorist; I can nurture and support your terrorist as long as it does not operate in my country. The same day that the terrorist attacked in Brussels. There was an information tent said up in Brussels by PKK (Terrorist group operating in Turkey) which was protected by the Belgian police. There are other terrorists in Europe that are wanted by various countries under Red bulletin. But the European authorities are not handing them over. Because there attitude is your terrorist is not my terrorist. They do not understand that if you accept and protect a small snake; when it grows up it will attack you.
    2. in 2011 and 2012 Europe let a lot of its marginalized citizens from ghettos, most of them thieves, thugs and drug pusher to go to Syria and fight against Assad. Your terrorist is not my terrorist attitude prevailed at that time. In time these European terrorists turned into present ISIS (ISIS has over 32000 foreign fighters in its ranks 15000 of the are Europeans). European small snake is now grown up in Iraq and Syria.They are coming back to their own countries attacking Europe.. A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist. Christian fundamentalist in America have been playing the Moslem for centuries. When president Jefferson was running to be elected. He was accused of being a Moslem. Neocons, Zionist movement and fundamentalist Christians. Have forgotten that Hitler was a fundamentalist christian. KKK is the same way. But they are attacking the Muslim. Every election the American right has hate somebody. They hated the blacks, they hated the Asians (Vietnam). Now it is the turn of Muslims. It is sad that thousands of poor civilians are dying in the hands of terrorists. instead of trying to stop those, the right wing front runners, are talking about the size of their hands and the integrity of their wives and blaming the Mexican immigrants and Muslims for their problems. God save the poor American people and the civilians suffering from the terrorist attacks.

  14. Thank you so much Juan, when the people like will be the decision makers, i believe that you make a good one decision, i think you are an Artist, this is my first time to read your articals, but i am happy for this, and I am from a young Generation from Rwanda, i like the way you use a reference of 1994 Genocide to show who are the really terrorists…thanks

  15. What is the level of support for Daesh in Saudi Arabia? Is not this country the source for harsh beliefs practiced by Daesh? It seems to me that we should terminate the military and political support we now give to Saudi Arabia.

    • Daesh considers the House of Saud to be apostate because of its exorbitant life style. I understand that this attracts young Muslims to their caus

  16. Yes, terrorism and Daesh behavior can be considered outlier behavior for Muslims. I wish I could say the same of sexism and homophobia. A recent poll found 0% of British Muslims deem homosexuality “morally acceptable.” Coincidence?

  17. Good, insightful, and thoughtful. Trump and Cruz will keep doubling down sadly.

  18. Because the word, Islamic, means “According to Islam”. Islam is based on the Quran, which is its primary source, and there’s no evidence that the Quran supports terrorism.

    While the word, Christian has two meanings: a) According to Christianity, and b) A person who adheres to Christianity, in Islam, the word for the person who adheres to Islam is Muslim, not Islamic.

  19. Finally some facts. Thank you so much for sending this to people like me so that as we come across others we can help them learn these facts too. There is so much fear mongering being generated because of the “unkown”
    and false information , it is really helpful to have this
    truth peekout. Whomever originated this, please consider sending this to some of our news outlits as they seem totally misinformed.

  20. Thank You Juan. You post consistently about the biggest collective challenges of our age with grace and passion (climate change, international economic political power structures).

    Liam from Michigan

  21. As an agnostic, I don’t have any dog in this fight. All religions have extremists. Even Buddhists have had some recent examples of violence. I also think that any organization that basically relies on belief rather than facts and evidence is suspect when credibility is an issue. In short, all religions are basically based on wishful thinking. Religions reflect humankind in general. There are good practitioners and evil ones and everything in between. And with any large group of people, one should be very careful about generalizing about the whole based on the behavior of a part. It is the broad sweeping generalizations that should be suspect. In the case of Islam, there are those who use this approach for the purposes of political power and this is the problem which Professor Cole addresses.

  22. While I wholeheartedly agree with almost the entire content of your article, on one point I’m a bit dissatisfied. At the end you correctly call Ted Cruz and Donald Trump “dangerous people”. But let’s not forget that none of them has until now had the opportunity to directly spread heavock in any of the muslim societies and thus helping to create desperados – terrorists. This is the “privilege” of “reasonable” presidents like the ones the US had since the times of the coup against the then Iranian prime minister Mossadegh and in more recent times of people like Cameron(GB) , Sarkozy and Hollande (F) an – somewhat more indirectly – Angela Merkel (G), to name but a few

  23. ummm “Daesh” is an acronym in arabic consisting of the Daal, Alif, Alif, Sheen or “D.A.A.Sh.” It stands for “Dowlah Islamiyyah fil Iraq wa Ash Sham” which translates to “The Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria.”

    Whether you say islamic state or Daesh, you are saying the same thing.

    • There is a difference in propaganda effect when US reporters say that “the Islamic State” did X compared to if they said “Daesh did X.” The general public then associates with Islam tout court. By the way, I, uh, do know Arabic.

    • Mr. Cole. I note that “The Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria.” seems to be essential identical with the state promised to Arab fighters for the Allies during WW1. Is that correct?

      • No, the British promise Sharif Husayn the entire Arab world east of Suez, but then promised greater Syria to France and Jerusalem to Russia. Daesh erased the border between “British” Iraq and “French” Syria, but that division was made after the war and the Ottomans had been defeated with Arab help.

  24. I have an idea for your next post:

    How not to talk about Responsible Gun Owners after a Fringe Nut goes on a Shooting Spree

  25. Very helpful article Juan! We are organizing a discussion and reflection day with local Muslims near Oakland, CA. Your article will be widely distributed. Thanks!

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