Minutes after a reporter asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer why President Donald Trump’s campaign website still broadcast his call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” that page went blank, according to reports on Monday afternoon. Continue reading →
I constantly battle a myth within me. It formed me—as ancient stories do—and its logic crops up unbidden as I go about my life. I notice it as I walk along the shore of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga and the land vibrates with history. Making my way over the bridge to the business district, the streets swarm with students and tourists visiting an aquarium, a museum, a theater, and restaurants. In the midst of business, I remember that my city is known for being a Bible-based city. It is one of the most Christian towns in the nation.
When I descend the steps to the river’s edge, another story emerges. Native symbols line the stairs, and murals mark our essential elements of wind, fire, earth, and sun. The walls call to the four corners of the earth, lending me a compass that grounds me as I honor the Cherokee Nation that once thrived on this land, before their forced removal created a Trail of Tears along which thousands of people died from disease, starvation, and exposure. Continue reading →
Muslim girls at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta posing in front of the camera. Photo by Henrik Hansson – Globaljuggler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Many Americans have a double standard when it comes to judging whether self-identified Christians and Muslims are committing violence in the name of their religion, according to new data released just a week after two Muslims were accused of shooting and killing 14 people in San Bernardino, California.
A Public Religion Research Institute poll released Thursday finds that 75 percent of Americans believe that self-identified Christians “who commit acts of violence in the name of Christianity are not really Christian.” Only about 19 percent of respondents said they believe these types of perpetrators are authentic Christians. Continue reading →
In the last 48 hours of the news cycle, two stories have emerged that specifically point to one of the causes of rising xenophobia sweeping across the country.
Image source: Fox News/screenshot from November 23, 2015.
In Minneapolis, the press described the perpetrators of violence as “white supremacists” when a protest of the Black Lives Matters movement witnessed 5 participants being wounded.
Most recently, a shooting at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs described the person as a “perpetrator,” “shooter,” or “suspect.”
When the attacks in Paris occurred on November 13, all news accounts accurately identified those involved in the attack as “terrorists.”
Terror is not a term that depicts culture, race or ethnicity. It is a term that defines the intent of those who use its tactics as a weapon: violence that is committed by a person, group, or government in order to frighten people and achieve a political goal.
All three of these stories are clearly incidents of terror taken from recent headlines. Yet, only once are the criminals described as terrorists. This refusal depicts a deeper divide in the way in which stories are reported: “Us vs. Them” is western white civilization against everyone except western white civilization. The last time the term “terrorist” was applied to a white caucasian was in the cases of Timothy McVeigh and Erich Rudolph, prior to 9/11.
Never before have we seen a public shift in opinion as quickly as we have seen on this issue. At the end of August, when a 3-year-old Kurdish boy’s body washed up on the shores of the Aegean Sea, the photo went viral and the international outcry was to help the Syrian refugees. After the Paris attacks, those same doors that had just been flung open were slammed shut in the faces and hopes of refugees with no where to go and no one to protect them.
In America, presidential candidates talked about ankle bracelets, arm bands and “centralized camps” for Muslims, and a requirement to register in a national database. America threw all Constitutional rights, human rights and history out the window with the bathwater in the clamor to “one-up” the last attack on Muslims, all to make a political point. And the result has been to create an atmosphere of total fear in every Muslim community in America possible.
Muslims in America fear ISIS and now fear those that believe they are part of ISIS just as much. This misconception is brought about in part by a western news media that continuously describes attacks by Muslim extremists as terror and acts by caucasian terrorists as anything but a terror attack carried out by a terrorist.
Until we call them what they truly are, terrorists will win by virtue of the way we report their crimes. Don’t call a terrorist a shooter, lone wolf, perpetrator, mentally ill person, white supremacist, gunman, suspect, or by any other name used to soften the impact on the society in which the crime occurred.
The only other choice is to strike the word terror or terrorist from usable words to describe violence that is committed by a person, group, or government in order to frighten people and achieve a political goal.
Come to think of it, isn’t that what these candidates are actually doing?
The discovery that several of the Paris attackers were European nationals has fueled concern about Muslim immigrants becoming radicalized in the West.
Some politicians have expressed views that the best way to avoid homegrown terrorists is to shut the door.
The refugee migration debate turned even more contentious after authorities found a Syrian passport at the scene of the attack. Poland is now turning back refugees, more than half of American governors have vowed to refuse Middle Easterners seeking a new beginning, and US House Speaker Ryan has asked for a “pause” on the federal Syrian refugee program.
Fearful reactions to terrorist violence are nothing new. Incidents of extremist activity are often followed by anti-Islam protests or hate crimes. Reports of ISIS luring Western Muslims abroad are followed by a tightening of homeland security policy. Just after the attacks in Paris, presidential hopeful Donald Trump said that he would be willing to close mosques in the US.
Such displays of intolerance can make Muslims feel like they don’t belong in Europe or the United States.
Our research, forthcoming in Behavioral Science and Policy, and in partnership with the World Organization for Resource Development and Education, shows that making Muslims feel this way can fuel support for radical movements. In other words, many Western policies that aim to prevent terrorism may actually be causing it.
In our research, we asked hundreds of Muslims in Germany and the US to tell us about their experiences as religious and cultural minorities, including their feelings of being excluded or discriminated against on the basis of their religion. We also asked how they balance their heritage identities with their American or German identities. We wanted to know if these kinds of experiences were related to their feelings toward radical groups and causes.
There are a lot of practical and ethical barriers to studying what makes someone become a terrorist.
We normally don’t know who terrorists are until after they’ve committed an attack. By then, we can only rely on after-the-fact explanations as to what motivated them. We can’t perform a controlled laboratory study to see who would participate in an act of terrorism. In surveys, we can’t ask someone straightforwardly how much they would like to join a radical movement, because most people who are becoming radicalized would not answer honestly.
Instead, we measured a couple of indicators of support for radicalism. We asked people how willing they would be to sacrifice themselves for an important cause. We also measured the extent to which participants held a radical interpretation of Islam. For example, we asked whether it’s acceptable to engage in violent jihad. Finally, we asked people to read a description of a hypothetical radical group and tell us how much they liked the group and how much they would want to support it. This hypothetical group consisted of Muslims in the US (or Germany, in the German study) who were upset about how Muslims were treated by society and would stop at nothing to protect Islam.
Overall, support for these indicators of extremism was very low, which is a reminder that the vast majority of Muslims do not hold radical views.
But the responses of some people showed they felt marginalized and identified with neither the culture of their heritage nor the culture of their adopted country.
We described people as “culturally homeless” when they didn’t practice the same customs or share the same values as others in their adopted culture, but also felt different from other people of their heritage.
We found that people who said they were torn between cultures also reported feeling ashamed, meaningless and hopeless. They expressed an overall lack of significance in their lives or a feeling that they don’t really matter. The more people’s sense of self worth was threatened, the more they expressed support for radicalism.
Our findings are consistent with a theory in psychology that terrorists are looking for a way to find meaning in their lives. When people experience a loss to their sense of personal significance – for example, through being humiliated or disrespected – they seek out other outlets for creating meaning.
Extremists know and exploit these vulnerabilities, targeting Muslims whose sense of significance is low or threatened. Radical religious groups give these culturally homeless Muslims a sense of certainty, purpose and structure.
For people who already feel culturally homeless, discrimination by the adopted society can make matters worse. In our data, people who said they had been excluded or discriminated against on the basis of their religion experienced a threat to their self-esteem. The negative effects of discrimination were the most damaging for people who already felt culturally homeless.
Our results suggest that cultivating anti-immigrant or anti-Islamic sentiment is deeply counterproductive. Anti-immigrant discourse is likely to fuel support for extremism, rather than squelch it.
Integration the goal
To decrease the risk of homegrown radicalization, we should work to improve integration of Muslim immigrants, not further isolate them. This means welcoming Syrian refugees, not excluding them. It means redefining what it means to be American or German in a way that is inclusive and doesn’t represent only the majority culture. It means showing interest in and appreciation for other cultural and religious traditions, not fearing them.
According to our data, most Muslims in the United States and in Germany want to blend their two cultures. But it is difficult to do this if either side pressures them to choose.
We should not confuse integration with assimilation.
Integration means encouraging immigrants to call themselves American, German or French and to take pride in their own cultural and religious heritage.
Our data suggest that policies that pressure immigrants to conform to their adopted culture, like France’s ban on religious symbols in public institutions or the “burqa ban,” are likely to backfire, because such policies are disrespectful of their heritage.
In the United States, the pressure to conform comes in the implicit meaning of the “melting pot” metaphor that underlies our cultural ethos. This idea encourages newcomers to shed their cultural uniqueness in the interest of forging a homogeneous national identity. In comparison, the “mixed salad” or “cultural mosaic” metaphors often used in Canada communicate appreciation for cultural differences.
In Germany, immigrants without sufficient German language skills are required to complete an integration course, which is essentially a tutorial on how to be German. Interestingly, we found that the more German Muslim participants perceived that Germans wanted them to assimilate, the less desire they had to do so. We also see these identity struggles in Muslim communities in France, where “being French” and “being Muslim” are thought to be mutually exclusive.
Our findings point to a strategy for reducing homegrown radicalization: encouraging immigrants to participate in both of their cultures plus curbing discrimination against Muslims. This strategy is better for both immigrants’ well-being and adopted cultures’ political stability.
For an example of how this can be done successfully, look to a jihadist rehabilitation program in Aarhus, Denmark, where the police work with the Muslim community to help reintegrate foreign fighters and find ways for them to participate in Danish society without compromising their religious values.
Communities can make it harder for terrorists to recruit by helping the culturally homeless feel more at home.
Over the last couple months, there’s been a worrisome trend happening in the German city of Dresden. Every Monday night for the last nine weeks, a group named PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West, has held a rally and a march through Dresden.
The rallies started in October in response to clashes between Kurds and Sunni Muslims over the West’s intervention in Syria. What started as a fairly small protest rally of 200 people the first week has grown over time. On Monday, 15,000 people marched through the streets carrying banners bearing slogans such as “Zero tolerance towards criminal asylum seekers”, “Protect our homeland” and “Stop the Islamization”.