Let’s Call Terrorism By Its Name

The Religion News Service (RNS) very often serves up some interesting reading. This morning, I was captivated by an article titled “Why conservatives want Obama to say ‘Islamic’ terrorism” which gave three very clear reasons. They are:

  1. “Political correctness run amok.”

  2. “The Islamic state’s theological foundations.”

  3. “The need for forceful rhetoric.”

I encourage you to read the article (and the comments, if you’re a masochist like me) because I’m going to try not to spend too much time recapping this. Instead, I want to examine the hypocrisy of these reasons.

Terrorism is horrible, violent and immoral. It is the practice of exterminating certain groups of people and keeping them in fear. There can be a lot of reasons for terrorism. The Washington Post has an article called “Why is terror Islamic?” which looks at some of the explanations of terrorism and they are not all religion centric, or at least not Islam.

“But the truth is, in the contemporary world, Christians won big. And the frustration and humiliation that Muslims now feel as a result can help explain terrorism. That frustration and humiliation is rooted in politics rather than sex and in modern experience rather than deep history. And it has little to do with the Koran.”

Looking at the goals and aims of the Islamic State does require a look at their religious claims, but overwhelmingly there is a focus on politics. They want a state, they want political power, in fact, it sounds very much like the same claims that America is a “Christian nation.”

Religion is a part of life and many people rank it very high on their priorities. We should not be surprised that some Muslims want a state that they feel represents them (though arguably many Muslims already enjoy that in the Middle East). Christians feel the same way.

But in the RNS article was not talking about these motivations. It was telling why conservatives want a terrorists religion to figure in how we discuss them. Honestly, they are all good reasons. Let’s apply them.

Political correctness often keeps people from calling a spade a spade, so let’s be politically incorrect for a second. Christian terrorism needs to be called what it is. Anti-Muslim militias in the Central African Republic (CAR) have strategically and brutally targeted and executed Muslims. These are Christian fighters seeking to eradicate Muslims from their area. This is a statement they released:

“There are still nine Muslims here. We will capture them. We will kill them. When we finish here, we will go to the next village and kill the Muslims there, too.”

Yes, political correctness has run amok. In fact, it has kept us from even remotely referring to atrocities committed in religion’s name, the Christian religion.

The second reason is the theological basis for Islamic State, but that’s hardly original. American conservatives have been saying for years that they want to keep America a Christian nation (which it is arguably not). Why is it bad that Islamic State wants a nation in its own religious image and not that Christians want the same thing?

People may say that Christians are not violent about this desire, but that is either a view based in ignorance or a lie. Remember those anti-Muslim terrorists in the CAR? They go further than just being anti-Muslim. Human Rights Watch reports that they are nationalists and their nationalism includes religious affiliation.

“In many meetings with Human Rights Watch, anti-balaka leaders have used hateful and belittling rhetoric about Muslim residents of the country, saying that all Muslims must leave the Central African Republic, and that the Central African Republic “belongs to Central Africans,” whom they define as Christians and traditionalists.” (found under the heading “Anti-balaka Statements on Removal of Muslims from the Country”)

These are things the leaders have said openly and allowed to be recorded by Human Rights Watch. They are not hiding their religious affiliation. Instead, it is a central part of their violent aims.

And this is not an isolated incident. Remember that Stop Kony campaign a few years ago that was really popular? That campaign may have been ridiculous, but its subject is very real. Joseph Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LAR), a Christian terrorist group in Uganda with a habit of forcing children to be soldiers. The horrors of that group are indescribable. I refer you to its Wikipedia page, specifically to the citations at the end of the entry. There are 120 citations. Some of them contain horrors.

At this point, we’ve covered political correctness and theological foundations. The last reason is the need for forceful rhetoric and I agree with it. We need forceful rhetoric against terrorism. But labeling it “Islamic terrorism” ignores the many other religiously motivated terrorist groups and acts. Salon has offered the “10 worst examples of Christian or far-right terrorism.” ThinkProgress has a similar article called “The Christian Terrorist Movement No One Wants to Talk About.” This is not an exhaustive list either of articles or Christian based terrorism.

Where is the “forceful rhetoric” on these terrorists? There isn’t any. Conservatives only care about “Islamic” terrorism.

The fact is, by labeling terrorism as “Islamic,” you make the issue a person’s religion, not their actions. In essence, you are saying you want a war not on terrorism, but on Islam. You put religion in the forefront of the war, not terrorism. President Obama has been very reasonable by emphasizing terrorism over religion and not caving to pressure from conservatives. For their part, conservatives are ignoring the facts: that not all terrorism is Islamic and that a case can be made for Christian terrorism.

Their partisan criticism does not make sense, unless what they really want is a war on Islam. Would that make them Christian terrorists, too? Perhaps they would be more comfortable in the CAR or with Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Their “forceful rhetoric” sure seems to say so.

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