Are all terrorists Muslim?

There seems to be a common catchphrase in the media these days: “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” While this statement is disturbing and even offensive for the majority of Muslims, in a glimpse our deep conscience may not question the validity of it. After all, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Boston Marathon bomber, Charlie Hebdo attackers, even a lone Muslim gunman in Sydney Siege were all seem to frequently grab the headlines all around the world for their brutal acts.

But how big of a percentage Muslim terror acts actually took place in the West? And is the negative image of Islam portrayed by the mainstream media are thus justifiable? Let’s take a look at the statistics:

According to Europol, there were 152 terrorist attacks in the EU in 2013 but only 2 of them were actually “religiously motivated.” Instead, 84 of them (55%) were more motivated by separatist or ethno-nationalist beliefs.

One of the separatist groups was France’s FLNC that fights for the independence of the island of Corsica, where they launched rocket attacks to police stations in 2 French cities in December 2013. Another ethno-nationalist attacks occurred in Italy where anarchist group FAI conducted numerous terror attacks, while in late 2013 in Greece the left-wing Militant Popular Revolutionary Forces shot and killed 2 members of Neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn.

Furthermore, in 2012 out of 219 terrorist attacks in the EU only 6 of them were religiously motivated, with 76% of the majority of events were again caused by ethno-nationalist separatist beliefs. 2011 was even more drastic, where out of the 174 terrorist attacks occurred that year not a single one of those were “affiliated or inspired” by terrorist organisations. Meanwhile in 2010 from 249 terrorist attacks only 3 of them were religiously motivated, and only 1 out of 294 terrorist attacks in 2009 were considered as “Islamist.”

This low rate of Muslim terrorist acts also occurred in the US, where according to FBI data compiled by the Princeton University’s Loon Watch, Between 1980 and 2005 Muslim extremists were responsible for only 6% of terrorist attacks. In fact, 24% of terror attacks were carried out by extreme left-wing groups and a whooping 42% of them were conducted by Latino-related groups.

When looking at this data, Jewish extremists (such as the Jewish Defense League) even committed more act of terrorism (7%) in the US than Islamic extremists, with terror act conducted based on their religious passions just like Al Qaeda and ISIS have done so wrongly in the name of Islam.

Moreover, in his report that tracks Islamist militancy in the US, Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, concluded that since the 9/11 attack until 2013 the US has suffered approximately 190,000 murders, but only 37 of which conducted by Muslim-American terrorism. In fact a different research concluded that Americans are more likely to get killed by a toddler than by a terrorist attack, where in 2013 five Americans were killed by toddler accidentally shooting a gun, compared with three that killed by a terrorist attack (in a much-hyped Boston Marathon bombing).

Hence, with all the big negative attentions, and attacks, towards Islam one couldn’t help but wondering, why would the mainstream media portray Islam in such a negative way, while in reality Islamic terrorists only conduct a tiny fracture of the overall terrorist activities?

A case in point, the media coverage for other religious terrorism acts. The killings of Muslim in Myanmar and Sri Lanka by Buddhist extremists have been under-reported at best.

When Anders Breivik slaughtered 77 people in Norway in 2011 – on the basis of his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and pro-“Christian Europe” stance – he was portrayed in the media as a “mad man” or “lone gunman.” Even the mention of a “Christian terrorist” outraged many right wing commentators, including Bill O’Reilly at Fox News.

When Craig Hicks murdered 3 of his Muslim neighbours it took the mainstream US media 15 hours to finally cover the news, and that’s only after a huge pressure from social media, which initially included an interview with the murderer’s wife but not the victim’s family. Even then the media quickly portray the case as an isolated neighbourly disputes provoked by a parking incident, and under-reporting his “extreme atheism” stance (that is, so anti-religion that he became hostile towards religious people), where he constantly shared anti-Muslim and anti-Christian links on social media and said “I have every right to insult a religion that goes out of its way to insult, to judge, and to condemn me as an inadequate human being — which your religion does with self-righteous gusto…”

Conversely, can you imagine how the world would react if every single one of these murders were conducted by a Muslim? A brilliant article in the Independent recently pointed out that “a Muslim shooter would mean a demand for condemnation, a demand for discussions on Islam, a demand for Muslims to reform, to assimilate, to take collective responsibility. We may even be graced with a little gathering of politicians. We would see, as we did following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a spike in attacks on mosques and Muslims. Polls would show a higher percentage of the population suspicious, distrusting and with more negative views towards Muslims.”

Let’s not forget that out of approximately 7.2 billion people in the world right now, 1.6 billion are Muslims. And out of those 1.5 billion people Al Qaeda only consist of around 10,000 members, ISIS (or what Arab nations refer as Daesh) consist of approximately 80,000-100,000 people, and Taliban consist of 36,000 people.

That makes it 0.00009% out of the total Muslim population are Al Qaeda, ISIS and Taliban affiliated terrorists. Even if the world suddenly have the total of 1 million Islamist extremists – from Boko Haram to Moro Islamic Liberal Front – that would still only make 0.06% out of the total Muslim population.

Therefore, even at its worst projection the number of Muslim terrorists in the world today, in relative with the total Muslim population in the world, do not even reach 1%. In addition, as mentioned above the number of crimes conducted by those 0.004% Muslim terrorists are actually only a tiny fraction of the overall terrorism acts in the world, and we haven’t even talked about terrorism act conducted by a state, like Israel bombings in Gaza and Russian aggressions in Ukraine’s border. And for those terrorists now in power in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and most recently Libya, need I remind you which country’s military aggressions initially destroyed these countries, and created a breeding ground for extremists?

However, with the likes of Al Qaeda, ISIS and even Boko Haram seem to be spreading everywhere rapidly, and with them inspiring quite a lot of radicalised individuals, surely the scare in the mainstream media are relatively justifiable, aren’t they? In a sense, of course. But the problem is, oftentimes the media forgot (or deliberately fail) to educate its viewers or readers the very basic perception that have since stirred the Islamophobia problem we now have in the world: that 99.996% of Muslims are not extremists.

So, are all terrorists Muslim? As we all now know, not even the slightest.

Further readings:

PBS documentary Islam: Empire of Faith

Al Jazeera English documentary The Caliph

Book: “If the Oceans were Ink” by Carla Power

Book: “Fields of Blood” by Karen Armstrong

Also read: Articles to help us understand what ISIS is all about