Co-authored by Kilike Steyn
Last week, in “Je Suis Turkey,” I reflected on Western concerns for white, Western Christians but the lack of Western concern for olive- skinned, Turkish Muslims. I attributed our lack of concern to our very natural but equally lamentable bigotry. The next day, suicide bombers murdered 35 people in Brussels. White, Western, Christians from Iggy Azalea to the Boston Red Sox immediately tweeted their concern for Brussels and its innocent victims.
In the week that followed Brussels, extremists killed four times as many non-westerners (Muslims) as westerners (non-Muslims). On March 25, suicide bombers attacked a soccer stadium in Baghdad, killing 41 and wounding over 100. That same day, at least 26 people were murdered in a triple suicide bombing in Aden, Yemen. On March 27, the Taliban detonated a bomb in Lahore, Pakistan killing more than 70 people and wounding over 300.
Yet Aden, Baghdad and Lahore slipped our notice. Neither Iggy nor the Red Sox tweeted their support and concern.
While non-Western Muslims are overwhelmingly the victims of extremist groups, their deaths are neglected by the West. Only 0.11% of deaths related to terrorism in 2014 occurred in the West while more than 50% of the terrorism related deaths, with mostly Muslim victims, took place in either Nigeria or Iraq.
ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Al-Shabaab are on a killing spree of Muslims.
A study has shown that Al-Qaeda is eight times more likely to kill a Muslim than a non-Muslim. Many defectors of the Islamic State say that the reason they rejected the terrorist group was because of the severe amount of Muslims the group was slaughtering.
In 2015, the top five countries for terrorist attacks were Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria — countries with a predominately Arab-Muslim population. In the first eight months of 2014, 8,493 Iraqis were killed and 15,782 were wounded. At least 21,000 people were murdered by the end of 2015 in Syria. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has killed over 6,000 civilians.
The victims of extremist attacks are far and away Muslims (with whom we’ve failed to sympathetically identify).
Our lack of concern reflects our need to classify enemy and victim. Victims, to us, are white and western and Christian while our enemies are brown(ish) and Arab and Muslim. These two distinct categories allow for a clear-cut definition of terrorist (bad) and victim (good).
These statistics, however, muddy our “clear” distinction between terrorist and victim and show us that the real battle is between extremist groups and anyone – Muslim, Christian, Jew – who stands in their way.
Muslims, for their part, have spoken out clearly and unambiguously against extremism and terrorism. Muslim leaders are working feverishly to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorism. And Muslims overwhelmingly do NOT want to be ruled over by extremists.
But the killing of Muslims outside the West by extremists is not a Muslim problem. It is humanity’s problem. But failing to identify with Muslim victims, all the while identifying with non-Muslim victims, sends the opposite message. It says that we white, Western, Christians are human (and worthy of our concern) but they, Muslims, are not. This sends one more message to our Muslim neighbors that they are not really one of us.
The Islamic State’s blueprint for its leaders, “The Management of Savagery,” describes ISIS’s goals and actions. One of these goals is to make the West hate Islam and Muslims. The Islamic State believes that if it can force the West to disenfranchise Muslims through attacks on soft targets (innocent victims), Muslims are more likely to want to join ISIS.
If we mistakenly blame Muslims and Islam for these attacks, we are doing exactly what ISIS wants. We are disenfranchising and devaluing even further a disenfranchised and devalued minority.
One way to cultivate a sense of our common humanity is to clearly stand on the side of all of the innocent victims—American, Belgian, French, Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, or Muslim. Instead of using phrases like #PrayforParis or “Je suis Bruxelles” that valorize people like us, we need to say “Je suis le monde” (I am the world).
But, more deeply than repeating trite sayings, we need to cultivate genuine sympathy for Muslims worldwide. Only then can we foil ISIS’s master hope of inciting us to denigrate Muslims and Islam (which we can do as much by ignoring as by name-calling).
We, as human beings, should unite and show solidarity for every innocent victim no matter their ethnicity, religion, or location.
If our sympathy spreads throughout the world, to all people, we stand a chance of defeating terrorism. Without this sympathetic identification with all of extremism’s innocent victims, ISIS wins.