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Home / Columns / The Taste with Vir: It’s stupid to say the terror attack in France was not motivated by religion

The Taste with Vir: It’s stupid to say the terror attack in France was not motivated by religion

In this week’s The Taste, Vir Sanghvi writes about the religion of terror, “Gandhiji was assassinated by a Hindu. That does not make all Hindus evil. In the Middle East, more Muslims die every week at the hands of other Muslims than have died in France all of this year. We don’t deny that the murderers were fundamentalists --- or that they claimed to be acting in the name of their religion.”

columns Updated: Oct 29, 2020, 20:36 IST
Vir Sanghvi
People and journalist stand near the scene of the knife attack at the Notre Dame church, in Nice, France, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. An attacker armed with a knife killed three people at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice, the third attack in two months in France.
People and journalist stand near the scene of the knife attack at the Notre Dame church, in Nice, France, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. An attacker armed with a knife killed three people at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice, the third attack in two months in France. (AP)

There is a problem with the old liberal/secular maxim that terror has no religion. The problem is that it is a lie. All too often, exactly the opposite is true. The terror is committed in the name of religion.

One example of the hollowness of the terror-has-no-religion approach is Thursday’s attack in the French city of Nice where one person was beheaded and others were reported killed and injured. According to the local mayor, the suspect was apprehended by the police. As he was being taken into custody, he shouted “Allah-U-Akbar.”

France has suffered egregiously at the hands of terrorists. Beheadings, mass shootings, car attacks, knife attacks --- all of these have become distressingly common. After the last terror attacks, the French President announced a crackdown on Islamist extremism. This was met with a movement in the Muslim world (and trended on Twitter here too) to boycott France and French products.Sadly some influential Muslims supported this movement.

Only a buffoon could take the line that a country should not take steps to protect its people and to fight terror. To see this as anti-Muslim prejudice is just silly or willfully blind.

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So, why do so many liberals say that terror has no religion? Well, I think the sentiment springs from a noble motive. Because so much of the terror that makes headlines around the world is conducted by Islamists, liberals hope to avert the rise of anti-Muslim feeling by claiming that the actions of the terrorists were not motivated by religion.

But it is hard to argue that a man who beheads innocent people and shouts Allah-U-Akbar is not motivated by religion. And it is stupid to claim that Islam had nothing to do with his actions when the attacker himself has no hesitation in declaring that he is fighting for an Islamist cause.

To say, as some liberals do, that terrorists are psychopaths and would commit violent acts even if they were not motivated by religion is specious. There are just too many examples of perfectly non-violent people being led to believe in an extreme form of religious violence and then, turning to murder and terror.

So the time has come (if it had not already come decades ago) to junk that old lie. Because terror does have a religion. It is not always the same religion or the same faith. Terrorists have disparate identities, religions and beliefs. But let’s not deny that terrorism is often conducted in the name of religion.

I still don’t understand why some liberals think that accepting this is so difficult. We accept it with other kinds of violence. When a communal riot takes place, do we deny that the mayhem is undertaken in the name of religion? When a man is lynched on bogus charges of slaughtering a cow, do we deny that the victim was Muslim or that the attackers were motivated by their Hindu beliefs?

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So why should terrorism be different? It has a religion: always speak its name, no matter what that religion is. The mistake many liberals make is to believe that people are stupid and will be easily misled. They think that if they admit that some terrorists are Islamist fundamentalists, we will turn against every Muslim.

In fact we hear of religious violence all the time --- riots, lynchings etc. --- but we do not conclude that everyone who shares the religion of those who conducted the violence is to blame.

We are logical enough to make such basic distinctions. We also realize that fundamentalists are only too willing to also attack their own communities.

Gandhiji was assassinated by a Hindu. That does not make all Hindus evil. In the Middle East, more Muslims die every week at the hands of other Muslims than have died in France all of this year. We don’t deny that the murderers were fundamentalists --- or that they claimed to be acting in the name of their religion.

But by adopting this terrorism-has-no-religion position, we do damage to the communities we seek to protect. By obscuring a terrorist’s motives (say, Islamic fundamentalism), we indirectly link him to the millions of innocent Muslims who are as horrified by what he has done. In the process, we leave the door open to charges of pseudo-secularism and appeasement.

The truth is that people have killed in the name of religion for centuries. The Crusades are just one example of religious violence. The endless battles in the Middle Ages between Catholics and Protestants were conducted in the name of religion. Yes, Islam has a violent history and perhaps, a violent present.

But so what? It does not follow that 99 per cent of the world’s Muslims are violent or that the overwhelming majority of them support, let alone endorse, fundamentalism or violence in the name of their religion. They are as horrified and helpless as the rest of us.Only a bigot would seek to link them with the actions of Islamists.

Islamist violence is one of the greatest problems faced by the world today. Isis, Al Qaeda, the Hizbul Mujahideen and hundreds of terror groups claim to act in the name of Islam. It is correct to say that they have interpreted Islam to suit their own purposes and, in the process, perverted and distorted it.

But it is wrong --- and foolish – to say that Islamist terror is not about a version of Islam. Instead of falling back on weak-kneed, caricature ‘secular’ responses, it is time for all of us, Hindus, Christians, Muslims and everyone else alike, to admit that the world must fight the menace of Islamism without being restrained by any mistaken notion of political correctness.

Our hearts go out to the people of France. Their battle against terror is our battle. It is the world’s battle. Terror, whether in the name of religion or anything else, must be fought without restraint or reservation.

To read more on The Taste With Vir, click here

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