They often say that truth is the first casualty of war. States and militaries have all kinds of reasons to hide facts if for no other one than to cover up their ‘mistakes’ (except that military ‘mistakes’ usually imply lots of meaningless deaths). A good example is the US insistence that few if any civilians have been killed by airstrikes aimed at terrorists in places such as Somalia and Syria. These official claims have been reliably shown to be false, as Amnesty International and Airwars recently demonstrated.
As many stubbornly keep referring to the ‘war on terrorism’, despite its unhelpfulness and inaccuracy, it should come as no surprise that truth makes a rare appearance here as well. Whether we are talking about the plethora of inexpert ‘experts’ or the distribution of fake news and histrionics, there is a lot out there on terrorism that is simply not right. It would take many blogs to unpack this so allow me to focus today on just one: the belief in the wake of the Sri Lankan attacks that Christians somehow are disproportionately represented in terrorist victim counts.
I suppose that after the slaughter of hundreds of Catholics at Easter Sunday mass it is natural to turn our attention to the killing of Christians by Islamist extremists (whether or not the Sri Lankan plots were Islamic State or a local group or some combination of the two is irrelevant to our discussion: that the perpetrators were ‘Muslims’ and the targets Christian is not open for debate – i.e. it is true). And the South Asian nation is not the only time this has happened. Muslims have massacred Christians in Nigeria (although these incidents are not terrorism-related), the Philippines and Egypt to name but a few. In this light, it is of no surprise that this has garnered lots of attention. Here are a few excerpts from recent op-eds on the targeting of Christians:
- “Christians today are the most persecuted religious community on the planet”
- “The inescapable fact is that Christians are indeed a highly persecuted group in large parts of the world”
- “the general phenomenon of Christians being massacred in Holy Week means that we ought to expect it somewhere”
This sounds horrific, doesn’t it? And all these things did happen and similar violent acts will most likely continue to happen. None of these facts are exaggerated – but the analysis is.
Despite the appalling loss of life of Christians at prayer the real truth is that the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of terrorism victims are not Christians: they are Muslims (killed by other ‘Muslims’) and, like the attacks in Christians, the attacks on them often occur in places of worship. As one person put it (sorry, I know I read it but I can’t find the link): “Most victims are non-white people killing non-white people”. The 2018 Global Terrorism Index put out by the Institute for Economics and Peace noted that in 2017 18, 814 people died in terrorist attacks worldwide. The top five countries where this loss of life occurred are: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria, all Muslim-majority countries (yes, that includes Nigeria: 51% of Nigerians are Muslim). How many of those victims were Muslim? The vast, vast majority.
Why does this matter? It matters because if people keep spreading the fake fact that Christians are disproportionately killed by Islamist extremists it encourages the right wing nutjobs out there to take retaliatory action. The attack in Christchurch a month and a half ago was one such slaughter (how do we know that? Because the terrorist told us so in his ‘manifesto’). If the perception that Christians are dying in large numbers persists, we will see more ‘tit for tat’ terrorism (here is my blog on that). On top of that there are the fake rumours of terrorist attacks that were no such thing: the recent fire at Notre Dame Cathedral is a good example. This was clearly an accident – authorities suspect a cigarette or a short circuit – but I cannot tell you how many people wrote to me to say that it was actually a terrorist attack and that the French government was ‘covering it up’.
The real truth is that terrorist groups – let’s stick to Islamist extremists for the time being – have killed and will continue to kill all different kinds of people from many faiths: Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Muslims (especially Shias and Sufis whom they see as apostates), Buddhists, Hindus…the list goes on and on. To them we are reduced to kuffar – infidels – and we deserve to die. As the spiritual leader behind the Sri Lankan attacks said: “There are three types of people: Muslims, those who had reached an accord with Muslims, and “people who need to be killed.” (More on this terrorist in my next blog)
The bottom line is a victim is a victim is a victim regardless of which god you pray to or even if you don’t believe in any god. We have to stop dividing those killed by terrorists into categories and insist that one death is too many. We have to work together to identify terrorists and stop them before they act and to create the conditions that might stop terrorist ideologies from taking root in the first place.
And we have to stop making stuff up that is patently untrue. Terrorism is bad enough right now: let’s not allow inaccuracies to make in worse.