We must call the Poway synagogue attack what it was – Christian extremism

When did we become so reluctant to call a spade a spade? Or a terrorist a terrorist? Or a religious terrorist a religious terrorist? Are we so fearful of offending anyone for the slightest of reasons that we are incapable of labelling things what they are (NB I will not get into the inability of Public Safety Canada to write a simple annual threat overview as I cover that in another piece)? What ever became of truth?

I have heard all the arguments before with respect to the use of the term Islamist extremism and rejected pretty much all of them. Terrorists who belong to groups like Al Qaeda, Islamic State and others and who use Quranic suras and Hadiths all the time are definitely ‘Islamist’ in the sense that they see themselves as the only ‘true’ Muslims and everyone else, including Muslims who reject their hateful, marginal religious views, as targets worthy of death. But to refuse to call them ‘Islamist’ out of some sense of queasiness is intellectually dishonest.

The same argument needs to be applied to those who kill in the name of any other god, regardless of which god that is. My fifth book on terrorism, When Religions Kill, will be published this fall and in it I look at terrorism carried out by those who call themselves Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and…Christians.

Yes, you read that right. Christian terrorists. They exist and they are getting worse. The recent attacks on the mosques in Christchurch, synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, California, and others were perpetrated by violent extremists who believed they were ‘protecting’ the ‘suffering’ white Christian majority from the increasing hordes of non-white, non-Christian invaders in what is being called ‘The Great Replacement’. The manifestos these terrorists leave behind are often chock full of biblical citations which somehow justify the taking of innocent lives, despite the very clear advice of the faith’s founder, one Jesus Christ, to not kill.

Ah yes, you say, but these people are not ‘real’ Christians and what they do has nothing to do with ‘real’ Christianity. How, I may ask, is this any different than what Islamist/Hindu/Buddhist/Sikh and Jewish terrorists do? Are these guys followers of ‘normative’ versions of their faith? Nope. And yet we use the terms ‘Islamist…extremism’ in these cases. Should we not be consistent and call terrorism carried out by pseudo Christians the same? I think so.

We need to be able to label this brand of extremism what it is: a campaign of violence in which violent actors use their creed to kill and maim those who are of a different creed. That Christian extremists have little to do with what Christianity stands for is no different than the fact that jihadi acts of terrorism have nothing to do with what Islam stands for. But both sets of people truly think they are acting according to what they think their creator condones or demands.

Can we please have a little consistency? Either we eschew all religious terminology – which is intellectually indefensible – or we are accurate in our descriptions. I know where I stand.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

Leave a Reply