On 22nd May, 2017, a 22 year old jihadist named Salman Ramadan Abedi wandered into the Manchester Arena during a concert populated primarily by young teens and their parents, and detonated a suicide bomb, killing 22 people including an 8 year old girl, and injuring approximately 120 others. This was the deadliest terror attack on U.K. soil since a group of jihadists murdered 52 commuters in the London transport attacks of 2005.
We are often told that in the wake of a large scale atrocity of this kind, we should defy the terrorists by simply carrying on as normal. Well, it just so happens that what I would normally be doing is writing about Islamic terrorism and berating the apologists who shamefully obfuscate the issue. Which is exactly what I intend to do now.The fact that the two deadliest attacks upon the U.K. in recent memory were at the hands of Islamic terrorists is not simply pub trivia. I mention it because when these apologists for Islam get bored of claiming that jihadists are incessantly and inexplicably lying about their religious motivations, they invariably engage in the crass exercise of throwing around skewed data in a desperate attempt to deemphasize the danger posed by Islamic terror. As far as I can tell, this is not due to some well-meaning concern for people worrying unnecessarily, or to ensure that counter terrorism strategy is accurately focused upon the most serious threat, it seems rather to be a tactical attempt to prioritize the protection of odious 7th century folklore over the welfare of real human beings.
In the not uncommon event of an Islamic lunatic slaughtering a crowd of innocent people, Americentric articles and tweets lying about the likelihood of this happening to you, instantaneously begin to surface, like gunk from the ocean floor after a depth charge detonation.
Each of these claims are variations on the assertion that right-wing or far-right terrorism poses a greater danger than Islamic terrorism, and they are based on several studies which attempt to make the same claims.
“Since the attacks on September 11, 2001, nearly twice as many Americans have been killed by non-Muslim extremists than by jihadists.”
I understand that a deconstruction of statistics may read as a little sterile and dispassionate, but I think it’s important to nip this particular line of obscurantism in the bud once and for all. And disappointingly, I’ve noticed that some high profile secularists and liberal atheists also appear to have been taken in by this propaganda which contains a multitude of errors and inconsistencies resulting in inaccurate figures and starkly misleading conclusions. For instance; the MSNBC article referenced above was published in the summer of 2015. And whilst the information contained within it is frozen at this point in time, the source report that it cites is not. The report has since been updated, and so anyone citing the article now, is citing statistics that do not include the 49 Orlando clubbers murdered the following year by ISIS inspired gunman Omar Mateen in the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The updated statistics which now include this attack, along with other attacks in 2016, show that deaths from jihadist terror attacks in the U.S. are now almost double those attributable to far-right terrorists.
What’s more, this very same study that is routinely cited in order to downplay the threat of jihadism, shows not only that jihadists have claimed more fatalities in the U.S., but also that “most U.S. attacks are also carried out by individuals inspired by jihadism.”
The practice of quoting outdated figures to further a false narrative is sloppy in some cases and outright disingenuous in others, but even when using the most up-to-date figures, there are a number of issues with the actual dataset this report relies on which further skew the statistics towards downplaying the Islamic threat. As John Sexton of Breitbart notes, the numbers here ostensibly focus on the threat to Americans, but do not take Americans killed abroad by Islamic terrorists into account. The beheading of Daniel Pearl by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 7 Americans killed in the 2002 Bali Bombing, the 6 Americans killed in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the 4 Americans killed in the 2016 Brussels bombings, the American killed in the Zamboanga City bombing, the American killed in the 2015 Bamako hotel attack, the 22 year old American student killed in the 2015 Paris attacks, for example, are all absent from these figures. Nor do the figures take into account the number of Islamic plots foiled as a result of the asymmetric counter-terrorism focus placed upon jihadism as a result of 9/11. As former counter-terrorism analyst Daryl Johnson acknowledges:
“The U.S. government currently employs hundreds of analysts focused on Islamic extremism, but only a couple dozen who monitor domestic terror.”
Fortunately I didn’t need to undertake a great deal of arduous research to find this quote. Why? Because it’s mentioned in the very same MSNBC article that is routinely circulated as proof that Islamic terrorism is essentially a non-issue in comparison to “far-right” terrorism.
The lopsidedness of this report is also evident in the fact that, according to the article, it treats terrorists with an Islamist agenda as one dataset, and compares it to terrorists with a white supremacist agenda, terrorists with an anti-government agenda, and terrorist with a fundamentalist Christian agenda, by treating all three non-Islamic motivations as one dataset. This is not an apples to apples comparison. This is an apples to fruit bowl comparison.
But surely the most blatant and deliberate skewing of the numbers here is in the fact that the biggest terror attack in the history of the United States is discounted by beginning the tally on 12th September 2001. Florida State College Professor Andrew Holt issued a thorough debunking of this report and the methods it uses. In it he points out that if one were to start the clock a day earlier and therefore include the approximately three thousand innocent lives taken on 9/11, then “there have been around 62 people killed in the United States by Islamic extremists for every one American killed by a right wing terrorist.”
Another more recent report created by the Government Accountability Office and promoted by the CATO Institute claims that since 12th September 2001 (there’s that date again) there have been 62 traditional right-wing extremist “incidents” that resulted in death, compared to only 23 attributed to radical Islamic violence. However, this report doesn’t focus on death toll, and instead concentrates solely on the number of incidents. This misleading way of determining threat is then spun by the CATO institute as 73 percent of attacks being committed by right-wing groups even though the report states that 52.8 percent of deaths were at the hands of jihadists:
“Attacks by domestic or ‘homegrown’ violent extremists in the United States resulted in 225 fatalities… Of these, 106 were killed by far right violent extremists in 62 separate incidents, and 119 were victims of radical Islamist violent extremists in 23 separate incidents.”
To reiterate; the threat level here is being determined by incident count rather than body count, so although jihadists killed more people, they are painted as being less of a risk. The ludicrousness of this methodology is inadvertently illustrated by Benjamin Dixon on the David Pakman Show:
“They’re not counting the number of people killed, they’re counting the number of events. So technically they could throw in September 11th and still get about the same result” he says, and therefore “we have more of a reason to be fearful of Billy-Bob (if I can be stereotypical) than we do of Ahmed.”
Dixon can only make such a ludicrous statement if he treats one incident in which one person is killed, and another incident in which four airliners are hijacked and slammed into buildings causing 3000 deaths, as equal. Which he does. And his ridiculous way of measuring threat is in keeping with the same methodology used in the GOA report.
Furthermore, the proportionality of terror attacks attributable to Islamic extremism does not factor in the scarcity of Muslims in the U.S population.
Muslim adults comprise less than 1% of the U.S population, and yet according to this study, are responsible for a whopping 27% of the terrorism in the country. This is a significant overrepresentation among such a tiny minority and, as expected, is completely overlooked in this report.
One of the most common articles I see routinely bandied around in the aftermath of Islamic massacres is a 2015 piece by Ian Millhiser for the political news blog ThinkProgress with the startling headline: “You Are More Than 7 Times as Likely to Be Killed by a Right-Wing Extremist than by Muslim Terrorists.” Needless to say, this suspicious piece suffers from many of the same failures as the previous reports and articles. Additionally it gets its figures from two different source reports. The figure of 50 deaths that it claims resulted from Islamic terrorism comes from Charles Kurzman’s 2014 report which omits both 9/11 and the Orlando Nightclub shooting, whereas the figure of 254 deaths from far-right terrorism comes from a study by Arie Perliger which fails to provide any detail as to which attacks this figure is comprised of, and therefore prevents any kind of cross-checking of this dubious figure.
Oddly enough, the “7 times as likely” claim which Millhiser leads with is made nowhere in the New York Times article referenced in his piece, nor is it made anywhere in the Arie Perliger study which both articles cite as their source. In fact the actual figures quoted in Millhiser’s article refute his own headline.
Every time one of these articles crops up, a cursory glance at the source data it relies on reveals a myriad of flaws in its methods and therefore in its conclusions. It is highly likely that the next time you are confronted by someone claiming that “far-right terrorism” (or some variation of) is a greater threat than Islamic terrorism, they will be citing a report or article that contains most, if not all, of the below errors:
- A tally which starts afterthe biggest terror attack committed on U.S. soil.
- A tally which ends beforethe deadliest mass shooting on U.S. soil. (Both of these attacks were committed by jihadists.)
- A tally which fails to include certain other jihadist andright-wing attacks.
- A tally which misreports certain attacks as “right-wing” or “far-right”.
- A report which fails to include figures for Americans killed abroad.
- A report which ignores foiled plots.
- A report which ignores the number of non-fatal casualties.
- A report which is not calibrated to consider the disproportionate focus of counter-terror analysis on Islamic terrorism.
- A report which is not calibrated to consider the disproportionate number of attacks by Muslim extremists in relation to their lack of prevalence as a minority group.
- A report which conflates several disparate ideological motivations for non-Islamic terrorism by lumping them all into the “far-right” bracket.
- A report which ignores all terror attacks outside of the United States.
This narrow focus on terrorism committed within U.S. borders is particularly galling. According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index published by Institute for Economics and Peace, only 2.6 percent of terror related deaths occur in the West (for accuracy, this figure includes the September 11th attacks.) Furthermore, just 4 groups (Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and al Qaeda) were responsible for 74% of the world’s terror related deaths in 2015 — and Islamic State and Boko Haram were responsible for over half of the world’s terrorism fatalities between them. It’s likely that there has been some fluctuation in these figures since the publishing of this data, but the point remains that the overwhelming majority of terror attacks occur in countries outside of the West and that they are committed by Islamic extremists. And so the insistence that our gaze should never stray from terrorism within U.S. borders further skews that data and buries the victims of these attacks figuratively, often before they’ve even been buried literally.
It’s often said, that the biggest victims of Islamic terrorism are Muslims. This is undoubtedly true. It’s odd then that those who claim to concern themselves with the welfare of Muslims should spend so much of their time smugly undermining threats to their safety. I’m sure the families of Shiite day laborers eviscerated in Baghdad marketplaces by Sunni suicide bombers are grateful to American “progressives” to be told that Islamic terrorism is far less of a problem in the United States and is therefore essentially irrelevant. I’m sure that the families of secular bloggers hacked to death with machetes and swords in Bangladesh are open to the idea that their lives are not as important as those of American abortion doctors, for instance.
Ironically, those of us concerned about the global impacts of Islam, are routinely accused of xenophobia and bigotry, often by the very same people who demand that we measure threat by ignoring Islamic terrorism in foreign states. They seem to be arguing that as long as jihadism is negligible in the good ole U.S. of A, then it’s as though the threat to “foreigners” in the rest of the world is of little to no concern. I must say, that sounds a lot like bigotry and xenophobia to me.
One of the peddlers of these chauvinistically selective figures is writer and professional Islamic apologist Nathan Lean. In response to the San Bernardino attack in which a jihadist couple massacred 14 people and injured another 22, Lean decided to wheel out a standard, tactlessly timed factoid once again in an attempt to downplay the threat.
Lean came perilously close to learning the danger of his obfuscation the hard way when Istanbul airport in Turkey was the scene of an ISIS gun and bomb attack which left 41 people dead and over 230 injured the day after he had caught a flight from it.
Many well-meaning people have been hoodwinked by these reports, seemingly due to a legitimate concern over a general increase in far-right sentiment. However, their circulation and citation by Islamic apologists like Lean, is a deliberate attempt to limit the problem of Islam solely to terrorism, then to further limit it to terrorism on U.S. soil, and then to extinguish even that concern with a firehose of deceitful nonsense.
None of which is to say that far-right terrorism is not an issue. Far-right sentiment is to be condemned, and any increase in its prevalence is a worry. But the prevalence and threat of Islamic terrorism is a perfectly legitimate area of concern and focus in its own right. Particularly, one would think, in the immediate aftermath of an Islamically inspired bloodbath. And this insistence on changing the subject to the far-right in response to it is not dissimilar to mounting a sustained campaign of vocal objection to cancer research on the basis that diabetes kills people too. It’s a textbook example of whataboutery, and it’s a response which is becoming infuriatingly endemic. Scarcely a few hours after a Muslim refugee in Stockholm ploughed a truck through crowds of pedestrians killing 5 people including an 11 year old girl who was literally ripped in half, and injuring 15 others, The Irish Times published a disgraceful article worrying about how this ISIS inspired butchery would be used as political capital by the Swedish far-right.
Immediately hijacking any conversation on the detrimental impacts of Islam as an ideology, and redirecting it towards the likes of Anders Breivik and Thomas Mair is often intended not only to whitewash the global phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, but also to divert focus away from Islam entirely, including scrutiny of its role in Female Genital Mutilation, honour violence, religiously mandated spousal abuse, blasphemy codes, the persecution of religious and sexual minorities, the subjugation of women, the grooming and sexual exploitation of girls, the murder of apostates, the dehumanization of unbelievers, the indoctrination of children, the contempt for liberalism, the surrender of critical thought, and the systematic bludgeoning to death of free expression. If we could solve the problem of Islamic terrorism tomorrow, or if it truly was the rare, barely perceptible inconvenience that the apologists claim, my concerns over the real-world effects of Islam would barely have taken a dent.
But it is simply a fact that Islamic terrorism is currently the deadliest form of terrorism on the global stage. I care about that for several reasons, but primarily because I care about the victims of Islamic terrorism. I care about the people who are routinely maimed and murdered as a result of the toxic influences of archaic superstition on a 21st Century world. And I care about these victims no matter where they reside globally, no matter what their race, no matter what their ethnicity, their nationality, their religion, or their skin color. I care about them whether they are Bangladeshi secularists pulled apart by Islamists blades, whether they are French cartoonists gunned down for defying Islamic blasphemy laws, whether they are Pakistani Sufis incinerated in Lahore for being the wrong kind of Muslims, or whether they are British children blown to pieces and lacerated by shrapnel in a Manchester concert hall. I care about them all and I want it to stop. I can’t for a second see how the people who make it their life’s work to obfuscate and dismiss this issue can even begin to say the same.
Note: This article originally appeared in Areo Magazine on 28/05/2017