The Practice of Extremism in Religions and the Rise in Hate Crimes

The practice of extremism within religions has harmful and often times irreversible effects throughout contemporary society. Christian and Islamic extremists in particular breed a culture of hate and intolerance through the extension of incorrect and unjustified moral dispositions, leading to tension being ignited and spread throughout all of our society. Extremists, especially those who retaliate with violence, have the power to breed fear and aversion to religious organizations through their power to terrorize those they view as a threat to their beliefs.

Despite both cases being extremely dangerous, media portrayal and public opinion tend to further scrutinize and vilify violence within the Islamic community while turning a blind eye to the results of Christian extremism. This notion suggests that our contemporary society uses its Islamophobic tendencies as a tactic to limit a particular group of people simply due to personal bias and a deep lack of accurate information. In today’s social climate, a large portion of our population predominantly views the religion of Christianity as good-natured and cordial whereas Islam is often illustrated to be inherently evil, relying upon brutal attacks to further their overall cause.

This notion is a direct result of our media’s depiction on attacks by those belonging to the Christian faith versus those that are carried out by Muslims. This tension curates a culture in which Islamophobia is normalized, further proving that our culture habitually demonizes practices primarily performed by those with darker skin. The truth is that both extreme Christianists and radical Islamists are equally as capable of committing heinous acts of terror as a means of pursuing their beliefs.

In fact, statistics have shown that in recent years, a significant portion of terrorist attacks has been committed by a mixture of radical Christianists, white supremacists, and far-right militia groups. However, when a white, Christian male performs an act of terror, the public does everything in their power to detach the man from the cause; they are very hesitant to label the act of violence as a terrorist attack because this term is often viewed as too ‘heavy’ to be associated with a religion understood to be as peaceful as Christianity.

These Christian terrorists are portrayed as loners, completely divided from the religious group they’re a part of; they’re seen as a rarity when in fact they’re just as common as radical Islamist. Muslims do not have the luxury of being separated from those within their faith who carry out acts of terror; rather, the entire faith is villainized because of the behavior of one extremist sect.

As a result of these ideas, American culture has a strictly implemented double standard when it comes to whether or not a person of faith belongs to their religion if they have committed an act of violence that in their eyes furthers their religious cause. A recent study conducted by PRRI reveals that Three-quarters (75 percent) of the public say that self-described Christians who commit acts of violence in the name of Christianity aren’t really Christian, while half (50 percent) of the public say the same about people who claim to be Muslim and commit religiously-motivated violence. Fewer than four in ten (37 percent) say that such people are actually Muslim, while 13 percent are uncertain. (Cooper, Cox)

What this double standard does is reveal the stigma behind the word ‘terrorist’ in regard to the fact that it is often strictly affiliated with the Islamic faith, further categorizing it as a religion structured upon violence. These contrasting principles then further prove the bias behind the word ‘terrorist’, disclosing that it is only contextualized in reference to acts of violence committed by non-white people of faith; this has led to an immense amount of intolerance towards people of Islamic faith. What is truly concerning is people’s ability to erase the bloody history that helped conceive Christianity and has allowed it to prosper for so long. From the Crusades to the Inquisition, the Christian faith has partaken in its fair share of violence as time has passed.

This is not to say that Christianity is entirely structured upon being a vicious practice because it’s not. When practiced correctly, it’s a religion that places emphasis on peace and forgiveness, which happens to be the exact same moral standings of Muslims. Once taking this into consideration it’s extremely difficult to understand why we can so easily justify and ignore the violence enacted by Christians, but it’s nearly impossible for the public to lend this same courtesy to Muslims. As I’ve stated earlier, this has a lot do to with the ways in which the media covers acts of violence that occur in the name of faith. A prime example of media bias occurred during the time of the Planned Parenthood bombing that occurred in Brookline, Massachusetts.

In 1994, a radical anti-abortionist and Army of God member attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts, shooting and killing receptionists Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols and wounding several others. Salvi was found dead in his prison cell in 1996, and his death was ruled a suicide. The Army of God has exalted Salvi as a Christian martyr and described Lowney and Nichols not as victims of domestic terrorism, but as infidels who got what they deserved. The Rev. Donald Spitz, a Christianist and Army of God supporter who is so extreme that even the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue disassociated itself from him, has praised Salvi as well. (Henderson)

John C. Salvi brutally attacked and ended the lives of innocent civilians simply because their place of employment vehemently went against his personal religious stance; Salvi acted out of hatred in the name of Jesus Christ. The concept of religious terrorism can be defined as an act of violence “carried out based on motivations and goals that may have a predominantly religious character or influence.” (Wikipedia)

If this is the case, then this particular instance is a clear, blatant demonstration of Christian extremism. Unsurprisingly, however, the term ‘terrorist’ was nowhere to be found throughout mainstream media. Salvi’s intentions were to terrorize and his actions impacted the lives of many. Instead of pinning him as a Christian terrorist, the media deemed him an ‘abortion opponent’. Similarly, Eric Rudolph, a repeat offender in committing violent acts in the name of Christianity, is rarely distinguished as being a terrorist.

Responsible for multiple bombings as a means of getting his personal views across, he was depicted as acting out as a lone-wolf rather than a violent miscreant who worked alongside a notorious terrorist organization. The media’s process of excusing the behaviors of Christians and continuously blaming mental illness rather than malicious intent pushes the public agenda of only viewing Muslims as capable of being a terrorist and therefore pushing the general public to act discriminatorily against Muslims. These acts do not persist without consequence.

The characterization that Muslims are the only religion capable of committing heinous crimes produces an environment in which hate crime prevails, creating a dynamic that is intolerant and unsafe for those who openly practice their faith. Physical assaults, verbal attacks, deformation, destruction of places of worship and many other forms of biases crimes have significantly risen in direct correlation with the stigma produced against Muslims after the attacks on September 11th throughout our contemporary culture.

Our society post-9/11 has bred a community in which women who publicly wear hijabs or men who wear turbans are viciously categorized as being dangerous and therefore fall victim to an unethical amount of assaults. According to research conducted by the FBI, Hate crimes against Muslims reported to police surged immediately following the terror attacks of 9/11. There were 481 crimes reported against Muslims in 2001, up from 28 the year before. However, from 2002 until 2014, the number of anti-Muslim crimes receded to a numerical range between 105 to 160 annually.

This number was still several times higher than their pre-9/11 levels. (Meade) The fear imposed upon the public through film and media has led to drastic measures being taken; we have resorted to electing leaders whose campaigns openly promote uninformed hatred for a religion that’s rampant with misconceptions. Propaganda promoted by people in positions of power have formed a mentality in which Muslims are viewed as the enemy of the public, inciting panic and abhorrence.

Misjudgment of Islamic beliefs such as the Qur’an and terms such as jihad and Allah has allowed these attitudes to continually persist. The only effective way in which we can transform public opinion is through the deconstruction of these misconceptions and the removal of bias from the media. Education of the Islamic faith plays such a key role in the removal of preconceived judgments due to the fact that it would allow many to gain a more clear and concise insight as to what really embodies the Islamic faith. Rather than viewing it as an intolerant religion, they would come to understand that Islam is a religion based on prayer, giving, and a strong sense of faith.

Another way predispositions could be disposed of would be through accurate portrayals in the media. Instead of simply reserving the word ‘terrorist’ to label violent attacks committed by those with darker skin, it should be properly used in every situation in which a person of faith terrorizes others. No religion is solely a religion of peace; there will always be followers who stray away from the true purpose and run off on a tangent. Our society must become aware of all instances, whether historical or contemporary, in which people have used violence to get their point across and reach their end goal.

Extremism is tremendously dangerous no matter what adherence it stems from; regardless of the faith, it inevitably cultivates conflict, disdain, and radical responses. Whether it is those who exploit Christianity through acts of anti-abortion, white supremacy or homophobic affiliations or those who use Islam as an opportunity to provoke fear, each case innately causes severe and detrimental consequences. The tactic of extremism has the ability to form a mentality in which each person, no matter their background, has their guard up and are ready to initiate controversy. In the words of Abhijit Naskar from the Illusion of Religion: A Treatise on Religious Fundamentalism, “Violence cannot be religion. And true religion cannot be violent.” We must learn to effectively separate violence from the concept of religion in order to allow it to truly prosper and ignite growth and tolerance throughout our communities.

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