By Tannuva Akbar, M.A. Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto
One of Thomas Hobbes’s famous quotes reads “The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.“ I am not a pessimist but this quote seems timeless and unfortunately quite ubiquitous in our modern societies.
Every day I am overwhelmed and shocked with the xenophobic and ignorant comments made by the megalomaniac Donald Trump. Trump has unleashed that very war waging hatred among human beings who share similar values with him and entertain his bigotry. I do not intend to write on how dangerous a Trump presidency can be. However, reflecting on the recent massacre in Orlando, the murder of the British MP Cox and the murder of two prominent LGBTQ advocates in Bangladesh, it’s high time we ask ourselves two important questions; what kind of society do we want to live in? How do we identify our strengths? From all those unfortunate incidents, it seems like progressive and accepting ideas are struggling and the advocates of liberal values are facing harsh consequences.
Nonetheless, it matters how we think about those incidents, how we use rhetoric and how we narrate the problems. The method of oversimplification to describe a root cause of a problem stems from ignorance. It is a high time for our societies to have some tough conversations and it is paramount that we all exercise our intellectual abilities to correct and rectify disastrous and vague political influences. To be specific, let’s use an example. In the aftermath of Brexit, Trump said “they took their country back, just like we will take America back.” I want to ask him, “take your country” back from who? What does “your country” mean and where does the concept of ownership come from? How will this kind of politics of exclusion and division shape the already unpredictable global security environment? How will such rhetoric help people with mental illness or people who are frustrated, marginalized and disenfranchised?
I reference Trump’s shameless bigotry because it raises an important discussion about race, religion and their impact on global terrorism. Let’s not conflate terrorist activities with hate crimes and let’s not over simplify the problem by blaming a single religion. According to researcher Audrey Alexander of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, last year 56 Americans were arrested for taking actions to help ISIS. “Of the 56 people who were arrested, 86 percent of them were male. Almost all were American citizens or legal permanent residents. They were between 15 and 47 years old. Many were not even Muslims when they first became supporters of the group.” Based on this data, how is it wise to paint all violent extremism as Islamic extremism? Similarly, recent statements from several law enforcement agencies in the US confirmed that there is overwhelming cooperation with Muslim-Americans who do report extremist threats in their local communities. The important lessons from these reports are that a terrorist is a terrorist and it’s his or her radical behaviors that need to be examined, not their religion or their backgrounds.
How does all of this effect Canada? I believe that Canada is a much more tolerant and accepting nation and we are known more for diversity than the U.S. and Europe. But this might not be entirely true. In the past few years, there has been an increase of hate crimes in Canada against Muslims but no one was labeled as a radical or a terrorist. The disproportionate attention for similar crimes and labeling of terrorism to single out one religion is detrimental in understanding complex social problems and building strong policy solutions.
Speaking of other complex issues, minority communities such as the LGBTQ community have been oppressed by different groups for many years. After the Orlando shooting, it is important to find out how much Omar Mateen was influenced by religion and how much was it just pure hatred and racism, homophobia and fear. It is unclear why he called 911 during the attack to express his allegiance to ISIS. Therefore, we should not reach a conclusion from the behaviors of a deranged and conflicted lone wolf unless we understand his motives for extremist violence.
Similarly, last year, five secular bloggers were brutally murdered in Bangladesh because they were atheists and shared progressive intellectual values. This year, two of the gay rights activists were killed in a similar fashion. Secretary Kerry in a statement expressed his thoughts on the gay activists’ death saying “in many ways, he embodied the spirit of the people of Bangladesh and the pride with which they guard their traditions of tolerance, peace, and diversity.” ISIS and Al- Qaeda claimed responsibility for both of these cases respectively and they did so because these radical groups reject the idea of tolerance, peace, and diversity. They did not do this because Islam compels them, they do this with the purpose to terrorize.
Every example in this article speaks to the fundamental problem of oversimplifying an act of terror. Trump is setting the trend of grouping a lot of complex issues in one bucket to target a certain group of people in order to justify his racist and divisive policies. Let’s not take our unity for granted and let’s not allow anyone like Trump to radicalize us.