[Jimmy E. Jones is chairman of the Department of World Religions at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., and president of Masjid Al-Islam New Haven. Write to him at P.O. Box 8484, New Haven 06531. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.]
My wife, Matiniah, and I just returned from Cairo, Egypt, where we directed our third annual month-long Intensive Arabic and Quran Immersion program at Al-Azhar University.
We took 24 Americans and one Canadian in an ethnically, racially and occupationally diverse group. It included Muslims and non-Muslims, religious leaders and medical professionals as well as undergraduate and graduate students.
Though we spent July in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, none of us saw or heard about the “Islamic terrorism” one prominent U.S. Republican presidential candidate, Rudolph Giuliani, insists that he and Democrats should talk about. As a person of faith and a Muslim, the term “Islamic terrorism” is unsettling for several reasons.
First, the term creates the erroneous impression that there is a type of terrorism that is either condoned by or is an integral part of Islamic belief. Nothing could be further from the truth about the religion I voluntarily joined in 1979.
Second, such a term distorts and creates public confusion about the reality of terrorism. Academician Robert Pape, in his ground-breaking empirical study of worldwide suicide terrorism (discussed in his book “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”) makes it amply clear that over the past 20 years, the vast majority of suicide terrorists were motivated by political, tactical reasons – not by religion.
Finally, the term “Islamic terrorism” is an insult to the more than 1.2 billion Muslims in the world who are not at war with anybody.
As a Muslim American who has spent over three decades trying to build bridges between religious, racial and ethnic communities, I am shocked that a serious presidential candidate can be so callous, insensitive and divisive on such an important issue.