Don't Blame Islam For One Cowardly Man's Attack In New York City

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Terrorist attacks in America have time and time again been met with a tendency to demonize a suspect's religion. But no matter what information comes out about the attacker who killed eight people on Oct. 31, it's important not to blame Islam for the terror in NYC.

As soon as there were reports of witnesses claiming to have seen the suspect shout the Muslim verse meaning "God is great," social media was flooded with tweets calling for the deportation of Muslims, the "razing" down of mosques in the country, or the eradication of the Islamic faith from the United States of America. Others simply got straight to the point: "Kill all Muslims."

Though these tweets reveal a disturbing amount of misguided fear and hatred among non-Muslim Americans, it is worth remembering that anti-Muslim animus isn't a spontaneously-occurring phenomenon. It doesn't happen without reason. Analysis conducted by media research centers like Media Matters show that American television often stokes Islamophobia by exploiting terror attacks.

Such stereotyping isn't limited to the screen. It carries social ramifications for Muslim minorities in the country, along with other minorities communities who frequently get mistaken for being Muslim, such as the Sikh community. In fact, right after 9/11, members of the Sikh community in New York City reported harrowing incidents of violent discrimination and hostility from locals. Similar to Muslim women who are easily identifiable due to their headscarves, Sikh men and boys were reportedly singled out for their turbans.

So real is this danger of being singled out after such a terror attack that Simran Jeet Singh, a professor of religion at Texas' Trinity University, urged people to keep minorities in their thoughts. On Tuesday, Singh tweeted, "New Yorkers, remember that in times of crisis, marginalized communities are vulnerable to violent backlash. Please take care of one another."

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of Islamophobia in the United States that people often forget is that the most heinous and grisly incidents of terrorism and mass violence weren't carried out by Muslims — they were carried out by domestic right-wing extremists.

According to a comprehensive study conducted by the nonpartisan think-tank New America, more American lives were lost to domestic right-wing terrorism than to Islamic terrorism from 2001 to 2015. That's over a decade of data, and yet the focus often seems to singularly fall on Muslims.

In another study, University of North Carolina conducted research and found that less than 0.0002 percent of Americans were killed by Muslims since 9/11. That's right. Less than 0.0002 percent. Another study conducted by The Center for Investigative Reporting showed that Trump's administration overstated the danger of Islamic extremism and ignored the growing threat of white supremacist terror in the country.

Blaming Islam for random acts of terror not only harms the well-being of a religious minority that has, according to the FBI, been on the receiving end of heightened anti-Muslim violence since 2001, it also becomes a disservice to those trying to put an end of violence.

As a society, it seems like Americans would do exponentially better by trying to understand the frequently economic and geopolitical reasons behind such attacks. Limiting our analyses to theology alone creates an inadequate means to comprehend such violence. Most importantly, it perpetuates a vicious cycle of anti-Muslim hatred that only creates more divisions in the country. Ultimately, it fails to protect people.

If these reasons based in researched data, documented violence, and oppression aren't enough to compel a person not to place all blame on Islam for the terror in Lower Manhattan today, people should ask themselves a simple question. After a white man opened fire on a crowd of nearly 22,000 concert attendees in Las Vegas and reportedly killed 58 people, would it have been appropriate to lampoon anyone who shared his racial background and beliefs?

The answer should ideally be "no," and the same answer, based in empathy and rationality, should be applied to Muslims.