In response to the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by ISIS in the Middle East, President Barack Obama was hesitant to talk about the situation in any sort of religious light. White House statements never specifically labeled the victims as Christians, and at the recent White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Obama said, “No religion is responsible for terrorism – people are responsible for violence and terrorism.”

President Obama’s remarks about the most recent ISIS attacks placed him in the middle of a conflict that has been occurring for centuries. Debates about religious warfare date back to the ancient world and continued through the Crusades, Holocaust, and modern terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram.

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Statistics on motivations for terrorism from the Global Terrorism Index.


Over the years, violence in the name of religion manifested itself in many different ways, but today it is the leading cause of worldwide terrorism. According to the Global Terrorism Index, religious terrorism has spiked in recent years, with 80 percent of resulting deaths occurring in Middle Eastern countries.In 2013, 66 percent of the 18,000 deaths were attributed to ISIS, Boko Haram, al Qaeda, and the Taliban.


While President Obama is correct in saying that people, rather than religion itself, are who commit acts of terrorism, the recent and drastic increase in religious terrorism has caused many people to closely examine the unifying aspect of it all: Islam.

Islam’s concept of Jihad is controversial for many Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Quran is not completely clear on its preferred stance on the subject. According to the law of abrogation, some early verses in the Quran can be “cancelled out,” or reinterpreted in the context of verses that were revealed to the prophet Muhammad later in his life. Because of this, some Muslims question whether verses that seem to approve holy warfare or religious killings are negated by other verses that encourage followers of Islam to live in peace and compassion. Other fundamentalist Muslims interpret these verses to mean that all violence against non-Muslims is allowed, and even encouraged.

A group of ISIS militants.

Boko Haram, ISIS, and al-Qaeda are all founded on fundamentalist Muslim principles. Anyone associated with Western culture, and even non-fundamentalist Muslims, become the targets of their violence. Their attempts at instating their own control in the Middle East have manifested themselves in horrifyingly violent ways: the kidnapping and killing of thousands of civilians in Nigeria by Boko Haram, al-Qaeda suicide bombings in marketplaces, and the most recent beheadings by ISIS.

People are desperate for an end to this violence, but it won’t come by pointing fingers at Muslims, Christians, or anyone else. Obama’s statement at the White House Summit serves as a reminder to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “Of course, the terrorists do not speak for a billion Muslims who reject their ideology. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God, represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism.”

Cultural pressure and political unrest are just a few of the other contributing factors to the problem. The unrest in the Middle East is more than a clash of religious titans. People of all faiths, cultures, and ethnicities have an equal stake in these crimes against humanity, and by uniting in full force, they can wage war on the true enemy of terrorism.



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