During the last US election, several politicians attempted to show that certain religions were responsible for all of the issues the world is currently facing. This ended with our current president promising, during his inaugural address, to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism and eradicate it completely from the face of this Earth!” Was this the right approach? Are we to condone any other type of terrorism and fight only against Islamic terrorism? Do terrorist really represent the true values of a religion? Growing up as a student in Pennsylvania and then later attending high school in Dubai, I have been exposed to people from all walks of life. Religion had never factored into my decisions to make friends or talk to people, and so the very fact that now we were being asked to differentiate between terrorism and religion was offensive to me. Terror is terror! It is wrong no matter where it happens, who perpetrates it, and whom it affects. It is just plain unacceptable—period! But what do other people think? How about my classmates, my community and others in the broader society? Do they share the same views that I hold or do they feel differently? To answer these questions, I decided to carry out an online survey and ask some very pointed questions to really get the respondents to expose their true feelings. The answers I received were not only eye opening but also reassuring to me, as they were mostly positive and understanding. It showed that terrorism has no religion!
I constructed a survey that was sent out to over 500 people. I encouraged my friends and family to forward the survey to their contacts, and while one can argue that this is not a scientific process, the response was overwhelming – I received 305 responses in all. The survey began with a brief introduction of my background and my purpose in doing the research and requested respondents to be objective in their responses. It asked individuals to state their religion and then asked a few questions on their views regarding religion and terror. In order to prevent a bias in responses, I circulated the questions around across respondents and even asked some questions in different ways to see if people responded differently based on how questions were worded. For example, some respondents were asked, “Do you believe most acts of terror are motivated by religion?” while others were asked, “Is the primary driver of terror religion?” I also tried to pool people in law enforcement and religious leaders to see if they might have a different perspective, but the number of responses I received was small and so I have included their responses in my core finding.
The Results – Yes! There is hope for humanity!
I polled people from 3 main geographies: the United States, India, and the United Arab Emirates. This gave me a sample set that was diverse in religious background, with roughly 35% Christian, 30% Hindu, 14% Atheist/Agnostic, 8% Muslim, and 13% from other religions which included Judaism, Buddhism, Sikh, and Zoroastrianism. While over 90% of respondents provided their religion, some declined to do so and those were grouped under Atheist/Agnostic. Almost all respondents were under the age of 55, with over 50% being Millennials. 70% of respondents felt that religion was not the primary driver of terrorism and felt that socioeconomic factors and lack of education contributed to terror. However, in regard to those instances where religion was viewed as the primary driver of terror, the majority (45%) felt that teachings by religious leaders were responsible for people resorting to terrorist activity. Here, only 20% felt it was due to an individual’s inaccurate interpretation of religious texts. Over 87% of respondents felt that Islam does not promote violence, and the majority of people felt that this association is because of religious affiliation of people involved in recent events of violence and the media exacerbating these stories. When it came to the question of tolerance, Buddhism and Hinduism were perceived as being the most tolerant of all religions. The majority of people felt that no specific religion advocated violence and intolerance; however, for those who thought it did, respondents also noted that the primary reason was the inaccurate interpretation of religious texts.
All of the religious leaders polled stated that they felt that the best way of increasing religious tolerance is through the active teaching of the same by leaders of all religions. They stated that most religious texts could possess some extreme views, but this needed to be communicated in a balanced manner to people to prevent radical interpretation. It was interesting to note that of the law enforcement personnel polled, none of them felt that religion was a factor when they considered whether an individual is a potential threat to society. However, over 75% felt that based on recent events, Islam would be a religion that would be most likely to cause them concern. All of the respondents felt that extremist behavior was caused by certain radical elements in religion teaching others a more fundamentalist interpretation of religious texts. Finally, in regard to how to control the propagation of religiously motivated terror attacks, over 70% felt that educating people and teaching tolerance, combined with government intervention with regulation and legislation, was the single most effective means of control. This was followed by about 12% proposing that simplification of religious texts and having a uniform interpretation of them would be effective. Other suggestions ranged from socioeconomic programs to even some as radical as abolishing religious funding.
Ultimately, the majority of people surveyed felt that religion itself was not a dominant factor in the formation of terrorist thought, and instead felt that the majority of events were propagated by inaccurate interpretations of religious texts. All religions promote peace, forgiveness, and tranquility. This was best summed up by one respondent who wrote, “We all need to live in a world free of fear—one that promotes peace and inclusion of all, no matter your color or religion, so that we can work towards building a society that we can be proud of for generations to come!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.