Jeff Tayler takes apart a mushy WaPo article on the supposedly diverse causes of terrorism

I call your attention to a fairly recent op-ed in the Washington Post that was a masterpiece of equivocation and mealy-mouthedness, and then a response to it just published in Quillette by Jeff Tayler.

The Post article, published on December 21, was byundergraduate director at the University of Essex. Called “All terrorism acts are not connected. But terrorists want you to think they are,” it did everything it could to avoid mentioning religion (read “Islam”) as a contributor to terrorist acts (she barely alludes to a few of the groups as “Islamist,” or “reportedly the Islamic State”), saying instead that there are disparate causes of terrorism (of course there are: the mix is always different, but Islam’s is almost a constant factor), and then claiming that it’s a non-problem anyway because there is so much more domestic gun violence in the U.S. and Mexico That’s true, but some of us are trying to do something about that, and at least we recognize that one cause is the largely unregulated proliferation of firearms—something that Republicans love!

Here are a few snippets from Ezrow’s piece.

This is a horrific spate of attacks, and it should disturb us all. As the scale of what had happened became clear, there was naturally some speculation that the attacks were somehow connected or coordinated. But although the headlines are certainly alarming, all the attacks occurred in countries facing very specific challenges. Rolling them into one “wave” of violence is misguided, and misunderstands the real nature of global terrorist threats.

In recent decades, terrorism was principally used by organized groups to strike against richer Western democracies. But today, 70 percent of all terrorist attacks are of the lone-actor variety, and terrorism is more commonly taking place in zones of conflict and instability. Although these conflicts are rooted in grievances of inequality and exclusion, each event is not linked to the other. Although it’s possible that some groups have been inspired by one another — the Tamil Tigers, for instance, pioneered the use of suicide vests — an act of terrorism in Cairo has nothing to do with the bombings taking place in Somalia.

Really? And that has nothing to do with that happened in Istanbul, Ankara, Berlin, and Boston? All separate and completely disparate incidents, with no common thread?

Ezrow concludes that the assumption that all the attacks have at least some commonality will mislead us:

So long as we go on assuming that terrorist attacks are connected and trying to link them to a global extremist threat looming on our doorstep, we misunderstand the unique problems facing each country — and what’s needed to defang them.

So, I suppose, Ezrow would urge us to stop monitoring Muslim email and phone traffic and what is said in mosques, stop worrying about Europeans defecting to ISIS, and so on.

What, then, would she have us to do stop terrorist attacks? Nothing. She doesn’t offer a solution. All she says is to stop looking for a common thread in terrorism. Shades of Reza Aslan!

In his piece at Quillette, “Free speech and terrorism—whatever you do, don’t mention Islam!“, Tayler (whose criticism of religion has moved from Salon to Quillette), simply takes Ezrow’s piece apart.  I’ll give a few quotes, and have only one quibble with Tayler’s arguments, which are, of course, that we have to recognize Islam as a cause of terrorism, deal with that motivation, and not allow the right wing and the Trumpites to own the issue.

My quibble is that Tayler attributes Trump’s victory largely to fear of terrorism, and to the Democrats’ failure to address it:

This is not hyperbole. The data show that the “politically correct” regressive-leftist refusal to speak forthrightly about Islamist terrorism played a powerful — in fact, probably decisive — role in sending Trump to the White House. Last summer, a Pew Research Center survey found that eight out of ten registered voters considered terrorism “very important” in their decision about how to vote in November. Hillary Clinton’s stubborn obfuscation and puerile remarks on the subject surely did nothing to assuage their fears. Trump easily (and crudely) exploited this issue — indeed, made it a signature issue of his campaign — and defeated her.

But the data given by Tayler show that the economy was even more important (84% vs 80%), as were “foreign policy” and “health care” (75% and 74% respectively). One might have well said that the economy played the “decisive role”. But never mind, for Clinton’s failure to address terrorism surely cost her some votes, such as Asra Nomani’s.  I’ll close with an excerpt from Tayler’s piece, and an admonition to the Washington Post to please pay attention to its op-ed pieces (Ezrow’s piece was reprinted from The Conversation site, an increasingly dire venue), and maybe commission its own op-eds instead of taking them wholesale from other places.


Since 9/11 Islam has been the principle [sic] motivation for terrorists across the globe. The FBI, as of May 2016, was tracking almost a thousand potential Islamist radicals in the United States, with 80 percent of them tied to ISIS. In Europe, the scale of the Islamist threat has overwhelmed the French security services, and that country, as a direct result of a spate of ghastly Islamist attacks, labors through its second year under a state of emergency.

In Austria’s case, crime committed by mostly Muslim migrants has been pushing politics to the right — the far right. (The Italians, though, have had enough and are set to ramp up expulsions.) With the defeat of ISIS on the battlefield looming, the Islamist threat to the continent looks set to worsen still. Fear of fundamentalist Shiite Iran acquiring nuclear weapons prompted the P5+1 countries to conduct nine years of negotiations with the Tehran regime to forestall a potentially apocalyptic eventuality. And again, with Islamist terrorism now affecting the outcomes of elections on both sides of the Atlantic, it is essential to protect our democracies and speak frankly about the ideology behind it.

And at least he offers one solution:

Let’s put Ezrow’s essay behind us. Shillyshallying, doubletalk, and outright lying about Islam should give way to frank discussion about the faith’s troubling doctrines of jihad and martyrdom and their propensity to incite bloodshed. Such clarity is especially important now, as the Age of Trump dawns, and would help progressives restore their reputations after having effectively given in to regressive leftists — thereby losing the U.S. to Trump. Well-intentioned but useless online grandstanding and virtue-signaling — for example, the proclamation by the filmmaker Michael Moore, a professed Catholic, that “We are all Muslim” or the tweeted willingness of non-Muslims to sign up on a future Muslim registry — might be abandoned in favor of actual street demonstrations in favor of First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and religion for all citizens, including Muslims and — critically — former Muslims and atheists.

Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion; free (critical) speech about religion has the effect of freeing people from religion. Today’s believers can be — and increasingly are becoming — the secularists of tomorrow, even in the Arab world.

Let the progressive movement return to the right side of history. Now that would be the best answer to Trump.

Believe me, it doesn’t make me happy to be allied with some Republicans on the issue of the causes of terrorism. And although these Republicans might be motivated simply by their own anti-Muslim Christianity, even a blind elephant can find some leaves. It’s time for the Left to recognize extremist Islamic “theology” (and its adoption by unsophisticated religionists) as a contributing cause of terrorism, and to combat that theology not just by calling out superstition in general, but Islamic superstition in particular. Leftists find little difficulty in criticizing those Catholics who rape children or kill abortion doctors, but have a lot more trouble with those Muslims who rape “infidels” and kill gays, apostates, and women.

It’s time for progressives to stop excusing the malfeasance of Muslims because they’re considered oppressed “people of color.” Pigmentation doesn’t guarantee morality.


  1. GBJames
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink


    • Deniz Erezyilmaz
      Posted January 7, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Actually- The vast majority of mass murder has been committed by European Christians. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the ethnic cleansing of european muslims in WWI, the ethnic cleansing of european jews in WWII. How many did Stalin kill? Then there are all of the crimes against indigenous people during imperialism and the new world (manifest destiny). Right now the US government kills many innocent people with drone strikes (we don’t know how many). And right now on this web page, scientists are colluding with right wing nut jobs to justify the next round of Christian aggression.

      So my question to all of you is: are Christians so violent because of christian culture, or is it because of their Neanderthal genes?

  2. Posted January 6, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Brothers and sisters, can I have an amen for this post? Amen! At least Christianity condemns apostates to death in the next life rather than this one.

    • Posted January 6, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      I thought we got eternal, but distinctly unpleasant, life?

      • Posted January 6, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        That’s what I meant by death in the next life – eternal dying. Unpleasant indeed.

        • Claudia Baker
          Posted January 6, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          Love this post, and along with the “Real Housewives…” of yesterday, keep this stuff coming.

          It’s shocking how many of my family & friends think it’s “disrespectful” to criticize religion, including (and especially!) Islam. I am quickly becoming the black sheep of discussions on religion & politics around here. Oh well. Not gonna stop me.

          • rickflick
            Posted January 6, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

            The reason they don’t like criticism of religion M, N, O, is because the same arguments used can be applied to religion C, which is the one you REALLY can’t criticize because it’s mine!

            • Claudia Baker
              Posted January 6, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

              Yes, I agree with you. But even people who don’t have any affiliation with religion and are atheist (several family members and friends), and who criticize, for example, the catholic church, are loathe to criticize islam. It’s incredible.

              • Claudia Baker
                Posted January 6, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

                Well, not so incredible, really. They think it smacks of racism, so there’s that. Super frustrating.

            • eric
              Posted January 6, 2017 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

              Maybe with some people. However IMO young western liberal Christians seem far more tolerant of criticism of Christianity than they are of criticism of Islam. Its virtue signaling – trying to show the world that you stand with the minority religion.

              As for the original editorial, I think she was trying to sneak some conclusions in under a generally true statement. Its probably true that many of these attacks are not coordinated, because the islamist organizations involved just support lone wolfs when and where they occur (though obviously some are, as when multiple attacks occur on the same night, in the same city, at different locations). So what she’s done here is asked “are they coordinated and connected?” and then argued they are not coordinated because they’re lone wolf attacks. Okay, I’ll buy that that’s true for some of them…but they’re all still connected, and she really hasn’t given any argument to the contrary.

    • Posted January 7, 2017 at 4:24 am | Permalink

      + 1

  3. Deniz Erezyilmaz
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    There were two terrorist attacks in Turkey over the past week. Isis claimed responsibility for the one in Istanbul, but the second in Izmir was probably caused by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), a marxist-lenninst group. Are you saying that the underlying motivation for the two attacks are the same because Kurds are largely muslim? I am guessing that most Turks, muslims who have lived with terrorist attacks for decades, would have difficulty agreeing with you.

    • Adam M.
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      What Tayler is saying, I think, is that the Islamic doctrines of jihad and martyrdom lead to terrorist violence and are therefore part of the problem, even if different groups use them to different ends.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 6, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure Islamic doctrines contributed greatly to the intra-Christian terrorism in northern Ireland and Britain. (Which I think is still multiple generations short of being ended, despite a decade of more-or-less ceasefire.)
        People choose to become terrorists because they’re not very nice people – for whatever reason. Certainly religions have contributed greatly to that, but other ideologies have used it too.

        • Posted January 7, 2017 at 4:34 am | Permalink

          Terrorism by IRA, Unionists, PKK and other non-Islam-based terrorism is a disaster largely restricted to the respective countries. Islamist terror is a global menace.

          I disagree that “people choose to become terrorists because they’re not very nice people”. In my country, we have a lot of mean people but, so far, no terrorists (none after the end of WWII when communist terrorism was abolished by giving the country to terrorists). When Hisbullah wanted a terror act here, it had to import a Canadian and an Australian to do the job.

    • eric
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      I initially had the same quibble; there are non-islamic terrorist groups still active around the world. But I think that’s nitpicking, since it’s obvious from Taylor’s writing that he’s talking about Islamic terrorism being the plurality of terrorist attacks, not the sole form of terrorist attacks.

  4. Posted January 6, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    But never mind, for Clinton’s failure to address terrorism surely cost her some votes, such as Asra Nomani’s.

    On which topic, Maajid Nawaz on the latest Sam Harris podcast is well worth listening to (if rather lengthy!).

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      I found him to be rather vague when stating that he did not think Obama did enough in Syria. I don’t mind someone who has no skin in the game having an opinion on something such as this but what is it he wanted Obama to do, intervention-wise? He did not say. He also seemed very blase when talking about Trump. It was as if, yes he is a bit loony but we have lots of checks and balances to avoid real problems. I have no idea where he gets such confidence.

  5. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    In the first paragraph quoted by Ezrow, she is confusing her definitions. She starts by saying the attacks aren’t connected or coordinated. They likely aren’t coordinated, and the connection isn’t physical. The connection is, however, ideological, and that shouldn’t be ignored.

    I’m starting to wonder if the reason that the regressive left can’t admit Islam has something to do with it is not just because of the racism confusion they have, but because they have a romantic view of religion. Religion to them is a wonderful, spiritual, ennobling thing. They’re mostly the ones with the Ground of Being view of religion. Spirituality is a good thing. Thus, they can’t get their heads around religion being an inspiration for evil.

    They actually do the same with Christianity. Fundamentalist Christians with views like anti marriage equality etc are often condemned as not being “real” Christians. “Proper” Christians are those all about love and acceptance. They can condemn a paedophile priest by saying he wasn’t really a Christian or he wouldn’t have done it. That way no blame is attached to the attitudes taught by the religion.

    • Posted January 6, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      … because they have a romantic view of religion.

      Agreed. The West is steeped in the traditional view that religion is a Good Thing. Indeed the furtherance of religion is often treated as *charitable* in its own right, and thus worthy of tax exemptions!

      Thus, it follows, that anything bad cannot be anything to do with religion.

      • BJ
        Posted January 6, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        But they seem to think that any religion with a lot of white people is evil (e.g. Christianity, as well as Judaism which they now consider white because Jews are “oppressors”), so I don’t know how much this has to do with things. They only seem to have a romantic view of major eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism.

    • Jay
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      You have some point here.The left will never criticicize any religion (except Christianity), nor will they criticise any culture (except the European and its offshoot, the American).

      All cultures are (pretended to be) equal, and if they appear to behave badly, it’s the Amarican’s fault. Progressives willfully really don’t have clue about reality, because if they actually saw the elephant in th room, the whole ideology would collapse.

      • BJ
        Posted January 6, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        “You have some point here.The left will never criticicize any religion (except Christianity)”

        Don’t forget Judaism/Jews. There is a shocking amount of antisemitism in the movement and on college campuses.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      I think you make a good point. The problem could also be phrased in terms of “religion vs. spirituality ” — which is one of liberal theology’s popular frameworks.

      Good religions are spiritual, close to the past, close to nature, connected to God, and open to other ways of connecting to God. Spiritual people don’t judge, criticize, or even critique other people’s spiritualities. Spirituality is prime and primitive. It might be expressed in “many path” ecumenism; it might be expressed in lives little different than those lived in the 19th century or Middle Ages. No problem if those conflict: spirituality embraces contradictions.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted January 6, 2017 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        Yes. I’ve read a lot of comments from you in the past about religiosity vs spirituality and I rally like your take on the subject. They’ve informed my thinking a lot.

        • Craw
          Posted January 6, 2017 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

          There is no spirit. Spiritual is a charlatan of a word.

    • Historian
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      You make an excellent point, that I had not really thought about before, that some on the left often say that acts of terrorism carried out in the name of religion is not really the case, rather they say that the terrorists “hijacked” the “true” religion, which is, of course, loving. These people cannot face the thought that religion, perhaps in some cases starting out benign, can morph into something quite dangerous to people who do not subscribe to its tenets. Those people who deny the connection between religion and terrorism should always be asked just what, in their minds, constitutes “true” religion, why the religion espoused by terrorists is not so and how they determined this. I suspect most will be flummoxed in their responses. I think it is a sign of maturity to admit that at least for the Abrahamic religions they can be used to justify anything.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted January 6, 2017 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        Exactly. And often it is those who are actually most fervent and are trying to express it the most deeply i.e. by killing and dying for it to prove their commitment. I think the reason so many suicide terrorists have criminal records is they’re trying to atone for those acts and those that have recruited them are playing on that. Making use of the guilt and showing they can use the skills they learned as a criminal to glorify their god.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      Religion to them is a wonderful, spiritual, ennobling thing.

      Thanks, you just soured my кефир. Which is a neat trick.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted January 6, 2017 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        I’ll take your word for it – the Google translation “kefir” didn’t help. 😀

    • eric
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      D’oh! I wish I had seen your post before I wrote my own. Yes exactly.

  6. Posted January 6, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    From the taken-apart:
    “Rolling them into one “wave” of violence is misguided, and misunderstands the real nature of global terrorist threats.”

    That should be a *conclusion*, not a starting point – for all.

  7. Tom
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Mr Tayler is going right over the top stating that the French Security Service is being “overwhelmed”
    France is managing to handle the situation quite well after earlier incidents.
    I would also point out that Austria did not fall to the “far right” in the recent election.
    We, on the other side of the pond, need to ask what evidence does he have that the Islamist threat “looks set to worsen”, on the continent. Is it perhaps that the
    Islamists can’t afford the fares to other destinations?
    Why not also include China or Australia or Texas?
    I note that Italy has his approval for “ramping up expulsions” (certainly only of the guilty Islamist infiltrators)
    Mr Taylers ideas seem to be the usual American hype that poor old Europe has been soft on terrorism and will pay for it.

    • Dick Veldkamp
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink


      I would tend to agree. Europe is not “overwhelmed” by terrorists (or by “refugees committing crimes”. Nor is there any danger of imminent “islamisation”.).

      What is a problem, is the media hype after each event, and politicians feeling compelled to do something. For example after it was discovered that the Berlin terrorist had travelled by train and bus through Europe, proposals were floated to reinstate 100% border control: just more useless security theatre, taking up huge resources.

      Thus, in a roundabout way, terrorism works: because we let it.

      John Kerry said some wise words about this: “the goal should be to reduce terrorism to a nuisance, along the lines of prostitution or illegal gambling. Exactly.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      I believe the Maajid Nawaz conversation with Sam Harris was a bit surprising but Nawaz said that the actions of German in bringing in so many refugees was dangerous because it can cause the right extremist to make hay in the elections in Europe. He seemed to be saying Europe should slow down and thus not help the extreme right come election time.

    • Posted January 7, 2017 at 4:47 am | Permalink

      I think France is overwhelmed. With all elevated security measures and everything, Anis Amri after the slaughter in Berlin passed through France to reach Italy, and most likely he had his gun along the way.

      Islamist terror acts in Europe are becoming more numerous and more deadly. This is in front of our eyes. I don’t know what other evidence is needed.

      I am a European, and I fully agree that poor old Europe has been soft on terrorism (and, worse, on Islam) and will pay for it. It is already paying. Freedom of speech is gone, the feeling of peace is gone. Not to mention that young women are told to “be careful”.

  8. Kiwi Dave
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard arguments vaguely similar to this before.

    Many who die of cancer are non-smokers. Many smokers do not die of cancer. Therefore smoking is not implicated in cancer. QED.

    • Posted January 6, 2017 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

      Also, cancer deaths are not coordinated, and therefore not in any way connected.

      • Posted January 7, 2017 at 4:49 am | Permalink

        I’d never thought I’d laugh at a sentence containing “cancer deaths”!

  9. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Since I have used Europol’s numbers for ground facts 2013ish, I wanted to compare.

    Tayler’s claim of motivation is arguable.

    As before, in EU the vast majority of terrorist attacks are still separatist, though jihadist attacks are now second at 65 vs 17. (And left-wing stable at 13, while the quiescent right-wing has started again with 9.) I think the 2013 numbers of separatist attacks was about twice that and the total steadily decreasing, but I didn’t check.

    It is when we look at killings and arrests that jihadism really stands out, from two outliers. Only 1 of the 151 terrorist killings in 2016 was non-jihadist. I suspect the same goes for hurt, though the report is too weak on statistics here.

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