As the hijacked airplanes flew into the World Trade Center, over 3000 American lives were claimed. The headlines constantly spoke of these innocents and politicians used it both as a campaign catch phrase as well as an excuse to overstep traditional boundaries of privacy.
While these events forever left a mark on American history and domestic policy, our discussion often overlooks some of the impact they've had on the lives of hundreds of millions of others - believers of Islam. After the 9/11 attacks, the FBI reported a 1700 percent increase of hate crimes against Muslim Americans. Since then, these vitriolic stereotypes have left many Muslim Americans in fear and paranoia - unable to fully express their religious beliefs. This sentiment was further exacerbated by the recent UNC shootings and Houston Mosque arson. The main reason behind this rests within our media's portrayal of Islam and terrorism following 9/11.
As the West ramped up its "War on Terror", the media portrayed the battle as us versus them. "Us" being the good Anglo-Saxon Americans and "them" being the freedom hating fundamentalist Islamists of the Middle East. However, what so many failed to realize that these weren't the two sides that were really at war.
It was a group of extremists, simply using religion as a mechanism for control. They invaded peaceful villages in various countries and preyed on the poor and uneducated, and gave them resources they never had before. After having these people indebted, terrorist organizations brainwashed the populace and led them to believe that a more radical version of Islam must be practiced in order to rid the area of western-imperialist influence.
In reality, Islam in its foundations promotes peace, cleanliness and coexistence. The beginning of functions requires the commemoration of Allah for his mercy and compassion. However, these values are not found in the groups that the media so commonly portrays as speaking for Islam. It's a shame that such a small minority is consistently used to represent the beliefs of 1.5 billion people who are simply trying to live peacefully.
Over the past 5 years, Muslims committed less than 2 percent of terror attacks in Europe. Between 1980 and 2005, 94 percent of terrorist attacks in the United States were committed by non-Muslims. Between 2004 and 2008, only 12 percent of al-Qaeda's victims were westerners. Despite this organization having killed eight times as many Muslims as they had killed those of the west, their mission is portrayed as largely anti-American as opposed to anti anything standing in their way of power or their idea of Islam. After 2008, al-Qaeda became more brutal in Yemen, with attacks on hospitals and buses. The Taliban also massacred over 100 students in a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. When initiating multiple attacks in nations that are 99 percent Muslim, we can be sure that their targets were not Americans.
ISIS, the group that has most recently captured our attention, follows the same thread. In the first eight months of 2014, over 24,000 Iraqi citizens were either injured or killed at the hands of ISIS. As of the fall of 2014, 1.8 million Iraqis were displaced because of ISIS, and that number continues to grow. ISIS and similar organizations are not about getting people to accept a certain sect of Islam or a different vision of Muhammad. These organizations are about garnering power, keeping people oppressed and uneducated and Islam is simply the mask adorned to carry on their wish.
While the 9/11 attacks exposed American vulnerability, they also brought to light the ongoing war between the small extremist faction of Islam and the majority of followers - peaceful and God fearing. The media, however, has made it seem as if that minority is a more accurate representation of Islam when that is not the case.
It is important to acknowledge that the extinction of religion does not mean that these wars would not exist. Religion in this context is simply an instrument being weaponized for the oppression of people. There's no God that tells one man to kill an innocent person for not believing in a faith in the same manner. The Quran explicitly states "Whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely". There is, however, the greed for power, land, resources, etc. that does turn even the most noble of men into savages. It's important to recognize that terror has been committed in the name of all religions before, but a twenty-four hour news cycle hasn't existed for all of it. Dropping bombs and marginalizing communities isn't the solution, it's far from it. The more destruction that comes to these countries, the more the doors are opened for radical organizations to provide resources and demonize the west. Poverty and tribalism will lead to cyclical violence, but trying to create an understanding of people and pushing for economic development and access to education will lead to prosperity.