Terrorism of the kind witnessed in Norway two weeks ago is terrible and needs to be condemned whenever it occurs, but we should remember that it is as old as human society and has been committed by people from many ethnic groups and from all the major religious groups.
Some terrorist groups in the past, such as the Baader Meinof gang in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, the Red Brigade in Italy in the 1970s, and the IRA in the UK, tried to limit their attacks to particular states. Other groups, such as al-Qaeda, which bombed the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, and al-Shabaab, have transnational links, which enable them to operate across several countries.
If security agencies used most of their resources to monitor threats from Muslims while ignoring other groups, they would render it easy for extremists in the ignored groups to plan and carry out terrorism. While some commentators have claimed the Norwegian intelligence agencies failed to view Breivik’s activities with suspicion because he is white with blond hair and blue eyes, I have no evidence to argue this was the case.
The willingness of some of the media in the West to blame Muslims for terrorism whenever it occurs is not likely to lead to a mature debate on the primary causes of terrorism. If the root causes are not properly diagnosed and understood, the West is likely to have problems detecting and preventing terrorist acts of the type carried out in Norway two weeks ago. One of the best ways forward is to assume that, as terrorism has no race, ethnicity or religion, any credible counter-terrorism strategy should avoid scape-goating any particular racial or religious group.
Makinda is a professor of terrorism and counter-terrorism studies at Murdoch University, Australia