Do We Cause Islamist Terrorism?

What The Eastern European Experience Teaches Us About Terrorism.

Let me start with a public confession.

It’s a little embarrassing.

But here goes:

When I was 10 years old, I wanted to start a revolution against the dictatorship ruling my homeland.

There. I’ve said it.

I wanted to start a revolution against the government of communist Hungary (as it was at the time).

As crazy as my desire was, I think it can help us understand (of all things) Islamist terrorism and radicalisation. 

Do We cause Islamic Terrorism

Feeling Grieved Over The Soviet Occupation.  

I was born in communist Hungary. and escaped to the West (Australia) as a 4-year-old child, with my family.

When I was 10 years old, Hungary was still under Soviet occupation.

Now I grew up in the West with other Hungarian refugees. Many of whom had pretty awful tales to tell about living in communist Hungary: the secret police, the deportations, executions, and so on.  The Hungarian Diaspora was a very political environment. 

And so, I was politicised from a young age.

I felt deeply grieved over what the Soviets were doing. And I was determined to make it right.

(However, my life as a budding revolutionary was very short lived: the Iron Curtain fell soon after).

Now, as I reflect back on that politicised period of my life, here are some lessons that we can learn, about radicalisation and terrorism.

1) The ‘Grievance’ Narrative

Does [Grievance] Lead Inevitably to [Violent Terrorism]?

A few days after the recent Paris terror attacks, the Australian National Imam’s Council put out a press release stating that:

[A]ll causative factors [of terrorism] such as…duplicitous foreign policies, and military intervention must be comprehensively addressed’ (emphasis added).

In other words, western foreign policies were the key cause of the terrorist attacks. Presumably because such interventions made some (Muslim) people so upset…that they had no other choice but to turn to terrorism.

This can be summarised by the following principle:

[Feeling grieved] leads (some people) inevitably to [violent terrorism]. 

According to this view, if you want to blame someone, don’t blame the terrorists: blame the people that caused the terrorists to be upset in the first place. Namely,  western governments.

But is having a grievance (alone) enough to make one a terrorist? 

2) Having a Grievance Doesn’t Automatically A Terrorist Make

The ‘[Grievance] Leads to [Violent Terrorism]’ Principle Doesn’t Fit Reality.

If you think it’s hard to swallow having Western armies intervening in your country, try a Soviet occupation.


And yet, Eastern Europeans who were occupied by the Soviets didn’t resort to terrorising innocent Soviet civilians.

My heavily politicised 10-year-old brain never dreamt of massacring Soviet civilians.

Nor did anyone in the Hungarian Diaspora suggest such a thing. 

(And during the 1956 uprising against the hated Soviet-backed communist authorities, the Hungarian revolutionaries didn’t massacre the Soviet civilians who resided in Hungary. Their fight was simply with the Soviet authorities).

[Grievance]  alone does not inevitably lead to [violent terrorism].

There’s more to violent terrorism than merely feeling grieved.

3) A More Accurate Understanding Of Terrorism

[Grievance] + [A Certain Worldview] Leads to [Violent Terrorism].

Many Eastern European migrants felt grieved over the Soviet Occupation of their home countries.

But they didn’t plot to capture or kill innocent Soviet citizens.

Why not?

Because massacring innocent Soviet civilians was simply against the Hungarian (or Czech, Pole, insert-other-Soviet-occupied-Eastern-European-country-here) understanding of moral reality.

It was unthinkable.

But massacring innocent civilians at an ‘Eagles of Death’ concert in Paris was and is  part of ISIS’s view of moral reality.

So here’s the point: Terrorism can only happen with the necessary worldview: A worldview that sees innocent civilians as fair game. 

Defeating Terrorism Starts With Understanding The Terrorist Worldview

We’re unlikely to defeat terrorists by misunderstanding their motives, or their worldview.

Yes, there’s value in understanding how western interventions affect the Islamic world’s perception of us. But providing simplistic ‘western interventions cause terrorism‘ tropes will only do more harm than good (not least, because it shifts the blame away from the terrorists).

We need a much deeper, robust understanding of the worldview of groups like ISIS. At least, if we’re serious about defeating them.

Which I sure hope we are.



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9 thoughts on “Do We Cause Islamist Terrorism?

  1. That was a well reasoned explanation of what leads to terrorism. Opposing world views do not all lead to problems as many living in Australia have a variety of world views and we manage to live, work and play together. The difference is, we respect our life and the lives of others and there is our common ground

    • Thanks for your comment Margaret. I fully agree that opposing world-views per se don’t lead to terrorism: it all depends on what the worldview is.


  2. My father escaped Latvia and I had similar feeling which were never acted on However I did go to school with a Croatian guy who told me stories of going to Canberra on more than one occasion to throw molotov cocktails at the Servian embassey. This however was an aberration within the eastern European communities.

    • That’s very interesting to hear, Eddie. I’ve heard similar: some of the people from the former Yugoslavia had a great deal of hatred for one another. And sadly, we saw much of this hatred come out in war during the early 1990’s.


  3. As you are aware, when we read, the meaning is filtered by the sum of our experience. Not everyone gets the same message. If your message is the Christian one of peace and goodwill, as I would expect, you need to be clear that the ‘certain worldview’ you speak of is that of the terrorists, not of Muslims.
    There’s ambiguity in your message that speaks to hate, not love.

    • Hi Roy,

      Thanks for your comment!

      Whilst I fully agree with you that the ‘certain worldview’ I speak of is not that of *every* Muslim, there are sadly many who identify as Muslims, for whom it is their worldview:

      More to the point, Islam has within it many texts that would justify such violence, at least according to this former Muslim:

      Kind regards,


      P.S. I’m not sure I understand exactly what you mean by ‘There’s ambiguity in your message that speaks to hate, not love.’

      • Yes Akos “Islam has within it many texts that would justify such violence”. The thread of violence runs through Middle East religions from pre-Judaic texts passed down through eg. the Old Testament. Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, revere a man who, on the “instructions” of his imagined god, undertook to burn his own son, Isaac. He only relented when the voice in his head “instructed” him to burn a lamb instead.

        Similarly “inspired” by a voice in his head, Moses instructing the Israelites to murder all Canaanite men, boys and women who had slept with a man but to keep the girls and virgin women for their own use. That has become a recurrent theme in religious wars.

        In the story of Jesus, “The Lamb of God” was crucified as a supposedly sacrifice to “redeem sin” under the purview of the omnipotent Old Man himself. It didn’t work.

        So Islam didn’t invent such atrocities, Mahommed simply appropriated their power to collect a group of rebels against the regime in Mecca, transferred them to Medina, fought various battles resourced by raiding caravans trading with Mecca, then wiped out the previously allied Jewish population in Medina. His descendants and followers subsequently repelled the Christian crusades. Islam is as much a “religion of peace” as is Judaism and Christianity.

        • Hi Murray,

          There’s no doubt that as a follower of Jesus, I fail to live up to the teachings of peace and love that Jesus modeled, and commanded his disciples to emulate.

          Just wondering how the Bible presents the crucifixion of Jesus as an impetus for Christians to do violence to others?

          As far as Islam goes, don’t you find it interesting that there is a *plethora* of groups identifying as Islamic, and out of explicitly theological justifications doing murderous acts *in the name of Islam*?

          E.g. IS, Al Shabab, Hizb’allah, Al’quaeda, Hamas etc etc.

          Why is it almost impossible to find Christians groups murdering people in the name of Jesus? (I’m not saying Christians don’t do bad things: I’m merely observing what seems to me a grand canyon of discrepancy between the followers of the two religions, as far as violent acts go).

  4. C’mon, Akos. Re-read your work, from the point of view of someone already afraid of Muslims. There’s plenty of those about, what with the ‘War on Terror’ and all. Can’t you see that you’ve just convinced them that they are right to be afraid, and that the cause of the problem is Islam. A war against Islam will, like the Crusades, only benefit the rich and powerful.
    The people who sponsor terrorism do it for political reasons. They’re trying to provoke hate, and a backlash that will unite the millions of Muslims world wide against us. The terrorists themselves may believe they are doing God’s work, but they are victims too. Hate will destroy us all.
    The Muslims I know are very nice people, but they will not give up their beliefs any more than you would. They will fight if they have to, just as you would. My God wouldn’t wan’t to kill them all, but that’s what you have to do to kill an idea.
    Please re-think and re-write. Even the Muslim children are aware of the hate being directed at their faith. No wonder. Recently a commentator wrote, “They’re not children. They’re Muslims!”
    Terrorism is not about religion, it’s about politics. Don’t let them win.
    Love is the answer.