Are We To Blame For Islamist Terrorism?

What The Eastern European Experience Can Teach Us.

It’s happened again.

France is reeling after yet another terrorist attack. This time in the port city of Nice.  A single Islamist terrorist, wielding nothing more than a driver’s licence and a small truck, managed to murder just under 90 people and injure many others.

And so the urgent question we need to ask – and answer – is what causes Islamist terrorism? 

I propose an answer, but it begins with a public confession.

(And it’s a little embarrassing.)

Do We cause Islamic Terrorism

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. 

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 and executions.  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 November 2015 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.

(Warning: the following video contains 80’s rock music.)


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 –  or running over innocent children in Nice – 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).

What about You? What do you think causes Islamist terrorism?



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7 thoughts on “Are We To Blame For Islamist Terrorism?

  1. Akos,
    Islamic terrorism starts from the brainwashing young Muslims recieve via their Islamic upbringing and teachings.
    If any other “Religion” did what Islam has done it would mirror the result that Islam has produced.

  2. from
    Does Islam Inevitably Lead to Violence? by Caleb Greggsen
    ” better question to ask is whether or not there is a legitimate place for violence within Islamic tradition. The answer is yes. The primary means of determining this right in Islam is power. According to Islamic thinking, if you are in power and succeeding, then God is clearly blessing and supporting you. If you are not, then God has chosen not to bless you. Of the first four caliphs after Mohammed, three of them were violently murdered, either by assassination, mob, or in battle, all by “fellow” Muslims who supported other leaders. The first two Islamic dynasties came into power by slaughtering those who held power before them. Islam’s history only gets bloodier from there, since might makes right in a way that is foreign to the Judeo-Christian world. Despite the shocking number of Christians or secular Westerners being killed by Muslims, Muslims are killing even greater numbers of other Muslims.” from
    Does Islam Inevitably Lead to Violence? by Caleb Greggsen
    This world threatens to undo us not just because we trust in Christ, but because sin has so tragically fractured it.

  3. At the beginning of America’s involvement in WWII they disenfranchised over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans. These Japanese Americans were locked up, deprived of their liberty. Did they become ‘radicalised’ and resort to blowing up US schools? No.

    The British locked up German-Britons in 1939. Australia locked up German-Australians in WWI. They too didn’t resort to terrorism.

    Therefore it’s not a ‘normal’ thing for a person to do – even when deprived of liberty. Therefore there must be something intrinsically Islamic to the reaction – and the move towards violence

  4. Of course we are NOT DIRECTLY to blame for terrorist attacks as has already been mentioned. Clearly Islam’s use of ‘;the sword’ is a DIRECT DRIVER OR ENABLER OF TERRORISM. Consequently, I strongly agree that grievance is only a starting ;point which I feel (as many others world wide also seem to feel) has been DIRECTLY facilitated by the call for anti-discrimination laws and their abuse by people being encouraged to feel victimized or aggrieved.
    An additional factor from taking a long term view is that the world-wide lack of meaningful work for many people as a result of changing industrial methods and the increasing desire of manufacturers and even basic food suppliers to cut costs, and even whole nations suffering from starvation, are all BIG DRIVERS of discontent and hence the resort to terrorism.
    Christians need to be even more active in appealing to Muslims generally, and their Imams in particular, to reconsider their allegiance to the violent aspects of Islam. Fortunately, the public so called debates between Christian and Muslims is one such outreach method that seems to be having good results.
    However, to actually reduce the lure of terrorism will require us all to take part in meaningful discourse and provision of physical help to young Muslims.

    • Even Paul was once a persecutor and oppressor of the church. May the Lord continue to raise up many new Pauls out of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram, so that they may take the gospel not only to their own peoples, but to the entire world. And may the Lord send out from us many Stephens, soldiers willing to die to proclaim that same gospel, no matter the cost.

  5. One has to get back to the beginning of Islam – which started with Mohammed wanting God on his own terms. He didn’t like the Jews or Christians and probably realised he was off Ishmael. This led his own system much like Bhagwan Rajneesh or the many gurus in India and the rest of the world. What happened after his death reshaped Islam because from a religion and a philosophy it became a political force. They weren’t just after the heart but the heads- literally. The Caliphate was all set out to subjugate the world in the name of Islam which became I-SLAM – well kind of because anything opposed to it was slammed. This explains the rapid expansion of Islam. Because it is loosely based on the old testament and not much unlike the dark ages when the Bible interpretation was left to the Priests alone, all it needs is opportunistic, ignorant and manipulative leaders who would sanction personal vendetta and agendas through the use of the Quran and their interpretation is what people think the Quran teaches as they only read it not study it. What people see is disenchanted young people radicalised by fanatics but what they miss is the deep political puppetry playing behind the scenes fuelling Islamic radicalism. During Soviet occupation in Afghanistan a self proclaimed hater of Communism Zbigniew Brzezinski – born in Poland but raised in the US, went with the CIA to fire up Afghan Mujahideen (armies of god much like Hizbollah of Lebanon and Palestine) saying: over there (that is Afghanistan) is a land god gave to them it is theirs not foreigners. Go and fight because they will prevail because their right is just and god is on their side. The US fully knew this has nothing to do with religion but prevention of the advance of communism. When the Soviets left who do you think they now started targeting? This was the rise of Taliban and Al Qaeda…now Is. Do you know that whilst the Saudi Arabia is a huge Western ally and fights terrorism they bank rolled billions into Al Qaeda and are responsible for worldwide terror networks due to the extreme form of Islam Wahabism it condones and practices? Do you know non stop violence in the Indian beautiful state of Kashmir is fuelled not by Islam but water and Pakistan twisted this to sponsor terrorism and sending millions of foreign Jihadis and causing unrest among the Kashmiri youths apparently fighting the against Indian occupation? Do you know there is a bitter cold war waging between Saudi led Sunni muslims against Iran led Shia muslims and the West keeps switching allegiance based on their own national interest? Do you know Turkey led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now leaned so much towards Islamists far away from the secular nation that was founded by Kemal Ataturk that NATO may soon have to have a Turkish policy? Do you know that more Muslims get killed by their own brothers than non-muslims through terrorism? In short a religion that is inspired by Satan is playing itself out. This is what is responsible for terrorism nothing else.