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Why you shouldn’t blame scripture for acts of terrorism

Earlier this week, H.A. Heller and Nathan J Brown wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs that explored whether or not an Islamic authority figure could put an end to Daesh (or, as its commonly known, ISIS).

Muslims — unlike other religious groups, such as Catholics and Mormons — don’t have a central authority figure to guide them, the writers argue. But if Islam were to have one leader, it might limit the damage ISIS has created in the Middle East.

But a leader might not be able to stop ISIS attacks. In fact, Brown and Heller mention early on in their essay that some don’t consider the Islamic State to be truly Islamic at all.

“The consensus among Muslim religious scholars is that although ISIS draws on some Sunni Islamic references, its interpretations and applications of those references lie far outside an acceptable range,” the writers wrote.

SEE MORE: The first American to die in the fight against ISIS credits God for motivating him

Still, the Islamic State uses scripture to its advantage during recruiting and to justify its attacks, according to William McCants’ separate piece for Foreign Affairs this week. Other times, ISIS will ignore parts of Islamic scripture — like the Quran and other hadiths attributed to Muhammad — if it fits their motive.

“Indeed, even the ultratextualist followers of the self-proclaimed Islamic State ignore Scripture that is inconvenient for their brutal brand of insurgency,” McCants wrote.

But, McCants argues, Islamic scripture isn’t to blame when Islamic followers commit terrorism or acts of extremism. In fact, all of religious scripture isn’t to blame for the acts of its followers, McCants wrote.

“Consider the Gospels, Scriptures that advocate far less violence than the Koran or the Hebrew Bible,” McCants wrote. “Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek. Yet the crusaders murdered thousands in their rampage across the Middle East, and U.S. President George W. Bush, a devout Christian, invaded Iraq without military provocation. Readers may object to these examples, arguing that other factors were at play—but that is exactly the point: Christian Scripture doesn’t always determine the behavior of its followers, and the same goes for Islamic Scripture.”

Clay Farris Naff, a science and religious reporter for Humanist magazine, agrees. He wrote for The Huffington Post that scripture doesn’t cause terrorism — terrorists cause terrorism. And there’s nothing holy about how terrorists conduct acts of violence.

“Let me say it plainly: To accept that the terrorist masterminds who are warring against the West in the name of Allah are waging a holy war is to give them far too much credit,” Naff wrote. “They have more in common with Lenin and Stalin than with Mohammed.”

But understanding this concept is not enough since Americans think Muslims commit more acts of terrorism than they actually do, Naff wrote.

And he’s right. The Pew Research Center reported in late 2014 that 50 percent of Americans feel Islam encourages violence more than other religions, which is up from 43 percent in July of 2014 and 38 percent in February.

But a study from Duke University and the University of North Carolina found that Muslims account for less than 17 violent crimes per year — which, as Princeton University Loon Watch blog points out, accounts for 6 percent of all terrorist attacks in the United States.

That’s why Naff encourages Christians and members of all religions to talk about how scripture doesn’t cause terrorism in order to shake away this misconception.

“The enemy is not a certain religion but barbaric practices done in its name,” Naff wrote. “I cannot do better in urging this than to quote President George W. Bush, who for all his tragic mistakes, was absolutely right about one thing: ‘The face of terror is not the true face of Islam.’”

Related links:

Ebola, ISIS and how to find balance in a culture of fear

Grim conditions for women and children abducted by ISIS

Religious leaders agree ISIS must be stopped, they just don’t know how

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret News National. Send him an email at hscribner@deseretdigital.com or follow him on Twitter @herbscribner.