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Violence and Terrorism >
Why are Muslims so violent?

The acts of Muslim extremists in recent years lead many to ask why Islam and Muslims are so violent. Islam, from the Quran to Islamic law, does not permit terrorism and places limits on the use of violence. It does permit, and in some circumstances even requires, the use of force in self-defense or the defense of Islam and the Islamic community. However, there is often a fine line between legitimate and illegitimate use of force, defensive and offensive battle and warfare, resistance and terrorism. While religion can be a powerful force for good, historically it has also been used to legitimate violence and warfare. The three great monotheistic traditions from biblical times to the present represent long histories of the positive and negative power of religion, its ability to create and to destroy.

Muslim rulers and governments past and present have used religion to legitimate and mobilize support for political expansion and imperialism. Religious extremists from early groups such as the Kharijites to contemporary movements like Egypt's Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda have employed a radical theological vision, based upon distorted interpretations of scripture and doctrine, to justify violence and terrorism against their own societies and the international community. They have created a world in which those who do not accept and follow their beliefs, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are the enemy to be fought and exterminated by any means.

The violent character of many states compounds the issue of violence in Muslim societies further. Authoritarian rulers and governments, secular and religious, use force, violence, repression, and terror to assure their stability and security at home and, in some instances, to expand their influence abroad. Failed economies, high unemployment, shortages of housing, a growing gap between rich and poor, and widespread corruption exacerbate the situation, contributing to the growth of radicalism and extremist opposition. The extent to which outside powers, including America and Europe, are seen as supporting oppressive regimes or “colonizing” and exploiting Muslim societies contributes to the appeal of violence and terrorism. These conditions and grievances create a seedbed from which the Saddam Husseins and Osama bin Ladens of the world find ready recruits in their unholy wars.

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