After the attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Australian senator Fraser Anning has claimed that Muslims are often executors of terrorist attacks. This claim has received worldwide attention. What do the statistics say about the religious background of terrorism?
The statement was published by the Australian senator Fraser Anning on the 15th of march in 2019. The trigger behind his tweet was the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, which happened on the same day. In the attack, a right-wing offender killed 50 people and injured 50 more. Multiple European politicians reacted sympathetically towards New Zealand and its people and enforced a multitude of extra safety measures on their places of worship, said France’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a research and education center at the University of Maryland in the USA, there were 10,900 terrorist attacks in 2017. 26,400 people lost their lives in these attacks. The annual report stated that the countries who reported the most deaths due to terror attacks were the Iraq (24%), Afghanistan (23%) and Syria (8%).
Since there are no recent or specific studies on the religious association of the victims of terror attacks it’s not possible to state exact numbers of who is the primary victim group when it comes to religion. However, 90% of Syria’s, 97% of Iraq’s and 99% of Afghanistan’s population identify as Muslims. Due to that factor it’s probable that the majority of the victims in these countries are Muslims.
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) uses data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) and is published annually by the Institute of Economics and Peace. The Index ranks 163 countries on how heavily they are affected by terrorism and reports a decline in Europe’s fatalities due to terrorism.
The amount of fatalities due to terror attacks in Western-Europe were less than 1% in the international overview. In general, Western-Europe recorded a decline of terrorism. According to the latest Global Terrorism Index (GTI), the number of fatalities of terror attacks went down by 52%, from 168 to 81, compared to the previous year of 2016. The GTI also states that the total percentage of terror attacks in all of Europe went down by 75%. These numbers can be explained because there were multiple terrorist attacks in Europe in 2015 and 2016 (Paris, Berlin, Brussels) which resulted in exceptionally high numbers.
According to these statistics it can be assumed that, in contrast to Anning’s statement “Muslims may have been the victims today, usually they are the perpetrators”, Muslims weren’t just the victims in the attack of Christchurch but are the victims in most terrorist attacks.
Similar to the victims, it is impossible to find statistics on which religion the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks associate with. However, the START report of 2017 gives some insight. It shows that the majority of attacks are not carried out by a single offender but by someone who is part of or associates with a terrorist group. Four out of the five groups who are responsible for most terrorist attacks are driven by Islamic motivations: the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL), the “Taliban”, “Al-Shabaab” and “Boko Haram”. The fifth, Non-Islamic group, is the “New People’s Army” (NPA), which is a communistic party from the Philippines.
Based on these statistics it can be presumed that most of the terrorists are Muslims as well.
In contrast to that, the GTI report stated that Western-Europe experienced most of their terror attacks due to “lone actors with far-right, white nationalist, or anti-Muslim beliefs”. This statement hints to the fact that Fraser Anning’s generalization, which paints Muslims as the perpetrators in all terrorist attacks, is not accurate.
Fraser Anning’s statement refers to a terrorist attack in New Zealand and reflects his views as a right-wing Australian senator. His comment states that Muslims are more likely to be the executors of terrorist attacks than the victims. However, a conclusion that could be drawn from the statistics named above is that the majority of the victims of global terrorism are Muslims. They are the religious group which is most affected. However, based on the same statistics it could also be concluded that Muslims make up most of the perpetrators of terrorist attacks, too. Nonetheless, the absence of specific data focussing on the religious affiliation of both victims and perpetrators of terrorism make Anning’s statement uncheckable.
Leave your comments, thoughts and suggestions in the box below. Take note: your response is moderated.