No matter what word we choose (even if it’s a positive one), reducing a group of billions of people with a diverse and complicated history to a unified, ahistorical identity produces a false and reductive image of them. Further, it is one that has no basis in reality.
Edward Said, the famous public intellectual and author of “Orientalism,” once said in an interview: “There’s no such thing as Islam, pure and simple; there are many Muslims and different kinds of interpretations of Islam.” This simple insight is too often lost in our coverage of Islam and terrorism.
It is this falsely constructed singular identity which makes us think that the cause of extremism is somehow inherent in Islam and not a product of specific political, social and economic histories of a region or country. One need only look at the history of Afghanistan and the rise of the mujahideen, funded and trained in part by the United States to fight a proxy war with the Soviet Union, to understand that it was not Afghan culture that gave rise to the Taliban.
We are not the ones who tended the soil for this evil to take root. Nor do we have the power to end it on our own. For like an invasive species, terrorism has grown by choking other lives, as the casualties of these attacks have long been our own societies.