Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Power outage rocks campus
Power outage rocks campus
Jack Brandt September 13, 2023

Faculty discuss how to talk about terrorism on campus

Mariano Magalhaes, interim chair of the Political Science department, said, in light of the attacks in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria, at Planned Parenthood in Colorado and in San Bernardino, one of the most important things is to not limit the topic to one of “terrorism.”
People have conflicting views over what the definition of terrorism should include: regarding political intentions, if more than four people are injured what violent acts should and should not be regarded as terror and who should be considered a terrorist. Magalhaes said that getting stuck on the term “terrorism” is not crucial when it comes to discussing these topics.
“Bad things are happening,” said Magalhaes. “No matter how it’s labeled, it needs to be talked about. “There’s no clear-cut definition of terrorism that will be satisfy people. What is a massacre? What is a genocide? They’re all just terms.”
Magalhaes said the first step to talking about terrorism is to not talk about “terrorism.” He said to instead talk about the bad things that are happening in the world since almost nothing will come out of a discussion where the main topic is the definition of a word that’s insufficient in covering the scope of tragedy facing the world in recent times.
Along with the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, there was also bombing in Beirut the day before killed around 40 people. This was an attack also claimed by ISIS, who took credit for the Paris attacks. On Nov. 19 there was a bombing carried out by Boko Haram, another terrorist group, in Nigeria. There is also violence in the Middle East that goes ignored. However, only one of these events got a feature created by Facebook allowing people to change their profile pictures to mimic those of the country’s flag. That was, of course, the attack in Paris. How do we go about discussing all of these attacks?
Magalhaes said that, while the attacks in France don’t need to be minimized, it is also very important to also acknowledge these other attacks.
“The fact that we totally and completely ignored what happened in a third world country, you know where, ‘This stuff happens happen anyway,’ and ‘That’s just the way it is’ it’s sad, and quite frankly, it’s unacceptable,’” said Magalhaes.
With many of the attacks, one of the first things people want to know is who is to blame. It seems, at least in the case of terrorist attacks, it is often groups such as ISIS or Boko Haram. However, one thing group that we cannot blame for these attacks, is the entirety of the religion of Islam according to both Magalhaes and Dr. Cyrus Zargar, a Religion teacher at Augustana College who focuses on the study of Islam.
“Somewhere between one-fourth and one-fifth of the world is Muslim,”said Zargar. “Almost any generalization made about Muslims is ridiculous.”
Magalhaes related this to how politicians, such as Donald Trump’s now infamous remarks towards Muslims, can be very dangerous, as they are what the public hears.
“It’s a shame that politicians have these kneejerk reactions without think of the consequences of the things they might propose, instead of waiting,” said Magalhaes. ““I think about the kneejerk reaction of some of our politicians, and it’s the one’s that get in the news and make our level-headed politicians seem more crazy.”
Along with Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie have also made anti-Islam remarks. Magalhaes said the media and the people must also look to what other candidates are saying as well as Trump.
“People should be aware, and the media should pay attention, to what the other politicians are saying,” said Magalhaes. “It makes it harder for us to pay attention to that when these other politicians who are also saying less extremist, but still troubling things, still get drowned out by the Trumpims.”
Zargar condemned referring to groups such as ISIS as only “Muslims.” He said that, while it is far from true being a Muslim as the only motivation terrorists have, the media still portrays Muslims as such.
“Just as the word ‘Christian’ does not tell us enough about (Planned Parenthood shooter) Robert L. Dear Jr.’s possible motivations, there is more to the story than the fact that the person in question was Muslim,” said Zargar. “As it stands in our media depictions of Muslims, law-abiding, peaceful, thriving Muslims are imagined to be an exception, but the opposite is actually true.”
Zargar’s words have much evidence supporting them as well. According to, about 1.6 billion people, or 23 percent of the world’s population, is Muslim. There are also more practicing Muslims in India and Pakistan alone than the entire Middle-Eastern/North African region (where ISIS and Boko Haram are located). The number of soldiers recruited by ISIS is estimated to be anywhere between 30,000 and 200,000. If it is 200,000, and every member considers themselves Islamic, that means 0.0125 percent of all practicing Muslims are members of ISIS. So to stereotype all members of Islam as terrorists is to ignore 99.9875 percent of the entire religion.
“That being said, there are certain interpretations of Islam in which adherents imagine themselves to be under attack and even at war, in a way similar to right-wing militias in the United States,” said Zargar. “They began in anti-colonial movements and gained a following, and they do in fact send a very dangerous message to anyone who will listen to them.”
Talking about “terrorism” in a way that is informed, not Islamaphobic, and civilized is possible. Magalhaes said the most important step to take is to acknowledge one’s own biases. He said everyone carries biases. However, being able to try and see past them is important when it comes to having an informed discussion.
“I recommend drawing from a variety of sources and going into reading those sources with a critical eye,” said Magalhaes. “The first question that should always be asked is ‘Is this logical?’”
When it comes to being informed about the Islamic religion, Zargar said that there are many resources available on campus, such as courses Zargar teaches on Island and Muslims in the Religion department and books in the library.
“I would also encourage students to become involved with Interfaith Understanding, because it is often the best place to learn about the religious beliefs of others,” said Zargar. Magalhaes also teaches a class during Spring Term called “Politics in the Arab World”.
Magalhaes also said faculty are very important when it comes to talking about these kinds of topics.
“Regardless of what discipline you teach, faculty has a responsibility as leaders to provide opportunities for students to engage in these conversations,” said Magalhaes. “To a lesser extent, so does the administration and the SGA.”

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Faculty discuss how to talk about terrorism on campus