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In seeking root cause for violence, don’t stigmatize an entire faith

In her April 11 op-ed “A warning about how extremists are born,” Ayaan Hirsi Ali argues that “harsh economic conditions, dysfunctional family circumstances, confused identity, the generic alienation of young males, a failure to integrate into the larger society,” and other such factors fail to explain the Tsarnaevs’ attack on the Boston Marathon. She is right in that many people suffer from these conditions and don’t resort to violence. She is wrong, however, in laying the blame on Islam.

Of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, only a tiny fraction engage in terrorism. By Hirsi Ali's own logic, then, one cannot blame the religion for violence.

Unfortunately, despite decades of terrorism research, we are not able to isolate what causes one person to turn to violence while another in similar circumstances or holding comparable beliefs does not. Pretending we can decipher the cause is harmful. It leads to stigmatizing an entire faith and to alienating a community.

Many Muslims actively seek a more pluralistic understanding of their faith than what is exhibited by the likes of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. But they surely will not be moved by Hirsi Ali, whose hostility to Islam is well documented.


Faiza Patel
New York

The writer is codirector of the Liberty and National Security project at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.