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Please Stop: Drugs Don’t Cause Terrorism (Neither Does Islam)

10 States Where You Don't Want to Get Caught with Weed
Photo by Getty Images

If you listen to white-nationalist fearmongers and the sort of Americans susceptible to trash messaging from louche opportunists, radical Islam is to blame for the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, UK.

If that theory doesn’t quite grab or—or allow you to make the conclusions convenient to you and your worldview—an alternate narrative is emerging: terrorism isn’t caused by Islam, but by drugs.

“Islam is the problem” was the not-so-subtle message of the so-called “March Against Sharia” on Saturday, when Americans organized by the self-styled “NRA of national security” assembled across the country to “protest” a selective interpretation of the world’s second-largest religion, and provide the lunatic radicals in ISIS an ideal recruitment tool.  

But a more nuanced look at the problem of terrorism—that is, an examination that spends longer than 10 seconds examining Islam—would suggest that something else is at play.

Consider the existence of 1.6 billion Muslims who are not terrorists, or the fact that only 11 of the 89 terrorist attacks carried out in America over a period of five years were perpetrated by Muslims.

(Muslims, in fact, are more likely to be the target of terrorist attacks, as reported, and spectacles like a march against Muslims is likely to only encourage more tragedies like the unhinged man who, after mocking two women in headdresses, fatally stabbed two people on a Portland, Oregon train.) 

For some people, religion isn’t an adequate explanation. So another bogeyman must be found.

Predictably, some people are turning to drugs—and, specifically, marijuana.

In the frenzied and hectic hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people and wounded hundreds more at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, a national-security expert offered a snap theory: it’s not Islam, it’s drugs. The Boston marathon bombers, the Paris theater attackers, the Manchester bomber—all of them smoked weed, as Tom Nichols observed.

Nichols later insisted that his observation was only made to point out that any Muslim who kills innocents is a very bad Muslim—and probably not someone who observes Sharia—but the equally crackpot idea that drugs are to blame for terrorism is unfortunately gaining traction, and it’s being repeated on TV. 

Last week, a few days before UK voters delivered more power to the country’s left-wing, television presenter Lauren Booth—a sister-in-law of former prime minister Tony Blair—was invited onto daytime television program This Morning to spout the “drug addict” theory.

Booth, who converted to Islam in 2010 after a brief career as a television personality and pundit, was ostensibly there to speak on behalf of British Muslims, (apparently, no prominent non-white Muslims were available) and to offer a counter to arguments for a British version of Guantanamo Bay—an honest-to-God “solution” offered by Booth’s co-presenter on TV that dayor PM Theresa May’s plan to combat terrorism by ramping up sentences and starting a “crackdown” on communities “sympathetic” to terrorists.

Rather than suggest virulent Islamophobia isn’t exactly working—and nor are overseas attacks on Muslim areas—Booth instead tried to steer the conversation onto drugs, suggesting that the attacks’ common thread is “young, disenfranchised drug addicts.”

“The Westminster bomber was known to take drugs and use prostitutes. The Tunisia bomber took drugs, the Paris attacker took drugs,” Booth said, as the UK Daily Mail reported.  

“The Muslim community has been calling for a long time for the police to come into these areas where drug taking is rife,” she added.  

Booth repeated a line also uttered by Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the ascendant Labour Party, which won enough seats in the UK’s general election last week to force May to make a deal with terrorist supporters in order to form a government.

Rather than viewing over-policing as part of the problem, as most left-leaning Americans agree, Corbyn criticized May for taking cops off the streets; Booth, too, believes that more cops will solve terrorism—and possibly the drug problem, as well. 

“We need more police, we need 20,000 more police,” she said. “We need to direct all of our energies into where this sickness is arising.”

Later, Booth took to Twitter, the repository of all good ideas.

Instead of distancing herself from suggesting a causal link between terrorism and drugs, she tried to use the point to argue—accurately—that both Muslims and drug-users generally do not commit terror.

Why she mentioned it in the first place, and why drugs belong in this conversation at all, Booth did not address.

So we will: There is nothing we have seen that suggest drugs belong in a serious conversation about terrorism.

When something awful happens, it’s a natural reaction to search for the cause—and maybe stomp it out. If your house is burning, extinguish the fire. If people are dying from heroin, stop the heroin. But terrorism is not a simple thing. There are few simple solutions to complex problems. 

Cutting the heroin supply might make the overdose epidemic worse, by forcing users to turn to a deadlier product. Assuming that a whole class of people are beset by drugs and unleashing the police on their communities will probably do nothing to the drug problem—but it will almost certainly make that community fear and distrust both the police and the people who cooked up the idea.

Rational experts will tell you that drug use is not a disease unto itself but a symptom.

Oftentimes, it’s a symptom of trauma—violence, poverty, marginalization, many of the slights that perpetrators of terrorism like Timothy McVeigh and your average school shooter suffer. In this context, you can mention drugs and terrorism in the same breath.

Anything else is sophistic nonsense, used only to achieve another end.

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