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Western Christians support terrorism: Shock polls prove danger in our midst

For years we have been told that Western values are those of democracy and human rights. Wrong

Recent surveys of public opinion in the US and UK show that alarming numbers of Britons and Americans support terrorism and the mass slaughter of civilians.

According to a BBC survey, 28 percent of Britons believe a man responsible for the firebombing of a German city causing the death of up to 25,000 civilians – 10 times the number killed on 9/11 – was the greatest figure in the country’s history.

Despite the many atrocities for which historians have blamed him, worst of all the Bengal famine of 1943 in which three million people starved to death when food was exported and coastal areas destroyed on orders of the British prime minister, millions still believe Winston Churchill to be a national hero.

Support for state sanctioned terror is shared by millions of Christians in America, more than a third of whom still expressed support for the destruction of Iraq by George W Bush - even when the scale of the disaster with hundreds of thousands of dead was well known. Significant minorities continue to support the US war in Southeast Asia that caused the deaths of millions of civilians.

And in case there was any doubt that only a conservative minority support such atrocities, polls show support for a well-known liberal mass killer currently stands at 51 percent. That’s more than half the country giving backing to a leader who uses a “Kill List” to strike at alleged enemies in countries as far apart as Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Syria – none of whom have had a day in court or even, in most cases, any legal evidence produced of guilt of any crime. Many were just innocent bystanders in a crazed system of assassination from the skies, for which the paid drone operators are rewarded with envelopes telling them how many people they have helped kill while on duty. (Meanwhile most ordinary Israelis  - our allies - support the execution of civilians and half support ethnic cleansing.)

Ah, I hear you say, you can’t compare support for “their” terrorism – that of Islamic State or al-Qaeda on the streets of Paris and Brussels or beaches of Tunisia – with Western actions over the years designed to defend us from mortal enemies.

But such an argument does not stack up. The mass killing of civilians is illegal under the Geneva Conventions and all laws of war, as we are reminded by human rights group reporting on civilians deaths in Yemen or Syria every week. So there is no get-out clause for state terrorism. If you support killing people without trial, or justify collateral damage of innocent civilians, morally speaking, you are the same as those who support Islamic State. The only difference is Western wars have killed a hell of a lot more people than either of the most famous terrorist brands. Decapitation by shell or drone is still beheading.

State violence is legitimate, you reply, since we live under a system in which the state has a monopoly of violence and insurgent groups who take up arms are acting illegally. That is true up to a point, however international humanitarian law has moved to make states’ accountable for atrocities in recent years, even if the legal means to enforce it are limited. That does not make it any less dreadful for the victims and their families killed in Palestine, Iraq or Yemen.

Perhaps such widespread support for torture and mass killing – favoured by leading Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump -  is unsurprising in a culture that glorifies violence through first-person shooter video games, and films in which the death toll mounts to hundreds – or, in the case of popular family blockbusters, millions.

By contrast, support for terrorism among UK Muslims is only 4 percent, according to the most recent Channel 4 survey. Sadly, that doesn’t stop alarmist headline writers distorting the results to whip up fear. Perhaps now we can have a similarly skewed survey of non-Muslim Brits or Americans regarding their nations’ recent and historic war crimes.

And here is where the nature of polling Muslims on support for terror is at its most insidious, since it mixes up political awareness with sympathy for terrorism. If a child in a school expresses sympathy for Palestinians and their struggle against Israeli occupation or horror at the Syrian war, they are referred by a teacher to the police under the Prevent programme. Legitimate questions about occupation and foreign policy become a police matter.

Rather than looking for terrorist sympathisers among ordinary Muslims, we should ask why so many Westerners have been so silent for so long in the face of a normalised culture of state-sanctioned killing. Underlying this view is a double standard: If a terrorist kills a civilian, it's an atrocity, but if dozens of men, women and children die in an air raid - whether Assad's, Russia's or America's - it’s just collateral damage.

To be fair to Muslims and Christians alike, blanket accusations of sympathy for terror without any political context can be highly misleading. That’s something Muslims accused of sympathising with terrorism (or people of a certain appearance who are assumed to be Muslim by bigots) know only too well. And given that Christian nations have bombed at least seven Muslim countries in the last two decades, that a small minority of Muslims favour violent attacks is not especially surprising.

Wouldn’t it be better to have a grown-up debate about state and non-state violence in the modern world and its root political and socio-economic causes, rather than name-calling entire religions or ethnic groups? We ought to at least agree on that.

Joe Gill has lived and worked as a journalist in Oman, London, Venezuela and the US, for newspapers including Financial Times, Brand Republic, Morning Star and Caracas Daily Journal. His Masters was in Politics of the World Economy at the London School of Economics. @gill_joe 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A woman helps to set up the podium for a protest from the UK branch of the German group "Pegida" next to a poster showing former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the city centre of Newcastle upon Tyne, England on 28 February 2015.(AFP)