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'The Muslim community is seen through the narrow lens of terrorism'

'The Muslim community is seen through the narrow lens of terrorism'

Local center hosts discussion on perceptions, reality
'The Muslim community is seen through the narrow lens of terrorism'
UAlbany professor Victor Asal speaks at the Muslim Community Center on Sunday.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Aliya Saeed said she frequently sees terrorism in the news, and frequently hears from people with misperceptions about the topic.

In response, she organized an event Sunday in Schenectady that sought to inform attendees and start a dialogue about the community’s role in the conversation surrounding the subject.

“We thought it was important to have somebody come in who’s well versed in terrorism as a discipline of study, and kind of separate myth from reality,” she said. “Just like everybody else around us, who wants to have terrorism happen? Nobody.”

Professor Victor Asal spoke to a crowd of about 50 people Sunday at the Muslim Community Center of the Capital Region. He discussed people’s perception of terrorism and why non-state organizations commit violence, which attendees said was useful to help separate fact from fiction when discussing terrorism in today’s world.

Asal is a professor of political science at the University at Albany, and his main areas of research are looking at why people kill each other and why people discriminate against each other. His presentation focused mostly on the first subject.

“I think it’s important for educated citizens to have a sense of what are the factors that make people more violent or less violent,” Asal said. “There’s a huge amount of biases or prior opinions people have that aren’t based on using real science or social science.”

He talked about how, in many cases, people have a perception that terrorism is extremely dangerous and a significant threat. In reality, he said, driving a car is far more dangerous and accounts for many more deaths than terrorism.

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He added that biases come into play with terrorism as well. While there’s a perception that Muslims commit more acts of terrorism in the United States, data show more is done by white supremacists and nationalists, Asal said.

Saeed, the event organizer, said with terrorism’s regular presence in the news and national discussion, she thought Asal could help clear up misunderstandings about the subject.

“The Muslim community is seen through the narrow lens of terrorism,” Saeed said. “I personally don’t believe that’s accurate, but I want to hear from people in the know what it is that terrorism is all about. In the larger picture, where do things stand? That’s what we’re here to learn.”

Following his presentation, Asal fielded questions for about a half hour, with audience members asking him to elaborate on the connection between violence and religion or religious texts, what role government actors play in accounting for data and more.

A handful of attendees said the presentation was useful since terrorism is such a complex subject. Asal offered to return to the community center to speak more in depth on other areas of discussion.

Though some may not associate terrorism with the Capital Region, Saeed noted the case of Glendon Scott Crawford, a former General Electric employee who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his plot to kill local Muslims using radiation.

There’s also the recent spate of threats against Jewish Community Centers nationwide, including the one in Albany, which illustrates that terrorism is a larger issue that people locally should understand, Saeed said.

“What else is terrorism if it isn’t that, when you threaten a community of people?” Saeed said. “We’re all part of the same community. We’re all part of the same mosaic.”

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