Out of a total world population of around 1.8 billion Muslims, terrorists make up a tiny minority. A CNN article estimates the total number of members of Muslim terrorist groups as around .00625% of the world’s total Muslim population. Even if one assumes that there is a total number of Muslim terrorists several times that figure to account for “lone wolf” extremists and currently unknown groups, one still finds only a very tiny percentage of Muslims involved in terrorism or extremist violence.
What is true is that Muslim terrorists are very much in the public eye, especially in the U.S. and Europe, to the extent that some people erroneously believe that extremist violence is unique to Muslims. There are several reasons for this:
- Many actions of Muslim (and other) terrorists are deliberately designed to draw attention. The perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks knew and intended that images of these atrocities would dominate news around the world. Indeed, terrorism, which on the scale practiced today is something new in history, is intended precisely to draw public attention to the terrorists and their grievances.
- Closely related to the foregoing fact is the reality that terrorist violence can and does strike Western countries and hence poses a real danger to their citizens; it is, therefore, inevitably a matter of legitimate concern to Western publics (although the chance of one’s being killed in a terrorist attack is about the same as being crushed by falling furniture).
There appears to be a clear media bias which highlights terrorism committed by Muslims over that from other groups—even when terrorism from other sources poses a clear danger to people in the U.S. A database compiled by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute examines a nine-year period, from 2008 through 2016 and finds that far-right plots and attacks outnumber Islamist incidents by almost 2 to 1. Yet, according to a 2017 University of Alabama study of news coverage of all terrorist attacks in the United States between 2006 and 2015, attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 357% more coverage than other attacks. The study states: “The disparities in news coverage of attacks based on the perpetrator’s religion may explain why members of the public tend to fear the ‘Muslim terrorist’ while ignoring other threats.”
In other words, while Muslim terrorists make up a tiny percentage of the world’s total Muslim population, they loom very large in the public mind—for reasons both legitimate and not.