January 21, 2016


The Truth About Islam : Of course it isn't a religion of violence. If it were, why would so many Muslim societies be so peaceful? (Andrew Mack, 1/21/16, Slate)

Given today's headlines, it may come as a surprise to learn that in the 1970s there were no major conflicts involving Islamist radicals being waged around the world. This raises an obvious question. If Islam is in fact an inherently violent religion, how do we account for these--and many other--long periods of peacefulness within Muslim societies?  

The reality is that Islam--like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major world religions--is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful. Like every other great religion, the history of Islam is darkened by periods of violent bloodletting. And the holy texts of all religions can be mined for quotes to legitimize terrorism--or indeed principled nonviolence.

Thus ISIS and other extreme Islamist radicals have no difficulty finding justification in medieval Islamic texts for their ultra-violent ideology and barbaric practices. But these extreme interpretations have minimal support among Muslims around the world and tell us nothing about the propensity for violence in mainstream Islam. 

In October 2014, the first opinion polls on public attitudes toward ISIS were published in three Arab countries for the Fikra Forum. The findings were instructive. Just 3 percent of Egyptians held favorable views of ISIS. The figure for Saudi Arabia was 5 percent and for Lebanon less than 1 percent. A year later Pew Research found that just 1 percent of Lebanese held "favorable opinions" of ISIS, 3 percent in predominantly Sunni Jordan, and 1 percent in Israel. In the Palestinian territories the figure was 6 percent, but even here a massive 84 percent held unfavorable opinions of ISIS. Previous polls revealed very similar trends about Muslim opinions toward al-Qaida.

Discussions about the violence of contemporary Islam focus overwhelmingly on armed conflict and terrorism. But a more appropriate metric for determining the propensity for violence of a particular society, culture, or religion is the incidence of intentional homicide.

In almost all societies it is murder, not war, that accounts for the large majority of intentional killings. And perpetrating homicide, unlike embarking on wars or terror campaigns, does not require long preparation, intensive organization, a huge range of weaponry, complex logistics, political mobilization, intensive training, or a great deal of money--which is one reason why war and terrorism death tolls around the world are far smaller than the number of homicides. It is far more difficult to mount an armed campaign against a state than to kill an individual.

And even today, wars directly affect only a relatively small minority of countries. All countries suffer from homicides, however. In 2015, the Global Burden of Armed Violence published by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, found that between 2007 and 2012, for every individual killed in war or terror campaigns around the world, seven individuals were murdered. Worldwide, for most people, in most countries, most of the time, murder is a far greater threat to human security than organized political violence.

So if there really is an inherent--Islam-driven--propensity for deadly violence in Muslim societies, we should expect to find that the greater the percentage of Muslims in society, the greater would be the numbers of homicides. In fact, the reverse is the case: The higher the percentage of Muslims in a society, the lower the homicide rate.

In 2011, a major study by University of California, Berkeley, political scientist M. Steven Fish presented cross-national statistical data showing that between 1994 and 2007, annual homicide rates in the Muslim world averaged just 2.4 per 100,000 of the population. That was approximately a third of the rate for the non-Muslim world and less than the average rate in Europe. It is also approximately half the homicide rate in the United States.

In comparing individual countries, the difference is even greater. 

The other reality is that we've killed more Muslims in the Middle East than any Muslims have, but we don't say that makes Christianity a religion of violence.
Posted by at January 21, 2016 4:12 PM