Friday, January 14, 2011

How Common is Muslim Extremism?

Only 35% of Americans think that Islam encourages violence more than other religions? I guess that 65% must consist almost entirely of people who've never read about the widespread "radical" interpretations on waging Jihad against infidels. I can't imagine over 50% of the residents of any Hindu, Christian or Buddhist country supporting their own version of Osama Bin Laden or Al Qaida, yet over 50% of the population of several countries do just that. As of 2005, over 60% of Jordanians trusted Osama Bin Laden to do the "right thing" in international affairs.

Such viewpoints aren't merely violently extremist, they are characteristically Muslim and astoundingly widespread.


Kevin said...

Those statistics do suggest a schism. One possibility is ignorance, as you mention. Perhaps people are aloof from muslim extremism.

Another is semantics. What is Islam? Should we just define it by people who call themselves Muslims? What about others who claim they are not? How should we compare that with other religions? Are there variants of Islam which do not encourage violence? If so, how do exclude those if we use the term "Islam"?

Another is ramifications. What would be the practical effects of 70+% of Americans responding that Islam encourages violence more than other religions? That survey question implies causality, right? Should we discriminate against Islam if we overwhelmingly believe it encourages violence?

We have been trained from many sources to separate extremism from Islam, in part because it does not seem to behoove our efforts to conflate the two. Why oppose all muslims (defined by a belief) when our true concern is the immorally violent ones (defined by action)? Is that a mistake? I don't know, but it sounds reasonable, particularly since we value freedom of speech and belief.

Moreover, modern interpretation of the Constitution and laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion enforce the related social ethic that all religions are equivalent. So people are understandably confused when it seems that religions actually aren't equivalent.

Douglas said...

"What is Islam? Should we just define it by people who call themselves Muslims? What about others who claim they are not?"

Those questions are too deep to delve into here. I will simply note that if 60% of American self-identified Christians believed in bombing Jordanian malls or believed that people who promoted the killing of abortionists were generally OK in how they handled abortion protests, then the MSM would declare Christianity to be a violent religion that only the most backward, daft reprobates would consider joining. That Islamic countries are not taken to task for this widespread acceptance of terrorism by our MSM and government is a very clear double standard. Even if they don't want to allow "extremists" composing over half of a country's population to define what their religion teaches, the MSM and government should at least acknowledge that "true and peaceful" Islam has a surprisingly small following in some Islamic countries. It is this self-censorship by the media and government that I consider most responsible for the dramatic ignorance of Americans regarding what Muslims around the world really think of religiously motivated violence. Unfortunately, I also think this silence in the face of obvious contradictory evidence opens the door for anti-Muslim extremists to gain a following with more credible, albeit inaccurate and harmful depictions of Muslims in the Middle East.

Kevin said...

Brilliant reply, Doug! I agree.

On C-SPAN yesterday, I saw part of the congressional hearing on radicalization in American Muslim communities. I was very impressed by the witnesses, less so by the politicians.

Some democrats harped on the deficiencies of professed Christian organizations such as the KKK, in order to broaden the focus for fear of offending and, ironically, radicalizing Muslims.

The primary response was to say that Christian radicalization can be the topic for another day, but Muslim radicalization is the topic today. I was extremely disappointed with that response because it does not address the valid heart of the charge which is whether Christian radicalization is an equivalent threat today, measured by convincing communities' children to murder others and themselves, domestically and abroad, for God.

I think this emphasizes your point that the discussion must be contextually statistical. Indeed, when speaking of any group, it is more accurate to speak statistically than in acontextual absolutes, and we should explicitly defend against those who would raise outliers uncharacteristic of the whole.

But in order to do that and justify our beliefs, we must have valid statistics at hand, like you have provided. So, thanks again for sharing them!

Douglas said...



Thanks for the kind interpretation of my reply. Do you plan on seeing Of Gods and Men?

I've read some reviews about it, and it seems to be an interesting look at Muslim extremism and Christian coexistence in a Muslim country.

Kevin said...

Thanks, I'll look for "Of Gods and Men" when it comes out on DVD. The true premise does sound very interesting.

It looks like they'd like to justify pacifism. Given the outcome, I imagine they picked the wrong case for that, but hopefully it'll be a moving attempt.

I do read that it is slow with too many pregnant pauses. Well, that's what 2x speed is for. :)

Douglas said...


Depending on what you mean by justifying pacifism, I'm not sure that is how I would interpret their actions. Celibate Christians in a foreign country where proselytizing verbally is outlawed and who want to live in radical imitation of the One who would not even answer his accusers behave quite differently than those with dependents and a country to worry about, such as the Cristoceros.

When Christianity is a minority, outlaw religion, it casts things in an entirely new light; one that we have not seen in the west for over 16 centuries. I had a Christian of 50+ years tell me not too long ago that he didn't think Ignatius of Antioch understood grace because of Ignatius' desire for martyrdom and conformity with Christ even to the point of death. I didn't know what to say. Ignatius of Antioch: acquaintance of the martyr apostles, friend and disciple of John, the man who learned what Scripture meant from its very authors didn't understand grace as well as a 21st century American Protestant who had lived a life of freedom and lavish comfort? I think sometimes we are so comfortable and removed from danger that we forget it wasn't always so. There is a danger sometimes to look down our noses at those who lived in very different circumstances and whose interpretation of Scripture was modified by their radically different experiential lenses.

Anyway, I'm not saying that's what you are doing. I'm just commenting on a tendency I've seen among Americans who learn about the lives of the early Roman martyrs. It seems helpful to keep in mind when viewing a film like this.

I haven't seen the film, but it's isn't hard to imagine it being too slow. One would be hard pressed to make a movie about monks that wasn't slow compared to our modern lives. Into Great Silence was a dreadfully slow movie, but it worked because it focused on their lives and that was the only way to truly capture the feel of the monastery. The monks waited 10 years to even answer the letter requesting permission to film them. Of Gods and Men combines a bloody civil war with the lives of monks, creating such a contrast that I imagine the pacing of the film was quite a challenge. You'll have to let me know if they found a workable balance or if you need to constantly use the 2x button. :-)

Kevin said...

For what it's worth, I probably took the bulk of my impression from an AV Club review which closes:

"The film ends with a rhetorical Hail Mary pass, a lengthy letter from Wilson’s character in which he absolves his aggressors and inexplicably labels himself complicit in the evils of the world. Not withstanding rich performances from Wilson and Lonsdale, the film never comes close to embodying that level of complexity."

That denouement is what sounded to me like a poor attempt to justify pacifism. But I'm jumping to conclusions from tertiary sources, so I'll withhold judgement til I actually see the movie. :-) Cristoceros looks interesting, too, thanks for mentioning it.

You're right that I don't fully understand either of their circumstances, which does tend to discourage me from judging their persons (e.g. how well Ignatius understood grace). Nevertheless, I am inclined to reconcile my limited understanding and consider how we should apply it to our own lives.

For example, in general, I think Jesus did answer and even foil his accusers. Granted, he was careful and clever about it, but he could also be quite scathing. Even his death was a uniquely crafted foil that defies duplication. But while Jesus always seemed reluctant to die, martyrs who follow him sometimes seemed far too eager.

Perhaps we can overlook that and say that a martyr complex was actually right for Ignatius, et al., in their precise circumstances. I'm not sure. But even in my own life I over-simplify the morality of self-sacrifice which subtly leads to self-destruction. It has become clear to me that that is wrong, so I try to oppose that extreme even as I also oppose egotism.