(This is the fourth article in a multi-part series. If you haven't already read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, I recommend that you do so before continuing here.)
Q: The fact remains that overwhelmingly, examples of barbaric behavior come from Muslim nations and individuals. Given that inescapable reality, how can you possibly argue that Islam isn't a threat in general terms, no matter where it may be found?
A: Let's look at a few news reports of 'barbaric behavior' around the world in the last day or two.
- A woman in Texas murders the mother of a 3-day-old baby and steals the infant;
- A group of youths in South Africa film themselves raping a mentally ill young girl;
- The remains of 12 women and young girls, believed to be murder victims, are found in Juarez, Mexico;
- Anders Breivik announces in a Norwegian court that 'goodness, not evil' led him to murder 77 people last year, and that he 'would have done it again';
- A father in India is 'on the run' after murdering his 12-day-old daughter because he was 'unhappy about the birth of a girl';
- In Sydney, Australia, it's revealed that drive-by shootings increased by more than 40% in 2011.
I found those six news reports in less than 5 minutes through a quick scan of online news sources. As far as I know, not one involves Muslims, either as perpetrators or as victims, and none took place in Islamic nations. I could list dozens more, but I think these are sufficient to make the point that 'examples of barbaric behavior' do not 'overwhelmingly' come from 'Muslim nations and individuals'.
Oh - you weren't referring to criminal barbarism, but terrorist barbarism? I'm not sure that the concept of 'barbarism' lends itself to such distinctions, but let's not argue about that now. By all means, let's consider terrorism.
In recent years, Muslim fundamentalist terrorists have dominated the headlines, but that doesn't mean terrorists of other persuasions haven't been active. In the last six months alone, Ethiopia has seen multiple incidents of terrorism; the Lord's Resistance Army has continued its reign of terror in parts of Uganda, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Maoist terrorists in India have kidnapped innocent people in an attempt to exchange them for their imprisoned comrades; Communist terrorists in the Philippines attacked three mines; etc. We're so used to reading about fundamentalist Muslim terrorist attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan that we tend to ignore terrorism elsewhere (as does the news media, to a large extent). Furthermore, there have been many incidents of terrorism between Muslim factions (what one might call 'own goals'), particularly in Pakistan, that are seldom reported in the West. Muslim terrorists have also attacked the governments and armed forces of Islamic countries from time to time (the most recent high-profile example being the destruction of patrol aircraft of the Pakistani Navy by a team of Taliban suicide attackers last year).
There's another aspect to this. Some people seem obsessed by the 'danger' posed by Muslim terrorists; but the numbers don't show this to be a particularly high risk at all, unless you're living in a specific few countries. Let's run some numbers for the USA alone to illustrate the point.
- Wikipedia lists 26 terrorist incidents in the USA from January 2000 to the present day, in which 3,014 victims died (the overwhelming majority of them on September 11, 2001, of course). Not all were Muslim-inspired and/or -perpetrated.
- At least 45 terrorist plots have reportedly been foiled in the USA since 9/11. (One report claims that 176 such plots have been foiled during the past 25 years.)
- If you add together actual terrorist incidents, plus those planned but foiled, since the beginning of the 21st century, the USA has allegedly seen a total of 71 - an average of 6.3 such incidents per year, or about one every two months.
- On the other hand, according to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, criminal acts occur far more frequently than terrorism, and offer a vastly greater danger to the average person. For example, according to the 2010 report, there were 403.6 'violent crimes' (i.e. murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) per 100,000 population, or no less than 1,246,248 such crimes reported in that year alone. The 2000 report provided this interesting graphic:
So, to all those obsessing over the 'danger posed by Islam', the numbers simply don't justify your obsession - at least, not if you're living in the USA. You're far more likely (by several orders of magnitude) to be at risk from common criminals than from fundamentalist Muslim terrorists! Readers living in other countries can conduct their own analysis of the number of terrorist incidents versus overall crime statistics. To answer the question posed at the beginning of this article, in comparison to 'ordinary' crime, Islam clearly is not, to any great extent, 'a threat in general terms' of terrorism or violence as far as most of the world is concerned.
What about the worldwide presence of Islam? Is this a threat to the USA? It depends what you mean by 'threat'. If you mean that the norms of Islamic society are often antithetical to US culture, you're quite right; but then, I'm not Muslim, and I'm antithetical to a great deal of US 'culture'! I don't like the 'entitlement culture' or 'welfare culture' that I see in many places, or the 'Hollywood culture' crammed down our throats on TV and in movie theaters, or the 'statist culture' pushed so hard by both the Democratic and Republican Parties. (I suspect many of my readers feel likewise. However, unlike many extremists or fundamentalists [of any persuasion, not just Muslim], we're unlikely to turn to violence over our dislikes.)
Islam is a religion with over 1.5 billion adherents, almost a quarter of the global population. As for the Muslim world, six nations currently identify themselves as 'Islamic states', another fifteen have adopted Islam as the official state religion, and nineteen more are secular states, but with a majority Muslim population. You won't find the same type of faith in every one of those countries, or the same fundamentalism, or even the same presence of Islamic terrorism. (By contrast, Christianity has some 2.2 billion adherents. It's the official State religion of 16 countries, and the majority religion in many more. There are something like 38,000 denominations and sects within Christianity, of which Catholicism is the largest at almost 1.2 billion.)
I accept and acknowledge that fundamentalist Islamic terrorism is a serious problem in certain nations (most of them in the Arab or Islamic world). I also accept that in Western nations with a large immigrant Muslim population, fundamentalist terrorism is potentially a serious problem, but at present it's more of a threat than a reality. Despite isolated (albeit well publicized) incidents, there have been relatively few Muslim terrorist attacks overall in such nations. Some countries have specific areas or towns or cities where the problem is concentrated: for example, Sweden has Malmo, France its Banlieues, and so on. However, even in these locations, the proportion of residents (including Muslims) who are not supporters of or participants in terrorism appears to be far greater than those who are (at least at present).
The fact that Muslims often choose to live in contiguous areas in Western states, forming their own communities within their host nations, undoubtedly has a negative affect on their cultural assimilation. However, this isn't necessarily an indication that those areas are - or will become - hotbeds of terrorism. Even if some of them do, that doesn't mean that everyone living in those areas will be a terrorist, or a supporter of terrorism. To illustrate this point, consider inner-city areas in the United States, which are mostly occupied by Black or Hispanic families, and are often riddled with gangs, crime and violence, making them very dangerous and unpleasant places to live. However, social analysis shows conclusively that the majority of those living there are neither gang members nor criminals. They're more likely to be the victims of crime than its perpetrators. Nevertheless, many people assess anyone and everyone living in such areas solely in terms of the criminals known to dominate it. They pre-judge anyone they encounter there, or who comes from there, in terms of their own prejudices and fears, rather than the demonstrable social reality of the area.
Speaking of prejudices, let's look at how Muslims in other parts of the world view the USA. Many Americans are surprised, even upset, to find out that we're not particularly popular in the Islamic world. Why? Here are a few reasons (out of many more I could name, some of which I've covered in previous articles in this series).
- Islamic terrorists murdered over 2,900 non-combatant civilian victims on September 11th, 2001. However, since that date, our armed forces have killed vastly more non-combatant Muslim civilians (men, women and children) as part of our military response to 9/11. Estimates vary widely, but the lowest figures I've seen are over 14,000 civilian deaths in Iraq, and over 6,000 in Afghanistan, all directly killed by US forces and their allies. The true totals may be two to three times higher. Those casualties were not, repeat, NOT combatants. Some talk flippantly about 'collateral damage' . . . but that's obscene. Those were living, breathing human beings, just like the victims of 9/11. If the deaths of the latter were an atrocity, why not the deaths of the former as well? Put yourself in the shoes of an average citizen of Iraq or Afghanistan today - particularly one whose relatives and/or friends were among the non-combatant casualties inflicted by our forces. If you were Muslim, how would those numbers make you feel towards the USA? (Yes, I'm well aware that tens of thousands of non-combatant casualties have been inflicted by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and by terrorists in Iraq. Nevertheless, we're supposed to be better than terrorists. 'Collateral damage' makes a mockery of that.)
- Consider the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. More than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Orthodox Christian Serb forces, while thousands of their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters were raped. NATO 'peacekeepers' abdicated their responsibilities and did nothing to stop those atrocities. Their commanding officer was even filmed drinking a toast with the Serb commander! Almost three times more Muslims died at Srebrenica than the total American casualties on 9/11, but the outcry from America and the Western world over the latter atrocity - and their military reaction to it - was overwhelming in comparison to their reaction to the former. Muslims all around the world took note of the disparity. The impression they gained was that, to the average citizen of the West and to their governments, Western lives are more important, more valuable, than Muslim lives. That may not be fair, but actions speak louder than words. The West, and NATO, did little or nothing to stop the Srebrenica massacre, when they could have done so had they been willing to use force. The Muslim world has not forgotten.
- Put yourself in a Palestinian's shoes. Israel evicted his parents (or his grandparents) from its territory at gunpoint. He can't go back to reclaim his family's property, because Israel won't allow him to do so. The USA has supported Israel's position on this in UN Security Council votes. Furthermore, when Israeli aircraft bomb Palestinian terrorist bases (and sometimes, through unavoidable 'collateral damage', also hit the homes of those unfortunate enough to live next door to them), they use American aircraft and bombs. Is it any wonder that he lumps Israel and the USA together in his mind as the authors of all his misfortune?
Please note that I'm not an apologist for fundamentalist Islamic paranoia. It's misguided, ill-informed and unrealistic. Nevertheless, I try very hard to face the facts. It's no good living in cloud cuckoo land and imagining the world as I want it to be. It is what it is. Reality and the facts of history demonstrate that Muslims do have good reasons to be suspicious of the West. They do have cause to remember how they've been used, then abandoned, by outside powers during wider conflicts such as the Cold War (see Part 2 of this series).
We can legitimately point out that the facts do not justify Palestinians regarding all Israelis and Americans as threats, or all Muslims regarding the USA as the 'Great Satan'. However, emotions mostly trump facts in such situations. That happens in America too, as evidenced by the many among us who insist on regarding Islam as a whole as an 'enemy' or 'threat'. Neither side is using logic and factual analysis to arrive at their positions. All too often they're reacting from a knee-jerk, emotional perspective. As long as we, or Muslims, or any other group, relate to other groups out of emotion rather than on a factual basis, we're going to have problems with each other. That's reality.
The solution is not to simply say, "OK - if that's the way they want it, that's the way they get it!". The solution is to look for the facts of the situation, adjust our own attitudes accordingly, and try to behave in such a way that the truth overcomes paranoia and xenophobia. By setting an example, we show the way forward to a solution rather than remaining part of the problem. Is this dangerous? Yes, it can be. Is it costly? Yes, in more ways than mere money. Is it necessary? Yes - because if we don't do it, no-one else will. That applies to us as individuals, and to our society as a whole.
In general terms, I concede that if a group is known to have members who may pose a threat, and we can't readily identify those members or distinguish them easily from other, non-threatening members of the group, it's wise to be cautious. For example, I know many bikers who are solid, upstanding citizens; some, for example, are active in efforts to help victims of child abuse. However, others are members of criminal biker gangs. How can one tell them apart? There may be few, if any, distinguishing features. If, on the other hand, someone's wearing the leather 'uniform' and colors of a particular gang, I'm entitled to assume that he's a member, and to react accordingly (depending on the nature of the gang).
I apply the same standard of judgment to Islam. I don't automatically assume that any Muslim is likely to present a threat. I'll approach them with politeness and professionalism, as outlined in Part 1 of this series. If it turns out that they happen to be a threat, for whatever reason, I'll have a plan and the necessary resources in place to take care of most such problems - but I'd do that for any stranger I encounter, irrespective of religion. Such caution doesn't mean I'm walking around with predetermined homicidal intent. I simply withhold judgment, and 'do unto others' as I hope they'll 'do unto me'. The Golden Rule still applies.
On Friday, in the final article in this series, I'll examine the biggest single obstacle in relating to Islam: the Koran's uncompromising instructions on truth, conversion, and relations with the 'infidel'. It's a genuine threat to peaceful mutual relations; but (as you might have guessed if you've been following this series of articles) it's a more complicated subject than it first appears.