Tuesday, August 16, 2016
The religion of Islam is not an inherently violent religion. Islamic extremists comprise a minuscule percentage of the total Muslim population, and they interpret Islam’s sacred writings in a way that justifies violence. This is not a strictly Muslim phenomenon, nor is it a strictly modern one. We can find examples of violence in the sacred writings of most world religions, and we can also find examples of people throughout history who used those texts to justify committing acts of violence. However, this is not the message that the average consumer of the news receives. The media not only promotes nearly every act of violence as terrorism, it also automatically assumes that the perpetrator was an Islamic extremist (neither of which are always true). I call this the media-terrorism industrial complex. This message distorts the facts and makes the threat of Islamic extremism appear to be much more serious than it actually is. Shark attacks are a comparable phenomenon. Popularized by the movie Jaws and other films and kept alive by urban legends and folk tales, the common consensus is that sharks are far more dangerous to humans than they really are. However, only one in twelve million people are attacked by sharks and less than one in 265 million are killed by sharks. Alternatively, the odds of dying as the result of extremist violence are roughly one in 400,000. Not quite as low as being attacked by a shark but certainly not anywhere near the top of the list of the most deadly threats to humanity. As an American who lives in the Middle East, I can assure you that not all Westerners are Islamophobes, and not all Muslims hate America. To even imply that all Muslims hate America is to suggest that they’re all somehow the same. This, of course, is utterly ridiculous. But still, many allow themselves to be boxed into this kind of mind set. Furthermore, not all Muslims are Islamic extremists (on the contrary, very, very few are). Additionally, there are varying degrees of Islamic extremism, and not all Islamists engage in terrorism. In fact, most are non-violent while the majority of those who are violent are insurgents, not “terrorists.” To put it another way, only a very tiny number of Muslims are Islamists, and an even smaller number of Islamists are violent, and an even smaller number of these are “terrorists.” How serious is the threat of Islamic extremism? To put the threat in context, only 1 in 74,000 people are likely to become Islamic extremists. Granted, that’s still 1 person too many. But we have to keep the threat in perspective. As stated above, not all Muslims are Islamic extremists and not all Islamic extremists are involved in terrorism. Most Islamists are non-violent and the tiny percentage of those that are violent (jihadists) are mostly insurgents, not “terrorists.” Yet, we automatically assume that every violent attack is an act of Islamic terrorism until proven otherwise. And that’s not the worst of it. The real threat is that, due to both a lack of information and the sheer oversimplification of the facts, the average individual has been encouraged to equate terrorism with Islamic extremism and Islamic extremism with mainstream Islam- painting all Muslims with the same terrorist brush (one suicide vest fits all). This demonization of entire groups of people has historically led to systematic violence on a far greater scale than the comparatively random violence caused by terrorism. There’s another reason why this type of policy is dangerous. In the West, it seems obvious to us that no group wants to be discriminated against, nor should they be. What’s less obvious to most Westerners (who are in the practice of separating church and state) is how people in the Muslim world are likely to react to such discrimination and oppression. For 1.6 billion people (nearly 23% of the earth’s population and growing), the separation of church and state is still a relatively new concept. The last caliphate ended less than a century ago. Given that the secularization of society is much less institutionalized in the Muslim world than it is in the West, it’s much more likely to be rejected altogether in times of severe difficulty when Islam can be presented as a preferable option. If you’ve ever wondered why Islamist parties do as well as they do in democratic elections, it’s not because the majority of Muslims prefer sharia. It’s because a growing number are convinced that Islamist governments can offer a desirable alternative to the corrupt secular regimes they have now. When nearly 25% of the world’s population exercise their rights in free and fair elections, we tend to see it as a victory for democracy- unless, of course, Islamist parties win the election. When that happens, Western powers scramble to isolate the party, control it, and if possible, manipulate a different outcome. This reaction only serves to strengthen the jihadist message that man-made laws are an affront to Allah and that corrupt, Western-backed puppet regimes must be overthrown through violence, not peacefully replaced through the democratic process. By our own hypocrisy (insisting on elections but refusing to accept the results) we’re already gradually increasing the overall number of jihadists in the world. When we add discrimination and oppression to the mix, the result will invariably be more violence.