One out of six people all over the world is a Muslim… [T]rying to say anything in general about this huge community – 1.5 billion people – will be wrong… The vast majority of these populations are not involved… with violence and terror all over the world…. I don’t think there is anything essential that connects between this huge and historically important religion and all the terrorism that’s going on –
Sami Abu Shehadeh, secretary- general of Arab faction Balad, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, in a debate with me on “The rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West,” i24 News, December 16, 2014.
This week’s column, including the introductory quotation, is largely similar to the one I wrote in January 2015 (“It’s Islam, stupid!”), two days after the carnage in the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, perpetrated in the name of Islam – and a day before the Islam-inspired slaughter among the shelves of kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher in the French capital.
For this I make no apology. Indeed, after the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai, the bombing of a peace rally in Ankara, the mass shooting in San Bernadino, last week’s lethal blast in Istanbul, and this week’s attacks in Brussels (to name but a few of the better-known instances of the reportedly over 3,000 Muslim-related terrorist attacks in over 50 countries – and the resultant 30,000 plus fatalities – perpetrated since then), what I wrote over a year ago is just as relevant today as it was then.
Of course, there is much truth in Abu Shehadeh’s claim that most Muslims are not actively involved in terrorism.
However, while this claim is factually correct, substantively, it is meaningless.
Indeed, for anyone, with a reasonably informed grasp of world affairs and an iota of intellectual integrity, the answer to whether Islam and violence/terrorism are causally connected should be unequivocally clear. To ask whether Islam is associated with terrorism is a little like asking if rainfall is associated with flooding.
Of course it is – as can be irrefutably deduced from Abu Shehadeh’s very attempt to exonerate it.
After all, if one in six people in the world is Muslim, then five out of six are not – right? Accordingly, if there were no inordinate Islamic affinity for violence/terrorism, the number of Muslim acts of terrorism should be one-fifth that of non-Muslim terrorism – i.e. if Islam had no greater propensity for terrorism, one should expect non-Muslim acts of terrorism to be five times (!) those perpetrated by Muslims.
This is not the case. Terrorist attacks committed by adherents of Islam far outstrip those carried out by non-Muslims.
Eerie sense of inevitability
It would therefore seem that – in stark contradiction to the dubious precepts of political correctness – there is little choice but to accept the commonsense conclusion that there is a wildly disproportionate causal connection between Islam on the one hand, and acts of ideo-politically motivated violence against civilian populations, i.e. terrorism, on the other.
Try as one may, there is no way that, in the modern world, any other faith/creed can be associated with such violence/ terrorism – in scope, size, frequency or ubiquity of occurrence.
Without wishing to appear smugly insensitive, the carnage at Charlie Hebdo, the butchery at Bataclan, and the bloodbath in Brussels could hardly be deemed unexpected.
Quite the contrary, for decades the ominous writing has been on the wall. Tragically it has been studiously ignored, sacrificing lives on the altar of the false deity of political correctness.
This week’s bloodshed in Belgium was the latest link in a gory chain of violence, committed by the followers of the prophet, in his name, across the continent and beyond.
This, coupled with the burgeoning Muslim urban enclaves, ungoverned and increasingly ungovernable, in the heart of European capitals, the unchecked extremist indoctrination, and the return of battle hardened jihadists from the killing fields of Iraq and Syria, imbued with ISIS-compliant ideology, imparted an eerie sense of inevitability to Tuesday’s blasts.
Horrors of intra-Muslim strife
But as appalling as Muslim violence against non-Muslims might be, it pales into insignificance when compared to violence between Muslims.
It would be impossible to give a comprehensive survey of the intra-Muslim carnage that has raged – and still rages – across vast swaths of the globe, from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the islands of Asia-Pacific. A brutally condensed synopsis will have to suffice.
Even before the unspeakable barbarism of al-Nusra and ISIS began to sweep across much of the Levant, and the ghastly savagery of Boko Haram and al-Shabaab ravaged huge stretches of Africa, merciless massacres of Muslims at the hands of Muslims abounded.
For example, in the almost 10-year Algerian civil war, internecine frictions between rival Islamist factions resulted in massive fratricide – with a death toll reaching, by some estimates, 150,000. Acts of unimaginable brutality were perpetrated, with entire villages wiped out and victims’ bodies mutilated.
Likewise, regular bombings of markets and mosques across countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have produced massive loss of Muslim life at the hands of belligerent brethren, yet hardly generate a footnote in the mainstream media. The intra-Muslim conflict seems so intense and complicated that even a reasonably informed layman would find it almost impossible to figure out who is killing whom, and why…
As a gauge of the scope of the slaughter, the Pakistani site Dawn (Jun 17, 2013) reported in a post titled “Islam at war – with itself” that al-Qaida affiliates and other extreme Islamist groups “have perpetrated indiscriminate violence against civilians… resulting in over 48,000 deaths…”
The majority of Muslims…
The pervasive violence in the Muslim world inevitably raises the question of the general character of Islam, and the kind of behavioral patterns it seems to generate.
It also raises the thorny question of minority actions vs majority inaction.
Thus, while Abu Shehadeh is probably right when he claims that only a minority of Muslims are engaged in abhorrent acts of terrorism, it is highly unlikely they would be able to sustain this activity without the support – or, at least, the tacit approval – of much larger segments of the population.
Even if the majority does not actively endorse the conduct of a delinquent minority, there is little evidence of effective disapproval, let alone active opposition to it. So, although, as Abu Shehadeh contends, it is difficult to formulate accurate generalizations for 1.5 billion people, several edifying measures are available that paint a daunting picture of the views held by much of the Muslim world.
The Pew Research Center has conducted numerous in-depth surveys across much of the Muslim world. Its findings show solid – at times, overwhelming – majorities in many countries (and significant minorities in others) in favor of harsh corporal punishments (whipping/amputation) for theft/robbery; death by stoning for adultery; and death for apostasy.
With such a propensity for violence as a widely accepted cultural norm, it is not implausible to assume that wide sections of the Muslim population would not find the use of violence and terrorism overly incompatible with their core beliefs.
Attempts at apologetics: The ‘colonialism’ canard
Numerous attempts have been made to explain away much of the prevalence of violence in the Muslim world and its conflict with the West.
Arguably the most prominent among such apologists was none other than President Barack Obama. In his 2009 “Outreach address” in Cairo, he offered the following explanation for the sad state of affairs between the West and Islam which, he alleged, followed “centuries of coexistence and cooperation.”
(Yeah, right!). Obama suggested that
“more recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims.”
This of course holds no water.
For while it is true that much of the Middle East was under imperial rule for centuries, this was mostly Muslim imperialism – i.e. the Ottoman Empire.
After all, with perhaps the exception of North Africa, Western colonialism was imposed for a relatively short period after World War I, and ended soon after World War II. This hardly seems sufficient to engender the obdurate Islamic enmity we see today.
So if complaints are to be lodged regarding colonialist deprivation of Muslim rights and opportunities, shouldn’t they be directed at the Muslim imperialists? Curiously, the crucibles of today’s most extreme anti-Western Islam were barely touched by colonialism – the Arabian Peninsula and Iran.
Although neither has endured any imperial – including Western – rule of any consequence, the former birthed the Sunni-derivative version of Islamic radicalism and the latter the Shia-derivative.
Clearly, this fact sits uneasily with the diagnosis ascribing ongoing tensions between Muslims and the West to colonial injustices.
No cries of ‘Kill for Krishna’?
Moreover, one might well ask why the iniquities of colonialism have not afflicted, say, the Hindu majority in India, certainly “denied rights and opportunities” under the same yoke of British imperialism, no less than the Muslims in adjacent Pakistan.
Yet, in stark contradiction to the bloodcurdling yells of Allah-hu-Akbar (Allah is great) so frequently heard as a precursor to some act of Muslim-related atrocity, we somehow hear no cries of “Kill for Krishna” or “Ganesh is Great” from embittered Hindu terrorists, blowing themselves up in crowded buses, markets, cafes and mosques.
Nor do we see aggrieved devotees of Shiva embarking on a global holy war, dedicated to the subjugation of all to the Hindu creed.
So why has India, to a large extent, been able to put its colonial past behind it, and become a vibrant economic juggernaut? Why has it not allowed itself to remain tethered to its past and mired in fratricidal frustration that has so beset its Muslim neighbor, Pakistan? After all, since by far most victims of Muslim violence are other Muslims, rights and opportunities allegedly denied by foreign occupiers seven decades ago seem an unpersuasive explanation for Islam’s current conduct.
Modernity as culprit?
Some have tried to contend that the onset of modernity and globalization has created a sense of threat to Islamic values, which has precipitated tensions with the West.
Thus, in Cairo, Obama suggested that
“the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to Islamic traditions.”
This, too, is difficult to accept.
After all, Islam is the youngest of all major religions, founded centuries – even in some cases, millennia – after Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity. Why would the newest religion find that the developments of modernity threaten its traditions in a manner that, apparently, does not threaten the traditions of faiths far more ancient? Why do they not generate the same tensions with the West that we find in the case of the Muslim faith? Could it perhaps be that Islam is fundamentally incompatible not only with modernity, not only with anything that is not Islam, but even with variations of Islam within itself?
Indeed, as the previously cited analysis in Dawn lamented:
“From Aleppo in Syria to Quetta in Balochistan, Muslims are engaged in the slaughter of other Muslims. The numbers are enormous…. Millions have perished in similar intra-Muslim conflicts in the past four decades. Many wonder if the belief in Islam was sufficient to bind Muslims in peace with each other.”
Grim, gory future?
I concluded my January 2015 column with the following caveat:
“Europe in general and France in particular are on the cusp of a grim, probably gruesome, future.”
Today this is even more pertinent for Belgium.
In it I cautioned that European leaders should heed the clarion call from someone who has intimate first-hand knowledge of Islam – the Somalian-born former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, forced to flee to the US because of threats from Muslims who objected to her caustic criticism of Islam:
“Islam is not a religion of peace. It’s a political theory of conquest that seeks domination by any means it can. Every accommodation of Muslim demands leads to a sense of euphoria and a conviction that Allah is on their side. They see every act of appeasement as an invitation to make fresh demands.” (March 21, 2009)
Europe will ignore her dire diagnosis at its peril. Unless it faces up to the bleak realities confronting it and tailors its policies accordingly, the consequences will be, indeed, grim… and gory.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategic-israel.orghttp://www.strategic-israel.org).