James remarked during our nightly political argument that I have a very fundamental tendency to tread very carefully around the issue of Islam and terrorism. This raises a couple interesting questions, as I do indeed tend to jump to the defense of Islam as a religion when I hear criticisms that it causes terrorism, that it breeds hatred, that Muslims have certain characteristics that make them more likely to do certain things, or whatever. Why do I do this? Is it, as some might argue, a form of radical political correctness or moral relativism?
I’d argue not. The reason why I find myself urging caution with statements about Islam and violence–or Islam and whatever–is that Islam happens to be the topic of conversation these days. If, for instance, we were talking about Kurdish terrorism in the 1990s, I’d be defending the majority of Kurds. If we were talking about Tamil terrorism in Tamil Nadu, I’d be defending the majority of Tamils/Hindus.
The problem that I see lies in moving from self-evidently true statements to more nuanced statements with implications for politics. It is self-evidently true that Muslims are the ones committing suicide attacks in Israel…no Palestinian Christians are participating in this. Similarly, the people who launched the terrorist attacks in the United States, Britain, Spain, and Bali are Muslims. This is important information. But then you need to think further. How much does knowing that these individuals follow Islam tell you? Surprisingly not much. A very tiny minority of Muslims commit terrorist acts. So Muslim is not a sufficient condition for terrorism. Most suicide bombings are actually committed by non-Muslims (mostly Tamils, actually), and most terrorism in general comes at the hands of non-Muslims. So Muslims is not a necessary condition for terrorism. And notice: these are not just a couple exceptions, but huge evidence to the contrary regarding any simple relationship between Islam and terrorism and/or violence.
My point in terms of drawing conclusions is not that we should ignore the fact that suicide bombers in Iraq and Israel follow Islam. This is important information, and it is clear that Islamic millennialism has an influence of the actions of these individuals. The point is that the sort of precise statements that the right-wing commentariat make are simply wrong. Not because I don’t want them to be true, but because they are actually incorrect statements. Another point regards prejudice, as I also believe that many Americans are suspicious of Muslims and claims of Muslim peace. I cannot accept any suspicion of Muslims greater than any other religious group. If the actions of the few are to represent the views of the masses, then that must apply towards Christianity, Judaism, Republicans, Democrats, vegans, football players, trench coat mafiosi, and every other group that contains bad apples among its membership.