One out six people all over the world is a Muslim... trying 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 all what’s happening 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 Balad, Tel Aviv-Jaffa
With these words, Sami Abu Shehadeh, of the anti-Zionist Arab party Balad, commenced a debate with me on “The rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West,” which took place in the i24 News studios last month.
Clearly, the events in Paris on Wednesday, in which 12 people were brutally gunned down, gave the topic new and urgent relevance.
Islam is to terror as rainfall is to flooding
Of course, there is much truth in Abu Shehadeh claim that most Muslims are not actively involved in terrorism. While this claim is factually correct, substantively it is meaningless.
For anyone with an iota of intellectual integrity and reasonably informed of world affairs, the answer to whether Islam and violence and 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 attempt to exonerate it.
After all, if one in six people in the world is a Muslim, it would mean that five out of six are not. Right? So if there were no inordinate affinity of Islam for violence/ terrorism, Muslim acts of terrorism should be one-fifth of those of non-Muslim terrorism – i.e. if Islam had no greater propensity for terrorism, one would have to expect non-Muslim acts of terrorism to be five times (!) those perpetrated by Muslims.
This is clearly not the case, and terrorist attacks committed by adherents of Islam far outweigh those carried out by non-Muslims.
It would therefore seem that – in stark violation of the protocols of political correctness – there is little choice but to conclude what many in the West sense instinctively: There is a 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.
Writing on the wall?
Without wishing to appear callous, the carnage in Paris could hardly be considered unexpected. In many ways the writing has been on the wall for several years.
After all, it comes in the wake of a string of incidents of murderous Islamic-motivated violence across the country.
In mid-March 2012, several off-duty soldiers were gunned down in Montauban and Toulouse by a French-born Muslim of Algerian origin.
A few days later, he slaughtered a rabbi and three children, aged three to eight, in an attack on a Jewish day school in Toulouse.
More recently, just before Christmas, France was racked by a spate of “lone wolf” terrorist attacks, in Dijon, Nantes and Tours, which prompted the British Independent to report the incidents under the ominous headline “France gripped by fear at Christmas after third street attack in three days.” (December 23, 2014) In both the Dijon and Tours incidents, the attacker is reported to have shouted “Allahu akbar,” dispelling any suspicion that the assaults were perpetrated by Buddhist extremists.
Muslim violence has been simmering in France for years, boiling over regularly around Christmas and New Year, when hundreds of cars are torched in Muslim-majority neighborhoods to usher in the start of the Gregorian year.
Typically, reports in the mainstream media studiously avoid mention of any connection between this criminal arson on a massive scale and the culprits’ ethnic origins.
Catalogue of carnage
The slaughter in Paris takes its place in a long list of acts of butchery, all committed in the name of Islam.
Consider the following (and decidedly partial) catalogue of carnage, of the gory events that took place across the globe over the past two decades and shocked the world with their brutally.
New York – Cataclysmic destruction of the Twin Towers.
Washington – Attempt to demolish the Pentagon.
London – Coordinated attack on the public transport system; the beheading of an off duty soldier in broad daylight in full public view.
Madrid – Bombing of crowded commuter trains at rush hour.
Nairobi – Seizure of Westgate shopping mall and murder of scores of innocents.
Burgas, Bulgaria – Bombing of a tourist bus.
Mumbai – Murderous attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel, Chabad House and other sites.
Boston – Bombing of the city’s annual marathon.
Bali – Bombing of crowded tourist locations.
Buenos Aires – Deadly attacks on Jewish institutions and the Israeli Embassy.
Ottawa – Assault on the Canadian Parliament .
Sydney – Recent seizure of a downtown café and murder of two customers.
In-Amenas, Algeria – Seizure of a gas facility and murder of dozens of civilians.
Chibock, Nigeria – Abduction of almost 300 schoolgirls, reportedly to serve as sex slaves.
This bloodcurdling list is in no way complete, and numerous other incidents could be added. It certainly does not include all the attempted attacks that were foiled by security services in various countries, preventing the commission of even more gruesome atrocities by adherents of Islam.
Horrors of intra-Muslim strife
Try as one may, there is no way that, in the modern world, any other faith/creed can be associated with such violence/ terror – in scope, size, frequency or ubiquity of occurrence.
But as appalling as Muslim violence against non-Muslims might be, it pales into insignificance when compared to violence between Muslims themselves.
It would be impossible to give a comprehensive survey of the intra-Muslim carnage that has raged – and still rages – across vast swathes 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 Islamic State began to sweep across much of the Levant, 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 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. (In this regard one can only hope that the extraordinarily courageous speech by Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, calling for a “religious revolution,” will prove to be a harbinger of some radical change in the course Islam is currently set upon.) So, although, as Abu Shehadeh contends, it is difficult to formulate accurate generalizations for 1.6 billion people, several edifying measures are available that paint a daunting picture of the views held by much of the Muslim world.
The reputable 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 totally 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 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.” (Really?) 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? Strangely, the 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. This fact sits uneasily with the diagnosis ascribing ongoing tensions between Muslims and the West to colonialism.
No call to "Kill for Krishna"?
Moreover, one might well ask why the iniquities of colonialism have not afflicted, say, the Hindu-majority in India, whose people were certainly “denied rights and opportunities” under the yoke of British imperialism in the same way as the Muslims of Pakistan.
Yet, somehow we 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, as we do across the Muslim world – including in neighboring Pakistan.
Nor do we see aggrieved followers of Shiva embarking on a global holy war to subjugate all to the Hindu creed.
Why has India 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 the past and mired in homicidal frustration? Since by far most victims of Muslim violence are other Muslims, rights and opportunities allegedly denied by foreign occupiers seven decades ago seem a poor explanation for 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 the 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 but with anything that is not Islam, and that many cannot – or worse, refuse to – recognize this?
A clarion call
Europe in general and France in particular are on the cusp of a grim, probably gruesome, future.
European leaders would do well to heed the clarion call from someone who has intimate knowledge of Islam – the Somalian-born former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was forced flee to the US because of threats from Muslims who objected to her criticism of Islam. She warned: “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 had best heed this dire caveat and tailor its policies accordingly, for if not, the consequences will be dire.
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Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategicisrael.org).