Saturday, November 14, 2009

Debunking the "All Muslims Are Jihadists" Myth

Even with hindsight being 20/20, the President and his administration will be hard-pressed to conclude that the U.S. military didn't fall down on the job protecting our soldiers from Nidal Hassan. What is much murkier, though, is whether the military failed to keep Hassan from going jihadist, from going postal, or from going postal jihadist.

How Americans resolve this dilemma has weighty ramifications for the estimated 5.2 million Muslim-Americans.

Let me start by noting that a recurring theme in conservative blogs is that Muslims should be deported, expelled from the military, or "watched" because they are dangerous. We are told "they" are dangerous because Islam is a violent faith. Islam has also been parodied as archaic patriarchy.

These notions intrigue me because when I attended the Muslim Alliance of Indiana's annual conference a few weeks ago, Congressman Andre Carson expressed outrage over lack of a more pronounced public outcry when a renowned Muslim leader allegedly decapitated his wife. I'm paraphrasing here, but the Congressman bellowed, "If we do not speak out (on cases like this), nobody will give a damn what Muslims have to say about anything else." The crowd erupted in the most sustained applause of the conference.

I envisioned someone not as familiar with Muslims asking, "If Islam is led by violent patriarchs, how come none of them are at this statewide gathering of Muslim leaders?"

The better question for those not in attendance is, "Might your stereotype be off?" Is it really fair to brand an entire faith as violent based on the acts of a handful of extremists? People who proffer the notion of inherent Muslim violence usually make one of two claims: (1) most Muslims behave violently; or (2) Islam mandates violence against "the infidel."

The global estimate for Muslims ranges between 700 million and 1.2 billion. The global estimate for all acts of terrorism (including those by every separatist or "liberation" group in the world) is less than 10,000 annually. Even if you use the low estimate and attribute all 10,000 acts of terror to Islamic jihadists, that means that only .0014% of Muslims ever engage in violence. And this is what will make some condemn all Muslims?

We are able to see heterogeneity in our own faith, but not in others. As a result, when a Muslim named Hassan kills U.S. soldiers, it's an indictment not of an individual or even that individual's interpretation of his faith, but rather, of the faith itself. But when a Christian kills an abortion doctor, or when a Christian group thinks its Biblical duty is to shout "God hates fags!" during funerals of U.S. military members, it's an anomaly.

Americans, for some reason, also fixate on their perception of what Islam requires of its adherents more than on the overall morality of those adherents. I can point to serial killers and mothers who've drowned their own kids to purge their demons. They claim Christianity as their faith, as do a staggering number of violent felons and thieves in America. Even adjusted per capita, I'm less likely to die at the hands of a self-identified Muslim than I am at the hands of a self-identified Christian.

Oh, I hear people saying, "Actually, anybody who would be violent isn't really a Christian, so they take the title falsely." But somehow anybody who is violent as a Muslim is always really a Muslim? And what if the violent Christians say they killed because they thought that's what their faith required? Can only Christians be mistaken in their interpretations of holy texts?

People looking for justification for their anti-Muslim sentiments will invariably say, "Yes, Chris, but the Koran calls for jihad against the infidel."

Indeed, but isn't the proper question not what the ancient texts of a religion say, but rather, what the adherents of the faith actually do in response to those texts? The Old Testament calls for stoning a wayward child, but you can't find a Jew alive who does it. Until recently, the Catholic Church said birth control was a sin. How many Catholics absolutely ignored that edict? And how in the world can we have so many different sects of Christianity, and yet still look at Islam as a monolithic faith?

In truth, Islam is at war between competing ideologies, just as Christianity is now and had been over slavery. Tell a Christian that Christianity was used to justify slavery and it serves as the current core belief for the Ku Klux Klan, and he or she will redirect you to the fact Christianity lead to the abolition of slavery. And I would tell you that both of these things are true.

Yes, wrap your mind around this. You can have it both ways because NO RELIGION IS A MONOLITH.

Is there a sect of Islam that is radical, violent, and hellbent on destroying America? I'd say yes. But the significance of this sect is overexaggerated by an American media that lives by "if it bleeds, it leads." Ninety-nine percent of Muslims do not engage in religious-based violence. Yet, as with any "civil war" between peaceful and confrontational ideologies, the surest way to create new adherents to radicalism is to ostracize the peaceful by failing to differentiate between the camps.

In short, you can have a Nidal Hassan who just went nuts (not likely, given his communications and comments). You can have a Nidal Hassan who was a "homegrown terrorist" who always knew his mission (not likely, given he was in the military long enough to become a major but never acted violently before - ya gotta admit, that's some seriously long-range planning). Or you can have a guy who sorta thought he had a duty, but his desire to act would not have ever kicked in until he blew a gasket. (As an aside, how many Klansmen talk about harming minorities but never do? Why hasn't anybody every recommended deporting them? When the Christians kill abortion doctors, why don't we harass the larger Christian community for failing to keep it from happening?)

Your lesson is this. America must take its Muslims one at a time, just like its Christians. Monitor radical statements, undoubtedly, but do not leave it at Muslims. Before 9/11, the greatest violence against America was perpetrated by a member of the U.S. Army, Timothy McVeigh. Why didn't anybody foresee his violence?


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