A pair of recent News pieces begin to outline the tensions plaguing post-9/11 American-Muslim relations. Joe Carlsmith (“Standing up for religion,” Nov. 13), toeing a tested but tired postmodernist line, urges us to recall that bloody religious history is not unique to Islam. Discussing the Fort Hood tragedy, he rightly observes that “a murderer killed those soldiers, not a faith tradition.” Syed Salah Ahmed (“Actions of one should not define a group,” Nov. 17) pushes further, warning that generalizing from isolated incidents to infer a pervasive pattern of violence in Islam is damaging and baseless.
In some respects, these two opinions represent the tenor of many left-wing critics’ responses to the Fort Hood shooting. Both worry that the public will allow such incidents to jeopardize the liberal values of tolerance and minority protection, insisting that the path to peace is paved with communication, negotiation and compromise.
Unfortunately, the public discourse surrounding extremist Islamic violence against the West is full of more straw men than a cornfield. It doesn’t take much creativity to cry “Islamophobe” against those who emphasize the religious dimension of various terrorist acts. Ahmed suggests that even observing a connection between Islam and terrorist action is religious persecution. On the other side, it’s all too easy to point to the preponderance of Muslims connected with many recent, aggressive terrorist operations as evidence that the religion itself is bloodstained.
Let’s be honest — with a few exceptions, no one who reads the news is under the delusion that all Muslims are collectively accountable for the transgressions of a radical few. While Americans concerned with our international image sometimes fear that the “war on terror,” especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, may be perceived as a war on Islam, such conflations are absurdly inaccurate representations of fact which primarily stem from extremist propaganda.
And the American public is well aware of the gap between the teachings of the Qur’an and the actions of Al Qaeda. Although Muslims in the United States experienced increased animosity in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that only 9 percent of all victims of religiously-motivated hate crimes in the U.S. in 2007 were Muslim (eight times more Jews were victims of religious hate crime in the same year).
But let’s also be honest about the strong correlation between Islam and acts of terrorism. There is currently no violent force more threatening to national security than radical Islamic terrorist organizations. These groups have proven time and again their ability and desire to cause harm to soldiers and civilians here and abroad in the name of faith. Disregarding their religious associations would be ignorant and dangerous, as it would deprive us of some of our most effective tools for containing their influence.
No reasonable person disputes that it is possible for devout Muslims to live under principles of peace and goodwill. As we are reminded by the broken-record left-wing pundits, the vast majority of Muslims are no more likely to perpetrate acts of terrorism than the vast majority of Christians.
Of course, it can be tempting to cite Qur’anic verses which advocate violence as proof of the religion’s inherent warlike nature. That sort of exegesis has its place: to equate the violent propensities of Islam and Christianity by noting that each text contains bloody passages, or that each tradition has historically been capable of brutality, is either disingenuous or ignorant of literary evidence and cultural reality. There is no kumbaya solution to Islamic terrorism. But correlation does not imply causation, and it takes a lot more than a few bellicose lines of scripture to recruit a suicide bomber.
None of the above is controversial or disputed by any but the most obstinate radicals. Yet public and private discussions alike — and not just those on Fox News — strongly tend toward superficial caricatures and simplistic reductions. The biggest obstacle to effective public discourse is not the handful of bigots and bleeding hearts; it’s our willingness to pigeon-hole opponents into these camps.
There are intractable questions on the table, and it’s hard to see how the Christian and Muslim worlds will resolve our deadly systemic challenges. Nothing detracts more from that effort than donning our own blinders.
Benjamin Miller is a senior in Morse College.