“This study obliterates the myth that Muslims are more violent” says a trolly headline over at Vox, where Zack Beauchamp combines a strawman and an absurd study to tell us absolutely nothing about Islam.
Whenever the subject of Islamist terrorism comes up, the national conversation almost always circles back to a somewhat bigoted question: are Muslims more violent than other kinds of people because of their religion?
Actually, no serious observer argues that “Muslims” are inherently predisposed to violence—certainly no more than anyone else. Since Muslims encompass not only different racial and ethnic groups, but various factions and temperaments, this would be ridiculous argument. Almost as ridiculous as arguing any criticism of a religion is “somewhat bigoted.”
And no serious person argues that Muslims more prone to be criminals. Critics do, however, argue—with great amount of evidence to back them up—that right now, in this particular era in history, large movements within political “Islam” are prone to export violence and target innocent people elsewhere to fulfill various theocratic aims. They argue that this kind of terrorism is mostly the province of factions found within a single religion, one that has caused immense political upheaval around the world.
What these conversations usually lack is data; that is, evidence that Muslim societies are actually more violent than other ones. And it turns out, according to UC-Berkeley Professor M. Steven Fish, that judging by murder rates, people in Muslim-majority countries actually tend to be significantly less violent (bolding is mine):
Predominantly, Muslim countries average 2.4 murders per annum per 100,000 people, compared to 7.5 in non-Muslim countries. The percentage of the society that is made up of Muslims is an extraordinarily good predictor of a country’s murder rate. More authoritarianism in Muslim countries does not account for the difference. I have found that controlling for political regime in statistical analysis does not change the findings. More Muslims, less homicide.
Really, is it that simple? For one thing, the debate is about external political, sectarian, and religious violence, not internal crime statistics—which tells us nothing about the nonviolent tendencies of any religion. The measure of a religion isn’t how it treats its own, but how it treats everyone else. Some data on the experience of Jews or Christians in Islamic nations might help clarify this point.
Beyond that, comparing the crime rate in a free society to those living in a tyranny is a giant waste of time. Crime rates in totalitarian regimes always tend to be low. Eastern European countries claimed to have far lower crime rates than Western European nations during the Cold War. Was East German society just as moral as West German society? What did those numbers tell us about Christianity or the German people?
Rather than making calibrations for Muslims in authoritarian states and those Muslims living in super-duper authoritarian states, as Fish does, it would be better to compare the number of theocratic beheadings and state-sanctioned gang rapes in Saudi Arabia to the Netherlands.
But let’s for a moment concede the unlikely scenario that Fish is offering a nonbiased look at the numbers and that those numbers matter. Let’s ignore that tyrannies lie about crime stats. Let’s forget that some nations, like the United States, have technological advantages in apprehending violent criminals that may skew the numbers. Let’s put aside the vital distinction between theocratic violence that is approved and funded by states and crime that has absolutely no political or religious motivation. Even if we used Vox’s own parameters it would be immoral to measure violence in the way it proposes.
If this study definitely proves that “Muslims” are less violent (“More Muslims, less homicide”), is Vox also suggesting that blacks are more prone to violence than whites? Because in, say, Jamaica the murder rate is 39.3 per 100,000. In the African continent the murder rate is 12.5—with sub-Saharan countries often featuring far higher percentages. Does that “obliterate the myth that whites are just as violent as blacks”? Or are there thousands of other factors—widespread poverty, corruption, or rule of law, for starters—in determining these rates?
If Islam itself were in fact the key cause of Islamist terrorism, you’d expect ordinary Muslims to be more violent than ordinary non-Muslims.
No, you would not. But if you truly believe all the world’s great religions are equally violent (“intrinsically” speaking) there is social experiment one could undertake to find out. A Vox reporter could walk around Washington DC or Dallas or Atlanta holding a sign that says “Jesus is a myth” and see what happens. And then that reporter could head to Medina or Karachi or Gaza City and do the same thing with a corresponding sign about Islam. Afterwards, let’s compare results.