What is WRONG with Muslims?

thOptimists like me (and Steven Pinker) see a world in which violence is being progressively restrained. Naysayers point to a persistence of violent conflict in the world. But that’s not quite right. Violent conflict does persistin the Muslim world, mainly. While the rest of us really seem to be getting it together, Muslims are the most conspicuous exceptions. An unduly high proportion of the world’s violent conflicts nowadays involve Muslims.

Syria, with 60,000 dead, is an obvious case in point. Then we’ve had Iraq and Afghanistan, and the whole terror/jihad thing, and the Palestine thing. Muslims. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was remarkably little bloodshed – except for Chechnya – Muslims again. And when Yugoslavia collapsed, we saw the Bosnian and Kosovo wars – Muslims again. Nigeria, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Danish cartoons, Theo Van Gogh, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Lebanon, You-tube protests, Mali, the list goes on and on. Muslims, Muslims, Muslims.

Now, admittedly, in not every case have Muslims been the aggressors or the bad guys. But still – why is it that when there’s a violent conflict, chances are Muslims will be in the picture? Is there some worldwide conspiracy to pick fights with Muslims? Or is it something about Muslims, and how they behave?

Egypt's Muslim Brothers

Egypt’s Muslim Brothers

This post is prompted by events in Egypt, where too many seem to lack basic sense. The 2011 revolution’s hopes have been traduced by a sad sequence of actions that have been just plain bloody-minded. Like those prosecutions of folks for running democracy workshops. And how the military made a hash of the presidential election by disqualifying leading candidates for nonsensical reasons. Then, for equally nonsensical reasons, judges (Mubarak-era holdovers) threw out the elected parliament. And when President Morsi acted to pre-empt any further such judicial high-handedness, he made himself appear high-handed. He and the Islamists are comprehensively reneging on past promises for self-restraint, and instead seem bent on monopolizing power and shutting out all other elements in society. Thus they rammed through a half-baked and very troubling new constitution. They’ve even started criminal prosecutions against leading secular political actors including the international figure Mohamed ElBaradei.

Another instance of bloody-minded lack of sense was the death sentence handed to 21 people involved in the Port Said stadium riot. A bit severe. And, in what starts looking like a national disease of senseless non-restraint, when people demonstrated against those sentences, police opened fire, killing at least 30. When their funerals turned violent, yet more were killed.

Then of course there’s Pakistan, which I’ve written about: “The F**ked-up Country.” And that was before the 14-year-old was shot in the head for advocating girls’ education, and another teenaged girl was tortured to death by her parents for talking to a boy.

imagesCertainly non-Muslims too can be bad; and not every Muslim is. Indeed, given the societal background, it’s almost amazing how many Muslims do have their heads on straight. Yet unfortunately they always seem outnumbered (or out-shouted, or out-gunned) by the bloody-minded ones, who just don’t seem to get the concept of civil society.

I don’t really want to go into whether Islam itself promotes violence.* The Koran does have a lot of bloodthirsty passages. But most Christians don’t put their children to death for talking back, as their “holy” book instructs. Muslims’ especial proclivity toward violence must have deeper cultural, psychological sources. And, as I’ve written before, that can be overcome, just as we Westerners have made great strides in overcoming such demons in ourselves.

But for now, I’ve had it up to my keister with Muslim violence. UnknownWhen my sister and I used to sit in the back of the car, and trouble erupted, our parents weren’t too interested in hearing, “She started it!” We’d both get punished. Unfair, maybe, but we learned to keep the peace.

When will Muslims learn?

* I’ve seen it claimed by Muslim apologists that the word “Islam” actually means “peace.” That’s simply untrue. “Islam” means “submission to God.” (Or else.)

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31 Responses to “What is WRONG with Muslims?”

  1. Jeff Cook Says:

    As usual I think you hit it right on the head, Frank. After serving over 20 years in the Army and being stationed all over the world it was always clear that there is something “different” about a lot of Muslims. Having lived in Korea, Vietnam, Europe and the Mideast, the Mideast was the only place I ever lived where I couldn’t get comfortable and never felt reasonably safe. It is the only place I ever lived and never met a man I could be confortable calling a “friend”. It is the only place I never found a “local” I felt I could “trust”. In my experience where Islam is the dominant relgion it is not possible to feel safe, secure, or free. There is clearly something “off” in the way their minds work and they behave.

  2. reasoningpolitics Says:

    With all respect, I think its wise to attack the bad ideas that drive this abysmal behavior instead of billions of people. I am an atheist, and have had to walk a fine line with my critiques of religion. I use the philosophy, “respect people, but not necessarily their ideas” and have found much success with it.

    If your title was, “What is wrong with black people” would you have hit the “publish” button, or would you have thought again?

    Anyway, I hope you take this as constructive criticism and not an attack. I share your concerns with Islam (and Christianity for that matter). I also understand the difficulty that comes with trying to criticize without the perception of bigotry. That’s where my little saying I shared earlier came from.

    Have a good day.

  3. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thanks for your comment, “reasoning.” I hear you. Obviously, my title was intended to be a provocation. But I did try to be clear that I was not tarring ALL Muslims with the same brush. On the other hand, I do feel there is something systemically awry in Muslim SOCIETIES. Perhaps a better title would have been, “What is WRONG with Muslim societies?”

  4. Gregg Millett Says:

    I hate to see stereotypical flames get fanned, but Malala one day, polio vaccination workers the next — suicide bombers everyday — not looking too good. Chicago streets don’t look too good either.

  5. rationaloptimist Says:

    I’ve been to Chicago, and it’s a very nice city.

  6. Lee Says:

    Let me play the devil’s advocate. In a typical week more people are killed by our drones than are killed in a week of Egyptian soccer riots. In a typical day of an Israeli incursion into Gaza, more people are killed than in several years of missile launches from Gaza into Israel.

    In a single day, somewhere around 10,000 children die of starvation, in large part due to massive United States and European farm subsidies. If only 10% of the deaths are a result of this corporate welfare, that makes us responsible for two September 11s every week.

    My numbers are estimates but if I am wrong, I am guessing that it is not by much. “Why are Judeo-Christian societies so violent?”

    It does not surprise me that members of Judeo-Christian societies find Judeo-Christian violence to be less abhorrent, but would it surprise you if many members of Muslim societies found our “cowardly” drones, our “collective punishment” of Gazans, and our “profit-motivated” killing of the impoverished to be the worse?

  7. rationaloptimist Says:

    I agree totally that our farm subsidies are wrong, but not that they amount to murder & hence equate to “violence.” Israeli incursions into Gaza are disproportionate but would not happen but for the rocket attacks which seem meant only to provoke them. As for drones, we are at war, and drones are a method of REDUCING its violence.
    But all of this misses the point, which is elucidated by reading Pinker’s recent book. Sorry, I do not buy this familiar trope about how fundamentally violent our civilization is. Utter rubbish. The fact is that we operate from totally different mentalities about this stuff, as evidenced by the repeated bloody-minded actions in Egypt, which really prompted my comments.

  8. Joel Birkeland Says:

    I agree that the violence in Muslim societies is likely due to cultural problems, but this argument does seem to devolve to the problem of the chicken and the egg. Which came first, the culture or the religion? Probably they arose mutually.

    I read elsewhere that to this day many Muslims blame the Mongols for reducing their relatively civilized society to stone age conditions, setting them back hundreds of years during a critical time in their development. This may explain the problem, but it certainly does not excuse it.

    It is only recently, after reading many of your columns, that I have begun to appreciate how awful daily life is in Muslim countries. Living under the strictures of a fundamentalist religion is something that few of us in the US can comprehend. Mainstream Christianity in the US is a far cry from mainstream Islam in the middle east.

    Finally, I’m interested in the comparison of the religious texts of Islam to those of Judaism and Christianity, There are many commandments in the Old Testament that are quite offensive to modern society, just as there are in the Koran. Yet Christians and Jews have somehow figured out a way to rationalize these abhorrent laws with modern behavior. Christians can do this because Christ established a new covenant, meaning that the old rules no longer applied. But, for example, how can an Orthodox Jew allow a Wiccan (witch) to live? This is quite clearly forbidden. Somehow they have found a work-around for the commandments. Islam needs to do the same.

  9. rationaloptimist Says:

    Joel, thanks. I do not claim to be an expert on conditions in Muslim countries, but I think my reading has given me a greater knowledge than the typical American who, as you say, has no idea how really different things are. Sam Harris in “The End of Faith” has much to say about how modern Christians and Jews rationalize ignoring the more blatant absurdities in the Bible. I frankly think they’d be better off ignoring the entire book.

  10. Lee Says:

    If we choose a small enough pond, the Egyptian soccer violence will be the biggest fish in it. You have reasons for not counting many of the violent acts committed by Judeo-Christian societies, but take a harsher tack when it comes to evaluating violent acts in Muslim societies. But how did you choose that pond exactly? Is the Arab Spring in it? If the deranged act of shooting a girl who wants an education is in it, is the deranged act of shooting up a first-grade class in it?

    I think the victims of soccer riots are about as equally unhappy as the victims of drone strikes. In both cases there is a better course of action that would have cost fewer lives — that makes it violence in my book.

    Also, I do not think society is fundamentally violent. To the contrary, I am continually amazed at how peaceful we have become. There are still improvements to be made (regardless of religion or lack thereof) but we are doing quite well, thank you.

  11. rationaloptimist Says:

    Lee’s point is very well taken, in principle. Indeed, singling out bad things is a favorite tactic of cynical pessimists who would disregard everything positive. That said, however — based upon everything I know about “Western” societies and about Muslim societies (admittedly less, but far more, I suspect, than the average American), it is my overall judgment that Muslim societies have a different mindset toward violence, and are a couple centuries farther back on the curve of progress.

  12. Hal Says:

    In reply to comments, as a whole: Am I missing something? When did America begin to represent Christianity? Islam has its quarrels with America as well as Christianity; we’re all infidels, granted, but different sets nonetheless.

    American farm subsidies, good or bad, are 100% irrelevant to world hunger (outside of American boarders) in the sense of responsibility. It’s really the same concept as the Israeli/Palestinian argument: it’s not fair- but it’s neither a Christian nor American responsibility to police fairness around the globe.

    I think that while “crowning” Islam, it’s important to recognize the problem as religion as a whole, with Islam being the largest piece of the pie.

    I enjoyed the article, and appreciate the brass. It’s rare to find such honest editorials, being that it alienates the majority.

  13. “On The Muslim Question” – Or Avoiding It | The Rational Optimist Says:

    […] horror is the latest manifestation of a problem I’ve written about. You’d think Syria’s catastrophe might have dissuaded Egypt’s military from treading the same […]

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