Optimists 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 persist – in 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?
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.
Certainly 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. When 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.)