Over at Facebook: Three Worlds we've opened a discussion about this article by Juan Cole.
Professor Cole of the University of Michigan argues that Muslims are no more violent (and in fact less violent in the 20th Century) than any other religion. Cole is a well-known apologist for Islam and the Middle East, but he also has a lot of important things to say, and gets things right quite often. He states:
I don’t figure that Muslims killed more than a 2 million people or so in political violence in the entire twentieth century, and that mainly in the Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988 and the Soviet and post-Soviet wars in Afghanistan, for which Europeans bear some blame.
Compare that to the Christian European tally of, oh, lets say 100 million (16 million in WW I, 60 million in WW II– though some of those were attributable to Buddhists in Asia– and millions more in colonial wars.)
No, I do not completely agree with Professor Cole, but...
First of all, I like the article (but have issues with it) because Muslim violence is exaggerated in the Western media. There are about 1.6 Billion Muslims and many of them live in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Senegal, Niger, Kenya etc. where they have peacefully lived with their neighbors for years. These Muslims (that I have met in my travels) are never written about. They are hospitable, kind, and want to live normal, peaceful lives like everyone else. Like most human beings, they want to see their children have a better life than they did, as opposed to say, blow them up or strap explosives to them.
Furthermore, many Muslims have a faith that is different from the more militant strands of Islam that we see the terrorists adhere to. In fact, in many cases, not only might they be from a different major branch of Islam, but they may also have infused their Islam with a lot of local African or Asian folk beliefs. So they are labeled Muslim, but may actually follow something that has little resemblance to Islam.
And then there are those Muslims who are born into a Muslim country, and get labeled Muslims simply because they were born in a Muslim country. Much the way people were born "Catholic" in many Latin American countries. They have not really accepted or rejected Islam but can be called "Muslims."
So there is a peaceful side to Islam that is not written about. At the same time, Western/Christian violence is often not counted or remembered. And Cole does a good job of reminding the reader that the 20th Century was filled with Christian religious violence. And he's right when he suggests that the Nazi's, Franco, and Communism all co-opted the Christian church for their evil deeds and there was much silence from Christian communities.
If we take World War I and II as having happened primarily by "Christian nations" (and to be fair, if it had been Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt leading World War II wouldn't we label it an Islamic problem?), then clearly, the Christian West has been very comfortable with violence. Even if you argue that these were post-Englightenment, post-Christian societies, you could just go back 300 years in Western history and find that they were still just as violent, just with weaker weapons. Or if you discount Europe completely (too secular), and just focused on the United States--you would still find a country incredibly comfortable with violence--often at war, invading nations, or settling land with guns at hand. Truly, the West (and the USA in particular) has always been comfortable with violence. And then in the essay, he outlines examples of political terrorism from non-Muslim religions.
Issues with Professor Cole's Claims:
So is Professor Cole totally right? Well, he makes some important points that non-Muslims need to deal with. However, there are some other things that need to be mentioned.
1) The size and scale of WWI and WWII were indeed massive, but that was because modern weaponry was becoming more lethal at an exponential pace. Christian societies through the reformation and then the secular Enlightenment advanced quickly and modernized while many Islamic societies languished. Cole is right in suggesting that all societies with access to weapons can become violent. It's a human thing. But it's also then true that Islam may have been more violent had they had the technology to act out on it.
2) The upheavals of Western Civilization in the past 500 years had a lot to do with the death of Christendom (the mixing of politics and religion in statehood) and the birth of more secular nation-states. In other words, Christian civilizations seemed to be learning about the limits of religion and what it can achieve politically. Christianity was going through a reformation that allowed for some secularization. Islam doesn't seem to have gotten to this point. It lacks a Martin Luther-like moment, it lacks a secular Enlightenment, and a clear separation of church and state. It also lacks a state like The United States which models the separation of church and state (though oddly, some Evangelicals wish it weren't that way). Some are looking toward Turkey to be the first example (or perhaps a second example since Ataturk's Turkey was supposed to be a truly secular state) of a healthy, modern, Islamic country. But even there, Islamism is making big inroads into Turkey and threatening the most well-rounded economy in the Islamic sphere. Why? The reformation has not happened.
3) Another point is that unlike the other religious faiths, Islam's leader was both a religious leader and a military leader. Born in the very violent cultural atmosphere of 7th Century Arabia, Islam prophet (who is the final prophet) clearly did not agree with Jesus' "turn the other cheek" mentality. He waged Holy War against idolatry and that included violence. Islam, unlike Christianity, is far more culturally bound to a specific culture (Bedouin Arab culture) than Christianity or the other major faiths. This has limited its ability to reject violence.
4) Political violence isn't the only violence problem in Islam. The chances of any of us, or anyone we know, being killed by an Islamic terrorist is remarkably slim. I'm more concerned about the violence against women and the mass subjugation and the misogynistic tendencies of Islam. Subjugating half of the population is a stupid idea for any society. But even worse is when women become treated like property, and violence is allowed, all sanctioned by a religion. That is something that is being abandoned in most religions of the world. Islam and Hinduism still struggle in this area quite a bit and to great cost of their societies. An India or Saudi Arabia that was more empowered by women would be far more advanced than those countries are today. Yet, Islam, more than anything, holds women back and allows a violent and misogynistic culture to keep Islamic countries underperforming around the globe.
Having said all of that, however, it is important not to paint with broad brushes regarding Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims in the United States, in Europe, and in other places are peace-loving people, who love their children, like McDonald's, and just want to watch a good movie and eat some popcorn. It's dishonest to think this is not true. I've met many Muslims. I have yet to meet one that was anything but polite and trustworthy. I can't say the same for the Christians I've met and worked with.
Here is the video that made Professor so Cole that he wrote the article defending Muslims. In this context, I think Bill Maher in the video definitely gets the better of the argument. Islam is in a category of its own.
Warning: Some bad language included, but an important argument to hear nonetheless as it relates to this article.