Is it true that the ‘vast majority of Muslims are peaceful’ – and what if it’s false?

by Gramfan on January 24, 2016

in "moderate muslims", Gramfan (team member), jihad, Muslim mindset

Crisis Magazine: The Vast Majority Myth

By William Kilpatrick

We often hear it said that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and reject violence. That proposition is worth examining because if it’s not true there is cause to worry. Of course, you should be worried already. Even if only a small percentage of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are prepared to use violence, that still works out to a large number. [emphasis added] However, if the vast-majority thesis doesn’t hold up, you might want to order a Kevlar vest from Amazon, or, if you’re the accommodating type, you could start practicing the Shahada—the Islamic declaration of faith.

There is a good deal of polling data to suggest that the vast majority of Muslims are not just your standard-issue vast majority. For example, Pew polls of public opinion in Pakistan and Egypt show that the vast majority (about 82 percent) favor stoning for adultery, amputation for theft, and death for apostates. So, even if a majority in these countries are not personally inclined to violence, they have no problem with the violent application of sharia law.

But rather than rely on polling data, let’s look at some other ways of assessing the “vast majority” proposition. For some perspective, here are some other “vast majority” propositions that just popped into my head:

Proposition 1. The vast majority of people are peaceful until they’re not.

Proposition 2. The vast majority of people go with the flow.

Proposition 3. The majority of people in any society are women and children.

With the exception of the third proposition, there is no empirical evidence for these propositions, but they seem just as reasonable as the proposition that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful—a supposition which also has no empirical support. However, Proposition 3 does lend credence to the “vast majority of Muslims” thesis since women and children are, for various reasons, less inclined to violence than adult males. It would therefore be reasonable to say of any society that at least a majority are peaceful.

But people who are peaceful today will not necessarily be peaceful tomorrow. It’s probably safe to say that the vast majority of Hutus were behaving peacefully before the Rwanda genocide of 1994 … and then they stopped behaving peacefully. Using clubs, machetes, and, occasionally, guns, the Hutu managed to kill about 800,000 Tutsi in the space of one hundred days. It’s likely that the vast majority did not take part in the killings, but, by all accounts, a sizeable number did, and an even greater number were complicit. According to reports, most of the Tutsi victims who lived in rural villages were murdered by their neighbors.

So, in line with Proposition 1, the majority of the Hutu were peaceful until they were not. And, in line with Proposition 2, the majority of the Hutu went with the flow—the flow, in this case, being in the direction of mayhem. It should be noted, however, that there were powerful incentives to go with the flow. Moderate Hutus who declined to join in the killing were often killed by their fellow Hutus as a warning to others.

Although women took part in the slaughter, Proposition 3 would suggest that the majority of them did not. And if you combine the women with the children, the elderly, and the moderates, it is reasonable to assume that the majority of Hutu did not participate in the carnage. That, however, would have been small comfort to the Tutsi. The more you think about it, the less comforting it is to know that the vast majority of any population won’t take up arms against you.

History is full of examples of peoples and nations who were peaceful and then were not. Prior to World War I, the vast majority of Europeans were behaving peacefully. Then came 1914, and the European nations went to war with each other. The majority, of course, remained at home and were never involved in battle, but it seems safe to say that most of them fully backed their own side in the conflict and welcomed news of enemy casualties.

Given the right circumstances, the majority of almost any population will willingly put itself on a war footing and turn their homeland into a home front. The questions is, is there something about Islamic cultures that make them more susceptible to warlike attitudes more of the time?

Before attempting an answer, let’s briefly consider another historical example—the Spartans. Were the vast majority of Spartans peaceful? In the sense that the great majority, including women, children, and the elderly were not at war all the time, yes. Still, we would be mistaken to call them a peaceful people. Sparta was a warrior culture, and it cultivated a warrior mentality in its citizens.

The Spartans were a unique case, but in so far as Islam has a tendency, it tends in the direction of Sparta rather than, say, in the direction of Sweden—a land which was once host to a warrior culture of its own. But the Vikings are long gone, and their peaceful descendants look like they will be the first European nation to fall to Islam—a culture which has been more or less at war with the rest of the world since its inception.

Why is the sharia penalty for apostasy death? Because Islam understands itself to be an army. And the penalty for deserting an army in wartime is death. But for Islam, all times are wartimes. The basic division in the Islamic faith is between the House of Islam and the House of War. The essential mission given to Muslims is to bring the House of War (all non-Islamic nations) under the control of the House of Islam.

Like the Spartans, the first Muslims were warriors. Their leader was both a prophet and a warlord. Since Muslims are still expected to model their behavior on Muhammad, it’s not surprising that Muslim cultures will be more prone to violence than, say, cultures that take Jesus or Buddha as their inspiration. Our own culture is completely sold on the importance of having role models to emulate, but hasn’t yet grasped the consequences that follow when 1.6 billion people take Muhammad as their primary role model. Indeed, one of the chief appeals of ISIS and company is their promise to return Islam to those glorious days when Muhammad spread the faith by force.

It may well be that a great many Muslims today just want to be left alone to go about their business. But one of the built-in features of Islam is that, if you’re a Muslim, it won’t leave you alone. It wants to force you to be good. However, the only way to know if you’re good is if you conform to sharia. Thus, where Islam is practiced in its purest form, the virtue police patrol the streets, and everyone understands that if they convert to another religion they can be executed for apostasy—that is to say, desertion.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John January 24, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Go on over and fight ISIS your life is pretty much over anyway

2 Gramfan January 24, 2016 at 9:06 pm

This could be a post in itself, and needs to get out there but is Pay Wall protected.

Behind the veil: the struggles of Muslim women and girls by Asra Nomani.
(She is the friend of Mariann Pearl)

This past New Year’s Eve, hordes of men from North Africa and the Middle East, many of them Muslim refugees and migrants, set off like predators on the streets of European cities.

In Cologne, Salzburg, Zurich and Helsinki untold numbers of women were sexually assaulted, robbed and even raped. “They felt like they were in power and that they could do anything with the women who were out in the street,” one victim in Cologne told the BBC.

Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, which is investigating the Cologne attack, said, “We use the term ‘taharrush gamea,’ as a phenomenon of jointly committed sexual harassment of women in public,” adding that, until the New Year’s Eve attacks, “the phenomenon was unknown” in Germany. But women of the Middle East and North Africa have long known about taharrush gamea. Some men used this concept of strategic public shaming to justify assaulting women in Egypt’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring, including “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan.

Katherine Zoepf’s chilling book “Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of the Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World” doesn’t specifically address taharrush gamea, or collective humiliation. But the themes of honour, shame, power, sex and Islam are woven throughout her intimate portraits of Muslim women and girls in the Middle East and North Africa.

More: Slam the door on Muslim men

Ms. Zoepf has been reporting on the region since 2004, as a stringer for the New York Times and contributor to the New Yorker, and her book is like a “Lonely Planet” guide to the dark underbelly of the purity culture of Muslim societies. From Damascus to Jeddah — and, yes, now to the capitals of Western Europe — women who transgress their perceived “social responsibilities” in this matrix of honour and shame are fair targets for humiliation and violence.

In one particularly poignant chapter, Ms. Zoepf steps through the doors of a girls’ prison in Syria, where 16-year-old Zahra al-Azzo was jailed for being raped. (That’s right, they jailed her.) The prison is a sort of holding facility for girls like Zahra who are at risk of being murdered by their families in a so-called honour killing. Yet there is little to protect the young women once they leave. “One of the girls came to me, crying, the other day,” the head social worker tells Ms. Zoepf. “She wanted to go home and it’s an honour crime situation. I told her, ‘Try to relax here for a while because they’re going to kill you anyway when you’re released.’ It sounds cruel, but I needed to calm her down, to get her to behave sensibly.’”

Zahra was eventually freed from the prison in order to marry a cousin. Shortly thereafter, she was hacked to death in her apartment by her own brother — with the blessing of their parents. Zahra’s crime: “losing her virginity out of wedlock.” Her brother believed he was “washing away the shame” to the family. The day of her murder, Ms. Zoepf chronicles, the girl’s family threw a party.

“Excellent Daughters” exposes the tragic dynamics of power and control that lay siege to the bodies, minds and souls of women and girls through inherited rules of patriarchy, tribalism and morality. In eight chapters set in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and pre-civil-war Syria, we meet brave individuals who are trying to “reconcile the values they’d absorbed growing up with a changing world and their own changing hopes.”

“Transforming the Arab World,” as Ms. Zoepf’s subtitle puts it, can take many forms. Readers learn about women’s secret strategies for protecting virginity, and thus honour, such as anal sex, hymen-reconstruction surgery, illegal abortions and “passionate friendships, possibly even love affairs” between women. From the bedroom to the public square, the book captures the struggles of women as they challenge laws, traditions, cultural norms and religious interpretations. For some, revolution looks like taking a job as a flight attendant, or going to law school, or refusing to wear a headscarf. For others, it means playing sports. Ms. Zoepf’s own background — she was raised as a conservative Jehovah’s Witness — allows her to be particularly empathetic to situations that otherwise defy logic.

Ms. Zoepf gingerly traces the roots of twisted practices, such as honour killings, to Islamic concepts such as fitna, or the “chaos” that is often connected to “temptation of a sexual nature.” Quoting a prominent male Syrian women’s-rights advocate, Bassam al-Kadi, she notes that the current state of Arab politics has only made matters worse. “Arab society’s attachment to the idea of personal honour as something bound inextricably to the virtue of female relatives was becoming even deeper than it had been historically. Partly this was a result of the wave of Islamisation that had been sweeping the Arab world since the 1980s,” she writes, summarising Mr. al-Kadi’s argument. The “obsession with the control of female sexuality” is, she notes, a “symptom of political despair.” As Mr. al-Kadi puts it: “No one talks about loyalty to country, about professional honour. Now it’s just the family, the tribe, the woman. That’s the only kind of honour we have left.”

The trouble is that, for all of her meticulous reporting and access to the women she writes about, Ms. Zoepf shies away from drawing certain uncomfortable conclusions. She acknowledges the problems with “many Salafi, or fundamentalist interpretations of Islam,” and she rightly notes, for example, that honour killings are “almost unknown outside the Islamic world and its diaspora.” Yet she goes on to say, in the next sentence, that “honour killings are not mentioned in the Qur’an.” This is typical of the kind of careful dance she does throughout the book. She bears witness to tyrannical situations but remains always an observer, holding back from expressing moral outrage or insisting on the need to reform Islam. Given the horrific state of affairs she documents, perhaps she feels like the argument makes itself.

Maybe so. But it bears repeating that all of us should be doing everything in our power to back Muslim women and men, like Saudi driving activist and educator Norah Al-Sowayan and her husband, Humoud al-Rabiah, who are fighting against the pathological use of honour, shame and sex to control women and girls in their country. Arrested, detained and harassed, the activist had, at home, her greatest supporter: her husband. “I was the one who taught her to drive!” he tells Ms. Zoepf proudly.

I understand deeply the pain of navigating such cultures as a female — and the lifeline that allies can provide. I was born in 1965 in Bombay, India, into a conservative Muslim family; my mother had to cover her face with a veil as a teen. I grew up in Morgantown, W.Va., where, in the late 1970s, a cousin told me that my high-school cross-country uniform was haram, or illegal, because it showed my bare legs and arms. In the 1980s, I lived a secret life of the sort documented in “Excellent Daughters” by dating and hiding it from my parents.

In the 1990s, though, I married a Pakistani Muslim man because I thought I should. I came to regret the choice and got divorced, violating a profound cultural taboo. In 2002, in Karachi, Pakistan, covering the region post-9/11, I became pregnant. According to Pakistan’s Islamic laws of morality, I was a criminal because I wasn’t married. I left the country as soon as possible, and I decided to have my baby after I was long gone — and safe. The next year, the men at my hometown mosque told my mother and me that we were causing “fitna” because we prayed in the main hall instead of in a segregated balcony for “sisters.” We refused to leave the hall.

Had it not been for the love and support of my parents, I might have given up on Islam. But I believe we can live as “reform-minded” Muslims, as Ms. Zoepf writes, and work toward an Islam in which women can live with dignity and equality. The lives of so many depend on it.

Asra Q. Nomani, a former WSJ reporter, is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam.

— The Wall Street Journal

3 1389 January 24, 2016 at 9:24 pm

@ John,

What does that supposed to mean?

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