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Library of Law and Liberty

4/6/15 by David Conway

Since 9/11 numerous bookshave been written about religiously motivated terror. Many have been vitiatedby the excessive keenness of their authors to play down the role of Islam inmotivating it or else to exaggerate that of other religions in instigating it.

One such author is MarkJuergensmeyer. Widely heralded as an authority on “Christian terrorism”,Juergensmeyer has described Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as a Christianterrorist, without any evidence religion entered into his motives for carryingout the bombing. He has similarly denied that the Muslim faith of the Tsarnevbrothers inspired them to carry out the Boston Marathon bombing.

In their book about religiousviolence and conflict, Juergensmeyer is rightly taken to task by its authors,Rodney Stark and Katie Corcoran, colleagues at the Institute for Studies ofReligion at Baylor University which also published it. Unencumbered byconstraints of political correctness, their self-appointed task is: “to imposethe discipline of real data on discussion of worldwide religious hostility. Howmany people are dying because of their faith? Where? Killed by whom? Why?”Adherents of Islam, Stark and Corcoran conclude, are by far the largestperpetrators of acts of religious terror.

They begin by delineating therelative size and geographical distribution of the various different worldfaiths today. Drawing on Gallup Poll surveys which exclude China on account ofits forbidding polling on such a sensitive issue, Christianity turns out by farthe world’s largest religion. Its nominal adherents constitute 40 per cent ofthe world’s total population (minus China’s). Following next at some distancebehind is Islam with 27 per cent, then Hinduism with 19 per cent, and afterthat Buddhism with 5 per cent. In last place is Judaism with a mere 0.3 percent. Other religions account for an additional 2 per cent, while those with noreligious affiliation form the remaining 6 per cent.

Christianity is similarly thelargest religion in terms of the active involvement of its adherents. As wellas the world’s largest religion, Christianity is also the one most widelyspread out. As our authors observe: “There are only trivial numbers of Muslimsin the Western Hemisphere, and in Eastern Asia, but there is no region withoutsignificant numbers of Christians… [e]ven in the Arab region of the Middle Eastand North Africa… although… probably only half as many [Christians] as livedthere a decade ago.”

Having said all that,Christians are predominantly located in North and South America, Europe, andSub-Saharan Africa. Muslims are largely concentrated in the Middle East andNorth Africa, South Central Asia, South Eastern Asia (Indonesia), and Sub-SaharanAfrica.

So much for the numbers anddistribution of the world’s different faithful. Which are most heavilyimplicated in religiously motivated violence, whether as perpetrators orvictims?

To establish a basis forglobal comparisons, our two authors decided to “attempt to assemble a list ofall attacks that occurred during 2012 that resulted in a fatality… motivatedprimarily by religious hostilities… [excluding] incidents… perpetrated bygovernment forces… [as well as] several thousand events for which religiousmotivation was not certain.”

Much to their consternation,Stark and Corcoran found: “nearly all cases involved Muslim attackers, and allthe rest were Buddhists.” As they report:

We searched diligently forincidents involving attacks committed by Hindus, Jews, Christians, or, for thatmatter, atheists… Finally, we did find three incidents in Nigeria in whichChristians killed Muslims… [in] reprisal for Muslim attacks on Christians,which have become commonplace in this large African nation… In the end, weassembled 810 incidents of religiously motivated homicides, in which 5,026people died.

As well as accounting forpractically all religiously motivated homicide in 2012, Muslims also accountedfor most of its victims too. Of the 5,026 fatalities, 3,774 were Muslim, 1,045Christian, 110 Buddhist, 23 Jews, 21 Hindus and 53 were secular. As Stark andCorcoran explain

The fact is that for all ofthe concern in the West… religious terrorism occurs almost exclusively withinIslam. Of the 810 incidents… 70 per cent took place in Muslim nations – a thirdin Pakistan alone. In addition, 75 per cent of the victims of religiousatrocities during 2012 were Muslims killed by Muslims.

Samuel Huntington oncefamously spoke of Islam’s “bloody borders”. It would also seem its interior noless fails to live up to its billing as Dar al-Salam (‘region of peace’). Atthe root of so much Muslim-on-Muslim violence lies the long-standing mutualantipathy between Sunni and Shi’ah which goes back to a seventh century dispute between Muhammad’s followers as towhich of them was to be his rightful successor or “caliph”, as successors to him were known. As our two authorsexplain:

The Sunni are by far thelarger group and dominant in most Muslim nations, while the Shi’ah are themajority in Iran and Iraq. In addition, both the Shi’ah and the Sunni haveproduced many additional sects, including the Sufis, Wahhabis, Ahmadi, andSalafi. … Relations among those groups remain so bitter that whenever officialrepression weakens, murderous conflicts erupt among them.

Next to fellow Muslims on theMuslim hit-list—or, more accurately, next to self-professed, but not true,Muslims in the eyes of their Muslim killers—are Christians, victims of twentyper cent (159) of the 810 incidents of religiously motivated homicideidentified by Stark and Corcoran as having occurred in 2012. Half took place inNigeria at the hands of the fanatical group who call themselves ‘Boko Haram’meaning “Western education is forbidden”.

After fellow Muslims and Christians,next in line for the chop in 2012 on account of their faith were Buddhists.“Seven per cent (58)… incidents… involved Buddhist victims. Nearly all of these(76 per cent) took place in Thailand… several provinces [of which contain] asubstantial Muslim population, although Thailand as a whole is more than 90 percent Buddhist… In addition, Muslims in Thailand often kill other Muslims forfailing to support jihad or for “heresies.”

Hindus were victims in 23 ofthe 810 incidents in 2012, although most such incidents involved a Muslimvictim too. Eleven of the 810 incidents involved a Jewish fatality only four ofwhich occurred in Israel.

At the root of all suchreligious violence, our authors contend, is what they term religiousparticularism and by which they mean a belief by the adherent of some faiththat it is the only true one, something all too easily assumed in the case ofall three Abrahamic faiths. As Stark and Corcoran observe: “particularisticreligions always contain the potential for dangerous conflicts becausetheological disagreements seem inevitable.” From this they infer that: “thedecisive factor governing religious hatred and conflict is whether, and to whatextent, religious disagreement – pluralism, if you will – is tolerated.”

The key, then, to endingreligious conflict, therefore, is for adherents of all particularistic forms offaith to be brought to tolerate those of other faith. No easy task. One ofStark and Corcoran’s more startling findings was that Muslims are not nearly asmoderate as polls at first suggest. While a majority of them have been found toconsider the destruction of the Trade Towers unjustified, the same polls revealthat, in many Muslim countries, only a very small minority believe jihadiscarried out the attack:

A Pew Research Survey ofseven Islamic nations conducted in 2011 found that only 28 percent of LebaneseMuslims believed that Arabs did it, and belief was lower elsewhere… [While a]Gallup World Poll … [found that] 22 percent of the world’s Muslims … [consider]that these events were justified… the large majority in each nation who thinksthe whole thing was staged by Americans is unlikely to think it justified.

In any event, the numbers ofMuslims who consider the events of 9/11 justified is alarmingly high:

[I]n several [Muslim]countries a very substantial minority agreed it was justified… In most of theIslamic nations in Africa and the Middle East, 20 to 30 per cent of Muslimsbelieve that the events of September 11th were justified… even 6 or 7 percent[of Muslims in Europe] supported the suicide attack.

The large number of Muslimswho approve of what happened on 9/11 cannot be explained by their lack ofeducation, since Gallup World Poll data reveal the same proportion ofcollege-educated Muslims approved as those without a high school education. Thesame holds true of their degrees of support for Sharia law being imposed onnon-Muslims. The respective figures in the two cases are 22 per cent androughly 40 per cent for both categories of Muslim.  As Stark and Corcoran sum up their findings:

[I]t is incorrect to claimthat the support of religious terrorism in the Islamic world is only… small…Granted, most citizens of Islamic nations do not commit such acts… theactivists enjoy more widespread public support than many have believed.

As to the consequences ofsuch religious fanaticism and intolerance, as well as bringing death (most ofit involving Muslims killed by Muslims), they bring fear and flight:

Christians are leaving NorthAfrica and the Middle East to escape vindictive Muslim majorities. Jews areleaving Europe to escape vindictive Muslim minorities… [T]he great majority ofthe more than million Iraqi refugees are Muslim as well.

Since the outbreak of thecivil war in Syria we can add a further estimated 3.8 million refugees.

Religious particular-ism neednot cause religious conflict; it can be combined with tolerance. Americaprovides living proof that it can, a society high in religious affiliation toparticularistic faiths, but low in religious conflict. The key to combiningsuch forms of faith and tolerance, according to Stark and Corcoran, is that noone religious denomination should be so powerful in a society as to be able tosucceed in imposing its version of religion on others. This requires both asecular state, meaning one that refuses to promote any one faith, plus so widea plurality of different faiths as preclude any from being to dominate therest.

It was Adam Smith, Stark andCorcoran conclude by observing, who first propounded this solution to theproblem of religious strife in commending pluralism and state neutrality inreligion. They quote as follows from Part 3 of the first chapter of the fifthbook of his Wealth of Nations:

The interested and activezeal of [the] religious… can be dangerous and troublesome only where there is,either but one sect tolerated in the society, or where the whole of a largesociety is divided into two or three great sects… But that zeal must bealtogether innocent where the society is divided into two or three hundred… ofwhich no one could be considerable enough to disturb the public tranquillity…

It is, of course, the UnitedStates which first instituted official religious state neutrality at thefederal level because of the plurality of its equally matched denominations.Religion has by no means been entirely banished from the public squares therebut rather assumes the form of civil religion, meaning “expressions of religionto which everyone (or nearly everyone) making up the public can assent.”

The sting in the tail, ofcourse, is that this arrangement is not readily exportable to those parts ofthe world which need it today. Yet at least America is proof that people ofdifferent faith can live in amity and peace. As Stark and Corcoran conclude intheir timely and instructive volume by observing: “here stands the Americanexample, giving the lie to any claims that an end to religious hostility isimpossible.”

David Conway

David Conway is a VisitingSenior Research Fellow at the Westminster-based social policy think-tankCivitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society which he joined in 2004 andwhere he worked full-time as a senior research fellow for five years, afterleaving academia following a thirty year career teaching Philosophy at variousBritish universities. Professor Conway’s numerous publications include AFarewell to Marx; Classical Liberalism: The Unvanquished Ideal; Free MarketFeminism; The Rediscovery of Wisdom; In Defence of the Realm; A Nation ofImmigrants? A Brief Demographic History of Britain; and Liberal Education andthe National Curriculum.

Assessing Religious Terror

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