I Wish He Hadn’t Said That

With friends like Dean Obeidallah, Islam does not need enemies. In a post at The Daily Beast he writes

Look, there’s no such thing as “radical Islam.” There is only one Islam. But there are radical Muslims. And there are Muslims who engage in terrorist acts

There are plenty of other bloopers in the post but that’s the one that nettled me. Consider this from Pew Research on opinion in the Muslim world:

In most countries where the survey asked Muslims questions about religious extremism more than 75% say suicide bombing or other violence against civilians is rarely or never justified.

But substantial minorities in several countries think violence against civilians is at least sometimes justified

In Egypt, a country with a population of 82 million, that minority numbers about 24 million people. In Bangladesh, a country of 156 million, the number is 41 million. Using rough numbers of about a quarter of the total number of Muslims in the world that would mean that about 400 million Muslims believe in using violence against civilians. If even 1% of those who say that are willing to put their beliefs into practice that means there are 4 million “radical Muslims”. And that’s assuming that those who say they oppose the use of violence are telling the truth. The phenomenon of people telling pollsters what they think the pollster wants to hear is well-documented.

If anything that supports the view that those in the West who are alarmed about violent Muslims are being prudent.

His example from the United States is the Klu Klux Klan. Is he seriously contending that a quarter of Americans today sympathize with the KKK? That requires more than a blithe assertion. I think it’s a baldfaced lie.

Additionally, I think that there’s a debate going on in the West. If there is only “one Islam” but a substantial proportion of Muslims profess a belief in political violence to achieve their ends, how is that to be reconciled with the claims of the others that they don’t? If those who don’t refuse to characterize those who do as unIslamic, what should we believe?

29 comments… add one
  • MattT Link

    What percentage of US Christians polled consider strikes against civilian infrastructure targets, and collateral damage, acceptable in at least some circumstances? “More rubble, less trouble” is not an unpopular view.

  • I give up. How many American Christians support the deliberate targeting of civilians (which is the question at hand)? I would have no problem in asserting that they weren’t Christians.

  • Guarneri Link

    Hey Matt, I heard some Christians willfully sneeze on people standing in checkout lines, but Muslims, bless their hearts, wear those protective veils.

    It’s just as wicked as it seems.

  • MattT Link

    “How many American Christians support the deliberate targeting of civilians (which is the question at hand)?”

    If the military is doing the targeting, about 58%. If individuals are doing the targeting, about 26%, which is similar to the figures for Muslims in other countries.

  • MattT Link

    …..and I’d guess that if the US didn’t enjoy such a monopoly on military options, the acceptance of targeting by individuals would be much higher.

  • joe Citizen Link

    Ah….hello Dave. Do you remember Hiroshima? Nagasaki? Dresden? Just to name a few of the most obvious examples…
    What percentage of Christian Americans believe that the deliberate targeting of these civilian population centers was justified?

  • GW Link

    I read Obeidallah’s article as being an attempt to immunize the Islamic religion from any association with terrorism. The historical ignorance the author displays is vast. Islam from its conception has been a political system every bit as much as it’s been a religious one. When a Muslim goes to war or commits terrorism in order to create a Caliphate, he is acting in accordance with Islamic teachings. As Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini famously said, “Islam is political or it is nothing.”

    The divide in the West is between the Wahhabi traditionalists and those, like Zhudi Jassar, who stand opposed to “political Islam” and want to see a wall between Mosque and state.

  • And I’d say that those who support the deliberate targeting of civilians are un-Christian. Fortunately, our military goes to very great lengths to select legitimate military targets and avoid killing or injuring citizens to the greatest degree possible. James Joyner, a former artilleryman, has written on this subject extensively if you’re interested.

  • GW Link

    Matt T, Joe Citizen: You’re kidding, I hope, if you are trying to establish moral relevance between Islam and Christianity based on polls of attitudes concerning civilian targeting and collateral damage. Leaving aside the fact that those are tactical considerations, the definitive question is how many Christians support an offensive war to impose a Christian theocracy? Virtually every Islamist spilling blood today (and for the past 1,400 years) is motivated to create a new Caliphate under Islamic rule.

  • joe Citizen Link

    Furthermore, I find your interpretation of the article to be tortured in the extreme.
    The point of the article was NOT that there is no cause for alarm regarding violence coming from Muslims. The point was to deny that this threat comes from Islam as a religion, rather than from radical political Muslims.

    When you write:”If anything that supports the view that those in the West who are alarmed about violent Muslims are being prudent.” – that is not inconsistent at all with what he writes in his article. He identifies and criticizes violent Muslims. Most of his article is a long list of outrages committed by these people. How can you claim ghe is doing anything other than acknowledging what a danger they are? He is merely asking that you do not tar the religion itself with those deeds – no “radical Islam”, just “violent, radical Muslims”. You seem to have missed the whole point of his article.

    And his reference to the Klan did not contain, in any sense, a claim that support for the Klan was comparable to levels of support for violence or radicalism amongst Muslims. There was no comparison made or implied regarding the magnitude of the two “threats”. They were compared simply as examples of how radical political groups can co-opt the concepts of religion to sell their cause to the masses.
    It is entirely in your head that this comparison is interpreted as a quantitative claim – and then you go on to call him a liar! Bizarre.
    BTW, if you do want to impose a quantitative interpretation on the analogy, then you could at least be fair enough to compare support for the Klan in its heyday. There were millions of Klan members in this country in decades past, and vague support for some of their activities was probably many times more. Does all your outrage come down to a claim that “we might have been similar some years ago, but not today!”?

  • Tlaloc Link

    “the definitive question is how many Christians support an offensive war to impose a Christian theocracy?”


    “On Sunday, Bush warned Americans that ‘this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile.'”

    The entire basis of our war in Iraq was that we god fearing white people were finally going to civilize those “barbarians” and impose on them our form of government.

  • Tlaloc Link

    ” If there is only “one Islam”…”

    Obviously there’s more than one Islam. The Shia Sunni rift is more than enough evidence of that, and there are a thousand little factions within each…just like every other faith.

  • TastyBits Link

    The problem is the organized radicals, and without government support, they have natural limits. Islam as a religion does not have a Catholic Church as a non- or extra-governmental center. Instead, the various Islamic countries are able to use the religion as a tool for power.

    You can whip up demonstrations over internet films the protesters have never seen, but using suicide bombers as pilots and tankers is not effective. You lose a lot of valuable equipment and trained personnel. Furthermore, all dictators know that fanatics are apt to hate you as much as anybody else, and they have enough sense not to give them really nasty weapons.

    There are Islamist radicals who are committing terrorist acts for Islam, and these people are a problem. There are organizations to plan, train, and fund these Islamist radicals and terrorist acts, and these organizations claim to be doing so for Islam. This may be somewhat true, but large sustainable organizations operate by the rules of power.

    What I find amusing is that many of the same people who have no problem denouncing Christianity cannot bring themselves to admit the obvious.

  • joe Citizen Link

    I don’t quite understand why you call out Matt and I for opining about levels of popular support for violence. We were not trying to establish this as a standard – that was Dave who raised the issue. We were just responding to what I consider to be Dave’s blindness regarding the levels of support amongst Christians.

    As to you new question – I think that as of today, there are very few, if any, Christians who advocate using violence to impose Christianity on non-believers. Unlike in the recent past. You have heard of Western colonialism, haven’t you? How for several centuries the armed forces of Europe (and sadly even the USA for a while), conducted a joint effort with the commercial interests and the missionary corp to establish political control over such vast parts of the world that the sun literally never set on the Christian colonial empires.
    Now don’t get me wrong. I am glad we stopped. And I strongly oppose the efforts of today’s religious fighters. Lets not pretend however, that this is behavior unknown on our side of things.

    And I disagree with your claim about the motivations of all the violent Muslims. The decades-long Palestinian movement, for example, has been about securing political control over their homeland, not establishing some Caliphate. But I guess you did refer to “Islamists” who all are trying for a caliphate, so perhaps your claim might be true merely by definition. The PLO et al are not “islamists” but merely Muslims who use violence.

  • Tlaloc, above, got the point of this post. If there is one Islam and the terrorists are Muslims who are professing their religion through their terrorism, then the linked article is fatuous. Look at the title, for goodness sake.

    I recognize that Muslims are very much disinclined to declare that other Muslims are, in fact, not Muslims (an impediment Christians do not have about their coreligionists) but that’s the position they’re in. They cannot have it both ways.

  • Ken Hoop Link

    Then again, check the record Dave. The Pope condemned the Iraq War as immoral. America’s most “serious” Christians supported it.


    Libertarian Greeenwald, who has also been published occasionally in American Conservative, puts it in balance.

  • ... Link

    Am I to understand this was cross-posted at OTB?

  • joe Citizen Link

    Sorry, but it really seems as though some folks are determined to denounce this article, irrespective of what it actually says.

    Tlaloc and DS, y’all REALLY think that the author is unaware of the Shia-Sunni divide? Or the differences between Islamic practices in (e.g.) Saudi Arabia vs. Indonesia? Really? I mean, the guy is a Muslim himself. Think it just slipped his mind?

    Would it not occur to you rather, that when he writes “there is only one Islam” that he means something very different from what you reflexively assume?
    I mean really now. What kind of serious reading is it to jump to an interpretation of an author’s statement that is blatently absurd? A cheap excuse to dismiss and denounce?

    Seems pretty clear to me that he means that there are not different Islams, but rather different interpretations of Islam. That is entirely consistent with the point of his article – that the radicalism and the violence emerges from the hearts of extremist political actors who are interpreting and using the religion, rather than from the religion itself.
    I don’t see why y’all are struggling with this. This is no different than the argument made by many, including GWB and Obama, about how the terrorist are hijacking a religion.

    His (rather obvious) point repeated: Focus your fire on the Muslims who are being radical and violent, and do not focus on attacking the religion itself – which the phrase “radical Islam” certainly appears to do.

  • Am I to understand this was cross-posted at OTB?

    No. Somewhat to my surprise it was linked at memeorandum.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Tlaloc, Do you seriously think Bush was calling for a religiously inspired holy war against Muslims? (And that his subsequent retraction of the term “crusade” and continuous statements that the U.S. is not at war with Islam, are deceptions?) I think he used “crusade” in its generic sense as a sustained effort (e.g., the mayor is on a crusade against tanning salons and soft-drinks). It was a stupid term to use, given that usage is not international. Or are you one of those people that think in terms of dog whistles?

  • PD Shaw Link

    I like this GWB quote better: “Islam is a vibrant faith. Millions of our fellow citizens are Muslim. We respect the faith. We honor its traditions. Our enemy does not. Our enemy doesn’t follow the great traditions of Islam. They’ve hijacked a great religion.”

    To study the Crusades is to realize how primitive the Europeans were at that time and how primitive (note Cannibalistic). The “Crusades through Arab Eyes” is a good book, which identifies the “Franks” as they were called as being seen as essentially another barbarian invasion in a region full of tribal movements.

    But the quote gets at the core issue that the jihadists spread their influence by innovation within a religion. There is a distinctly religious component to this crisis, which I unfortunately don’t know how outsiders could address, other than to give voice to the Muslim community leaders in opposition, but I don’t think ignoring or lying about the religious component could ever be useful.

  • which I unfortunately don’t know how outsiders could address

    That’s the key point, PD.

  • steve Link

    “And I’d say that those who support the deliberate targeting of civilians are un-Christian.”

    Dresden to Tokyo to the more modern examples in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then you just make the argument they aren’t really Christians when they kill civilians. Nice variant on the no true scotsman argument. In sheer numbers over the last 20-30 years we Christians (except we really aren’t Christians when we kill people) have killed way more civilians. Actually, through most of history I suspect the very large majority of people have thought that “violence against civilians is at least sometimes justified”. Poor metric.

    Oh, and let’s no limit it to the US. The mass rapes and killings in Bosnia should come to mind. Good Catholics and Orthodox by day, then they aren’t anymore when they are raping and killing.

    400 million radical Muslims by your metric, yet the numbers actually engaged in combat number in the thousands.


  • Nice variant on the no true scotsman argument.

    Nonsense. You can still be a Scotsman and advocate unScotsmanlike things (whatever they might be) but you cannot be a Christian without practicing Christianity. And practicing Christianity does not include the wanton killing of innocents.

  • PD Shaw Link

    steve is being purposely obtuse. I’m sure he realizes that the war bombings were not seen or promoted as Christian liturgy. 9-11 was draped in Islamic theatre, and those who don’t realize it, are either completely disinterested (ignorant) or find the reality too inconvenient to their ideological priors.

  • Let me try to put it another way. Violent radicals move among Muslim populations as fish swim in the sea. Muslim populations are the source that violent radicals use for funding, foot soldiers (as some distraught American and European parents have learned to their sorrow), and shelter when they are on the run. Muslims, generally, will not be allowed to be disinterested bystanders. They will either side with the forces that oppose the violent radicals or they will side with the radicals.

    My objection to Mr. Obeidallah’s post is that, rather than exculpating Muslims, he is putting them clearly in the crossfire.

  • steve Link

    PD-A bit, but then the bombings were also ordered by people who explicitly claim to be Christians. Who are universally, sometimes derisively, acknowledged to be Christians. Who claim that faith informs their values. That they pray to God for direction in their decisions. Christians killing for the sake of Christianity and Christians killing because their values allow them to do is a difference with a very marginal distinction, especially when we are so good at it.

    It was Mao, IIRC, who coined the term about insurgents swimming among the population. Not Muslims. Insurgents of all faiths, or no faith, have done the same. Like most peasant populations, those in China were not violent radicals.

    But going back to your original claim, that Americans need to be prudent about Muslims in general because some support violence against civilians sometimes, you remain on weak ground. 4 million violent radicals? Where? Those killings are really taking place in the ME (defined broadly), and as you know are usually tied up with ethnicity and other causes. As was pointed out in the original article, in 2013 more people were killed in the US by kids accidentally shooting people than by Muslim terrorists. In a country with somewhere between 3-7 million Muslims that is very rare. Be prudent about the fundamentalist Muslims in our country? Sure. Worry about the large majority that are either fairly secular or are not in the radicalized groups? Don’t see it.


  • TastyBits Link


    You really should to get over your Mao fetish. It is one thing for a college sophomore, but it is another for a grown man to be worshiping a mass murderer.

    Mao’s put out a lot of bullshit to inspire idiots to get him into power, and once he was in power, he murdered these fanatics. This is an old technique. You cannot run anything according to the ideals, but the fanatics do not get this. (See the Tea Party.) The true believers must be purged, and the ideology is thrown out the window.

    You could expand your repertoire. Charlie Manson was just trying to thin the herd. Jeffrey Dahmer was trying to get an alternative source of food. John Wayne Gacy was trying to show the dangers of over breeding.

  • TastyBits Link

    In the article, the writer complains that the media does not portray ISIS as barbarians engaging in barbaric acts. He also is upset because the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are referred to as Islamic. Next we will have people upset that members of the KKK are called Klansmen.

    If the media did portray ISIS as barbarians, the writer’s article would be complaining about everybody thinking Muslims were all barbarians. The problem is with him. He is ashamed of the people in his religion, and everybody else is required to change to make him feel better. Here is my solution – grow up. Put on your big boy pants, and stop sniveling like a bitch.

    If the writer does not want ISIS or radical Islam or Islamic radicals associated with Islam, it is the job of Muslims to do this.

    In the US, the vast majority of people understand that black leaders do not condone nor encourage rioting, looting, or any non-peaceful protesting, but they also know that the black population is unhappy with a lot of conditions. People understand that the incidents of rioting, looting, and violence are isolated, and contrary to the claims of some, the number people who do not know this are small.

    In the US, most Americans think that almost all Muslims in the US are normal sane people, but they happen to have a different religion. They may think the religion is strange, but as long as they (Muslims) are not bothering anybody, there is no reason to bother them. Again, there are outliers in each group.

    Nobody is confusing radical Islam or Islamic radical for all Muslims or the Islamic religion, and everybody knows it. This is a diversionary tactic to keep the actual discussion of why Islam and Islamic keeps being rightly paired with radical, and how does Islam as a religion fit into the Western liberal democratic framework.

    Islam as a religion does it aspire to liberal ideals, but in the paleo-liberal framework, freedom of thought was one of the highest ideals. As long as you did not physically harm anybody else, you were free to think as you chose. Not all cultures were equal, but all were welcome. Islam could function in this framework.

    In the neo-liberal framework, all cultures are equal, but not all cultures are welcome. This is not a problem for traditional European derived cultures, but it poses a problem for non-European cultures. Islam cannot exist. It is not liberal, and it does not intend to change. Neo-liberals are in a box.

    To accept Islam as a legitimate culture is to accept the non-liberal Islamic values as legitimate, or Islamic culture can be not accepted as legitimate. Islamic culture can be required ti change before it will be accepted, but this requirement would be colonizing their culture. The neo-liberals would be cultural imperialists. They would be stealing Islamic culture for Western consumption.

    To provide a special carve out for Islam would provide an opportunity for other cultures to demand special carve outs. The use of Christian misdeeds is an attempt to provide a basis.

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