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A basic mandate is to “not bear false witness.” Yet we live in an “information age” where viewpoints abound. While that can be enriching it is also dangerous because not every claim has merit. In this section we attempt to filter out some of the clearer distortions that have proliferated regarding Muslims.
[Much of the following information, though not all, is from the book, Doug Saunders: The Myth of the Muslim Tide (2012). The book’s team of researchers rigorously attempted to uncover as factual data as possible (Saunders is an award winning journalist).
Saunders states that he does not personally admire Islam, is not religious and does not want any greater role of religion in the public sphere. He states he would be deeply troubled if the Muslim-tide arguments held up. But the research shows that they do not, and was based on extensive research on Muslims and terrorism, by such groups as the British MI5, Pew Center, scholars, etc.]
This section will look at three of the most common clusters of distortion. There are many other topics. If you find a missing area that is a pressing concern, please Contact Us for further exploration.
The basic outline will be to present the overall cluster and then break it into a couple of parts. In each case, the distortion and corrective will be given. For a distortion to gain traction, it usually contains a grain of truth (which is then surrounded, either through ignorance or malicious intent, by falsehoods, fabrications or unfounded projections). Samples are given.
One must recognize that because there are now books on these topics, each statement is a vast simplification. At the very end of this section, there is a “Back-and-Forth” section. It will go through a sample “Yes, but . . .” to one of the clusters. The material presented is well-grounded. But it cannot provide all answers. Thus people could genuinely still have concerns. There is also a “When to Draw the Line” section to help give a feel for when a continuation of the dialogue is possible and when it is best to move on. Finally, at an even deeper level is a brief exploration the gives further considerations including an entire Industry of Fear which is largely responsible for perpetuating these distortions.
A. Distortive Claim: The Rapidly Growing Muslim Population Will Overrun Canada Like It Did In Europe; The Muslim majority will then want to put Sharia law into effect.
Grain of truth: The Muslim population in the Western European countries is growing; Sharia law is part of Islam and attempts have been made to apply it within community-based conflict resolution, etc.
Corrective on Explosive Growth: The following link from The Economist shows the discrepancy between reality and perception in relation to Muslim growth rates in Western Europe.
For instance, in 2010 France had the largest percentage Muslim population at 7%. By 2014 it had grown, but only by 1%. Yet when asked in 2014 the current percentage of Muslims in France, the average guess was 31%. Thus a 1% gain felt like a 24% gain, and thus it felt like almost one-third of France was now Muslim. This is an amazing discrepancy over 4 years!
There are many factors to cause such a distortion, as indicated in the Saunders link (http://dougsaunders.net/2013/09/10-myths-about-muslim-immigrants-in-the-west/). Names such as Geert Wilders have been long time misleading sources (he is currently on trial for inciting racial hatred). The point is that those misperceptions travel across to North America. There have been numerous mass emails claiming grossly inflated numbers, and using logic based on the cherry-picking of facts and impressions.
If one is tempted to say that even a 1% growth in four years is alarming, the Saunders book demonstrated that the rise is diminishing – the immigrant birth rate is declining over time, and the traditional base rate has very slowly risen. Reinforcing that notion, a major authoritative Pew study (April 2015) indicated that over the next 40 years (2010 to 2050) Muslims in Europe will only increase about 4% (to 10%), while the US will only increase 1% (to 2.1%).
Corrective on Sharia Law: During the 1990s and later there were several initiatives in Western countries, some of them successful, to create Islamic tribunals that could be used by believers to settle disputes and marriage issues among themselves according to religious law.
These voluntary tribunals, modelled after existing religious panels used by Orthodox Jews and Roman Catholics, have been extremely controversial. This has occurred in various forms in the US, Canada and Britain. In all cases, the issue has not been about the fear of Sharia law, but the general one of any religion overextending its decision powers into state affairs. In Ontario, where Catholics and Jews had such power for decades, when the Muslims requested it, the eventual decision was to ban it for all religions. Thus there will be no such changing of national laws.
B. Distortive Claim: Muslim mosques are networks of jihadi extremist indoctrination and recruitment.
Grain of truth: There has been news footage over the years of people emerging after Friday prayer from Middle Eastern mosques, and inflamed by the “sermon” given inside, go on a street protest or rampage. In Britain and elsewhere, there has been on rare occasion an inflammatory imam or mosque. There are clear examples of Western-born people who have converted to Islam and have become violent extremists, in particular for ISIS, and have left to join ISIS, including both men and women.
Corrective to Indoctrination Claim: (a) North American imams do not preach violent extremism nor are the mosques gathering places for violence. Prior to a major British MI5 study it was assumed that the more conservative the imam/mosque, the more likely that they would lean toward extremist or jihadi tendencies. But the study indicated there was no correlation between fundamentalist views and extremist violence. If anything conservative imams were also some of the most vigilant against extremism because they had a strict sense of Islam and violence did not fit that sense (with the rarest exceptions).
So in North America, the mosque and imams are not the instigators of violent extremism. It turns out that it is quite a different set of factors that leads one toward violence (specifically one with political roots) and those factors worry imams and mosques as much as anyone else, explored further below.
(b) At least 85% of the victims of Islamic terrorism are Muslim. Most Muslims are repulsed by such acts.
(c) On the broader question of whether extremists are carrying out the unspoken wishes of Muslims, the research is clear. Even in Europe, when asked if “attacks on civilians are morally justified” Muslims have no higher rate of saying “yes” than the French, German or British public at large (generally 1%).
Corrective to Recruitment Claim: Mosques in North America are not recruiting young people to perform extremist acts of violence either domestically or abroad. Quite the opposite, they are alarmed when people come seeking this avenue, and are also alarmed by the power of the internet to lure youth into such distorted notions of Islam. Noted below, most Muslim terrorists do not come from a strong religious upbringing.
Saunders examined the MI5 study, a 2011 Whitehall report, a study by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (The Hague; Edwin Bakker) and a study by a CIA counterterrorism specialist (Marc Sageman).. Here are some findings:
a. There is no precise characterization of terrorists;
b. There is no strong link to poverty or lack of education – many come from at least a middle-class upbringing and most often a college education; most were employed though in low-income jobs;
c. Less than 20% were raised in religious Muslim households;
d. Almost 50% had a largely secular upbringing;
e. Over 30% were converts to Islam, mainly from Christian backgrounds;
f. In general their time between their return to religion and their political radicalization is short, suggesting some form of trigger.
g. Mark Fallon, a former US counterintelligence officer found that “. . . the trigger that turns someone to violence is a very personal one and is usually based on local conditions. The global environment is used to recruit these people, but it’s generally some local condition or individual event in that person’s life that turns them. It wasn’t about ideology; it wasn’t about theology; it was about identity.”
The suspects had come to their political convictions based on reading, Internet communication and contact with other political radicals in universities and prisons, not by way of influence from existing bodies of thought within Muslim communities.
More recently it has become clear that self-radicalization is occurring primarily via the internet. Done in the privacy of their own bedrooms or homes, they are beyond the moderating reach of educational systems, mosques, etc., which they shun. While it is too soon for extensive studies, it is clear that groups like ISIS have honed their skills at luring people with vulnerable personality profiles. This is a complex subject partly explored at www.UntilAll.org/Issueradicalization.htm.
C. Distortive Claim: Muslim leaders never condemn the violence and thus implicitly support it.
Grain of truth: The Muslim community as a whole was slow to respond visibly and vocally against terrorism.
Corrective: Slowness to respond should not be confused with any form of tacit acceptance of violence. Some of the slowness was a lack of understanding the mechanisms to effectively communicate to the media and non-Muslims. Firstly they themselves had to come to grips with this brutality based in the name of their religion. After that, their top priority was to speak out within their own communities. It was only after that that they came to understand the need, and develop the mechanisms, to effectively communicate to the broader community. They now have such organization as the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and so on.
Finally there is no central authority, such as in Roman Catholicism and the pope. Nonetheless there are highly regarded figures. One such figure, considered highly conservative by most North American standards, is the grand mufti of Egypt (this position has existed for 800 years), Sheikh Shawky Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam. Allam leads Dar El-Ifta, or the House of Fatwas, the premier authority in Islamic legal interpretations. He signed the following, which included a large list of other significant Muslim leaders.
If humans had infinite energy and time this section would not be needed. But we are finite and thus must make decisions on how long directly to pursue an activity. Thus this section simply provides a few thoughts to help reflect on possible reactions one may encounter and consideration of boundaries in pursuing the topic.
Every cluster given above is only a starter on the full picture. This section will give a couple of possible, genuine reactions one might encounter.
“Yes, but. . .”: One comment often cited in support of the Muslim-tide theory is that the most popular boy’s name in Britain is now Mohammed. The implication is that Muslims are swamping everyone else with children. But the explanation is straightforward: (a) Almost all Muslims call their sons some form of Mohammed; (b) in Britain, where such names as James or William used to be top of the list, there is now an explosion of more exotic names, thus diluting the number of traditional top names. Thus Mohammed is indeed the most common name, yet it made up only 1% of all male names in Britain.
“Yes, but. . .”: A statistic sometimes used to indicate that Muslims lean toward violence is that 8% of American Muslims feel that violence against civilian targets is “often or sometimes justified” if the cause is right. While that may sound alarming, the response given by non-Muslim Americans was 24%. Of course for a people promoting non-violence, the 24% figure may not be reassuring either, but this all indicates part of the problem related to the nature of the question being asked, in this case a general and vague one.
“Yes, but. . .”: in relation to the above example, a counter-reply has been “Yes, but the Muslims are likely hiding their true feelings and it would otherwise be an extremely high percentage.”
This last response highlights the issue of boundaries around dialogue. Everything presented in this resource has verifiable studies to support it. While no study is flawless, the overwhelming direction of the studies gives it credibility.
Dialogue must be grounded in such best perceptions. If the conversation strays, as above, into utter speculation, that does not mean the end of dialogue. The key remains whether it is a genuine reaction (if not then things are moving into manipulation, flippancy, etc.). As long as people are genuine in their concern, dialogue remains possible, in this case by exploring what is causing such unfounded projections. And to be clear, everyone needs to remain open – if a sole statistic is being used, then everyone should be open to exploring whether other studies exist to reinforce the case or refute it. [note: the examples given in the three “distortive” clusters above have much more solid backing in the book]. That said there are many further levels of back-and-forth on any of these topics. If interested, the next section does go one level deeper, including an exploration of an industry devoted to manipulating these fears.
This section is in progress. It will be available hopefully by April 19. Topics will include a couple of deeper distortive clusters. But more importantly it will clarify that the distortions do not simply come from casual disagreements but from a form of “Fear Inc.” - a deliberate, well-funded (over $40 million) small vocal minority who have been incredibly successful in playing on fear in the U.S. Particularily between 2002-2009. They have since been uncovered and some of their claims discredited. At the end I hope to better anchor the real issues in North American surrounding radicalization.
Muslim Relations - Correcting Distortions Toward Muslims