Following Pope Benedict’sremarks on the relationship between faith and violence, a quiet conversation emerged. It highlighted a central question as the West increasingly attempts to engage the Muslim world: Is Islam especially prone to violence? So far, much of the conversation has focused on the violent reactions of some Muslims to the pope’s previous comments. But, there’s disturbing proof that a far deeper culture of violence pervades much of the Islamic world.
In a recent survey on global conflict, Monty Marshall and Ted Burr of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management found that of the 24 major armed conflicts taking place worldwide in 2005, more than half (13) involved Muslim governments or paramilitary groups on one or both sides of the fighting. What’s more, among six countries with “emerging armed conflicts,” four are predominantly Muslim and another, Thailand, involves a Muslim separatist movement.
Messrs. Marshall and Burr also rated 161 countries according to their capacity to avoid outbreaks of armed conflicts. Whereas 63 percent of non-Muslim countries were categorized as “enjoy[ing] the strongest prospects for successful management of new challenges,” just 18 percent of the 50 Muslim nations included were similarly designated. In addition, Muslim nations (those with at least 40 percent Muslim population) were two-and-a-half times more likely than non-Muslim nations to be considered “at the greatest risk of neglecting or mismanaging emerging societal crises such that these conflicts escalate to serious violence and/or government instability.”
This evaluation reveals the glaring reality that violence is a fact of life in many Muslim nations. But is Islam itself the impetus? Consider that a recent Pentagon intelligence analysis found that most Muslim terrorists say they are motivated by the Koran’s violent commands. The September 11 hijackers and London transit bombers made martyrdom videos in which they recited the Koran while talking of “sacrificing life for Allah.” British authorities also recovered martyrdom videotapes in the foiled transatlantic sky terror plot. Shamil Basayev, architect of the 2004 Beslan school massacre in Chechnya, referred to himself as “Allah’s slave.” Meanwhile, Genocidal Sudanese dictator Gen. Omar Bashir recently swore “three times in the name of Allah” that he would never allow international troops to enter Darfur. And the list goes on.
While Western liberals often insist that foreign occupation is at the root of Islamic violence, they conveniently ignore the fact that when the U.S.S. Cole was attacked, and the World Trade Center was on two separate bloody occasions, no such occupation was taking place.
We simply cannot overlook extremist interpretations of religion as a significant part of the problem when terrorists yell, “God is great!” as they decapitate their victims or blow themselves up in a crowded market.
But the Muslim world’s support of faith-based violence is not limited to governments and their non-state proxies. Consider a June Pew Global Attitudes poll that showed a majority of Muslims in Jordan, Egypt and Nigeria, as well as roughly a third in France, Spain and Great Britain, felt violence against civilians can be justified in order to defend Islam. Worse, a July 2005 poll found 22 percent of British Muslims said last summer’s rush-hour bombings of London’s metro system, which killed 52 people, were justified because of Britain’s support for the war on terror. This included 31 percent of young British Muslims.
Some Muslims’ appetite for destruction is not surprising given the ability of prominent Muslim leaders to foment hatred of the West. Following Pope Benedict’s September comments, Imams across the Middle East and North Africa issued fatwas for his death. Similar threats were made in advance of the pope’s visit to Turkey. Meanwhile in France, the Interior Ministry has announced that Muslims are waging an undeclared “intifada” against police, with attacks injuring an average of 14 officers a day. There are bright spots, of course. Several thousand Muslims in Kismayo, Somalia recently publicly protested the arrival of an al Qaeda-backed Islamic militia. But while experts assure us only a small percentage (perhaps 10 percent) of Muslims are willing to participate in terror, with 1.2 billion Muslims globally, that’s more than 100 million jihadists.
The most revealing aspect of the Islamic world’s reaction to Pope Benedict’s September remarks was that what enraged many of those who reacted violently was not the suggestion that Islam is violent, but rather the implied criticism of that violence. The West must recognize these violent outbursts for what they are: calculated acts of outrage meant not to refute but to intimidate non-Muslims into not speaking up at all. Last month, when a priest from the Syriac Orthodox Church in Mosul, Iraq was captured, his church complied with kidnappers’ demands to post signs denouncing the pope’s comments on Islam. The police found the priest’s decapitated body days later.
On the initial day of his highly anticipated visit to Turkey, Pope Benedict urged religious leaders to “utterly refuse to sanction” any form of violence in the name of faith. Sadly, with so many in the Islamic world agreeing that Westerners must “convert or die,” all signs point to more violence ahead.
Daniel Allott is a writer and policy analyst for American Values.