Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are Christian Extremists The Same As Islamic Extremists?

Just So We're Clear: 99% Wouldn't Be High Enough
Recently a poll taken in Europe tried to assess the degree and pervasiveness of Islamic fundamentalism amongst Muslims. The top-line results were noteworthy: European Muslims were pretty fundamentalist compared to Christians and their beliefs were not "politically correct." Here are two charts:

Assuming the methodology is sound (The Omnivore has no idea--the sample size was apparently 9000 people in phone interviews) and that the graphs represent actual data (The Omnivore has not analyzed it himself) this is striking. European Muslims--some immigrants, some not--are comparatively far more radicalized (for lack of a better term) than their Christian counterparts. Even more disturbing: it isn't just the old.
The most striking finding, going against decades of received wisdom, is that young Muslims are as fundamentalist as older Muslims. This is particularly surprising because, unlike the old Muslims, who are the original ‘guest workers’ who immigrated from Morocco and Turkey, the vast majority of young Muslims are born and raised in Western Europe. This finding goes against the received wisdom that ‘immigrants’ have assimilated by the third generation; a process that used to hold up for most of the 20thcentury, but seems to have changed in the current interconnected world.
Coming off this report, Rachel Gillum fires back: There is no difference in religious fundamentalism between American Muslims and Christians. She shows a graph comparing the numbers of Christians and Muslims who believe the bible or the Koran is literally the word of God.
Finding: Fundamentalists Score Pretty Similarly
She attributes the yawning gap in Europe vs. the smaller gap in America to (a) American Christians are more fundamentalist than European ones (narrowing the Christian-Muslim gap) and (b) American Muslims came to the US seeking advanced technical degrees and otherwise generally integrated at a higher economic status level.

On the threat-assessment side of the coin:
Koopmans argues that fundamentalism is associated with feelings that one’s “own group is seen as threatened by outside enemies.” Consistent with this expectation, the more fundamentalist, general American population is significantly more likely to believe that Islam encourages violence, compared to native Europeans. Similarly, European Muslims are 15 percent more likely to believe that the West is out to destroy Islam compared to American Muslims.
Can We Compare Christian 'Radicalism' to Islamic 'Radicalism?'
In the comments section I found this:
Except Christian extremism IS the same as Muslim extremism. It simply doesn't get written about, since America doesn't consider Christians to be the "boogeyman," they way we think of Muslims.  [ Lists several examples ]. Whether or not you admit it, Christian extremists are every bit as bad as Muslim ones, they simply don't get written about, and if they do, the Christian part gets ignored.
I think this is a position that is often taken, to some degree, in the general public discourse--that it's reporting and perception that makes the distinction and not the baseline facts. Is that true, though? Is it the case that Christian extremism is the same as Muslim extremism? And, closer to home, is it true that American fundamentalist Muslims are just like American fundamentalist Christians?

Christian vs. Muslim 'Extremism'
The problem with addressing the first question is that you first have to establish a baseline of "what is extreme."  In 2007, in Sudan, a school teacher allowed her class to name a teddy bear 'Muhammad.' This was considered an insult to the prophet and she was sentenced to 40 lashes or six months in prison. She was released (Presidential Pardon)--but there were active, populist calls for her death.

Is this behavior extreme? By western standards, yes. On the other hand, (a) nothing actually happened to her and (b) there is no shortage of travesties of justice or even ugly populist outrage in Christian nations world wide and even in the West.

What data-points can we use for "extreme behavior" that are related specifically to the religions in question? Here are three I've come up with:

  1. Criminalizing--especially with the death penalty--homosexuality
  2. Honor killings of women
  3. Commonly cited examples of extremism according to Google between Christianity and Islam
The methodology here is to look at each example and try to decide if one set of behavior is more extreme than the other.

Criminalizing Homosexuality
Uganda there is a Christianity-based push for execution of homosexuals. American mega-church pastor Rick Warren has come under fire for tacitly supporting the law (he does major outreach in Uganda and had notably not spoken against it--until under pressure he did). The law is, at the time of this writing, pending decision.

So starting with this example, which religions are more extreme when it comes to being gay?

Here is a world map color-coded by treatment of homosexuality.
We Should Add Russia (Anti-Homosexual Propaganda) and Uganda Where A Death-Sentence Law Is Up For Ratification (Also, Weirdly, One Of The Three Countries Where More Than 10% Of Muslims Think It's OK To Be Gay--12%)

The "Death Penalty List:" Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, Sudan — plus parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

Compare to a Religious map in general:
There's Some Correlation But It Isn't 1:1
We can see that death penalty nations with the exception of Uganda (which hasn't done it yet) are almost all Muslim (Nigeria is 50% Muslim / Christian as of 2010). The nations where same-sex relationships are criminalized are a mix of Christian, Muslim, and other--but there's that big central belt of Muslim nations where being gay is some kind of crime.

What can we make of this one factoid? The Omnivore's take-away is that while neither Christianity nor Islam looks favorably on homosexuality, it is considerably more okay to criminalize it and execute people for it under Islam.

That is a measure by which Islam is more "extreme" in general.

Honor Killings
Honor killing is the practice of a family (usually the male patriarch) killing a person (usually a woman or girl) who has 'had sexual relations' outside of marriage. That 'sexual relations' bit is in scare-quotes because it includes being raped. In this case the killing--in many cases with additional abuse--is done to 'preserve' the honor of the family.

This is an abhorrent practice by any civilized standard.

Does Islam Allow Honor Killings?
The first question is "Does Islam allow this?" The answer is basically no. That is to say that (a) There is widespread public condemnation of the practice and (b) there is the assertion that it is both older than Islam and is not supported by the Quran text. The Omnivore is not qualified to judge the religious text exactly--but feels it is safe to say that "Modern Islam"--and especially American Islam--as a religion forcefully condemns the act.

Some countries that practice Sharia law (Islamic law) do basically allow honor killing under some conditions (i.e. the legal code explicitly exempts killing in the case of, for example, adultery).

What About Christianity?
Christianity also does not scripturally allow the killing of  women--but, apparently, Haiti, a Christian nation, pardons a man if he catches his wife in the act of cheating on him. There are also a few specific references to Jewish or Christian fathers killing their daughters for taking boyfriends outside of marriage.

Still, only in some Hindu countries (India) was there any notable reference to religiously-driven killing of women to preserve honor as a practice supported by the populace at large.

On The Other Hand
The world-wide support for honor killings in the Muslim according to the Pew poll is a heck of a lot higher than zero. Especially disturbing is that there's a non-negligible gap between women and men: If a woman has committed the crime they're more likely to approve of killing her.

A high of 82% (Azerbaijan, Indonesia) for NEVER permissible mean that the best it gets for women is 18% of the people questioned thought  it was okay to kill you.

Rebuttals To Honor Killing
There are a few rebuttals that The Omnivore could find. These are:

  1. Statistically speaking (5K killings per year according to the UN) both Western and Muslim populations kill female members of their families at the same rate. Well, maybe--but killing female members of your own family doesn't have 18%+ popular support across the Christian nations. This argument is clever but intentionally misses the context.
  2. A study of three Canadian honor killings concluded that the perpetrators were all mentally ill. Reading the actual link itself, though, this looks like an excuse (the killings were carried out by both a father and brother in one case and note that while the kills were "considered appropriate" by their cultures they simply didn't avail themselves of mental health assistance). If this is the best that can be done as an 'Insanity plea excuse' it might be better to shut up altogether.
  3. According to one online Islamic law resource, it isn't really okay to kill a woman for adultery--well, uhm, under some conditions it might be--but mostly it's like 40 lashes and banishment for a year. But even if you are supposed to kill them it should be done by an agent of the court. Uh huh.

While the command structure of Islam is in the right place and there were no solid on-line voices I could find supporting the practice of honor killing it seems that the general consensus is that honor killing has statistically significant popular support in the Muslim world. The Omnivore finds this extreme.

Commonly Cited Examples of Extremism
Using Google as a tool, what does the Internet mean when discussing Christian or Islamic 'extremism.' Here is a timeline of Islamic terror attacks. Notable, commonly cited examples are:

  • Osama Bin Laden and 9/11
  • Suicide bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan. Attempted bombings (the Christmas day air-line), and the Fort Hood shooting.
  • The 2004 and 2005 Madrid and London transport bombings
  • Death threats and riots such as Salman Rushdie, the Mohammad cartoons, the killing in Amsterdam, and so on.
Here is a list of Christian terrorist acts (the 'worst'). Notable, commonly cited examples are:
  • Abortion clinic bombings and shootings
  • Mass shooting of Sikh Temple in Wisconsin (2012), Shootings at a Unitarian Church. The Norway shootings.
  • Tim McVeigh (1995) and the Olympics bombing (1996) 
  • The KKK, Stormfront, and Christian Identity (Hutaree, etc.) extremists 
  • The Crusades (also, to a degree, the IRA)
One of these groups is not like the other--and while there may be numerous other examples, the categories commonly found do not match up. In the case of Islamist terror there are: state sponsors (Afghanistan, Iran), global organizations with millions of dollars devoted to terror (Osama, Al Queda), wide spread popular support, and high body counts.

In the Christian category there are lone or almost-lone actors in terms of operational execution, discredited or fringe groups, and generally small body counts (Oklahoma being an exception). There is also the Crusades--which are often mentioned--but were quite a long time ago comparatively.

Both the Ft. Hood shootings and the Norway shootings are more or less equally extreme (arguably the Norway shootings are more extreme: they were against soft targets) but the organizational support and success rate / body-count for Islamic terror far outstrips Christian terror as a practical matter. By a matter of impact (if not morality), the Islamic terror examples are more extreme.

American Fundamentalists

But what about the assertion that American fundamentalists are the same in both religions? Certainly guys like Tim McVeigh are murderous bombers. So was the Ft. Hood shooter. Certainly they both had influence from other sources (which represent the thought-leadership of the movements). Both were, more or less, lone-wolf operations (and certainly were not heavily financed, for example).

They're comparable. This, however, is the extreme end of the bell-curve. The very, very extreme end (there is exactly one McVeigh, there are ... well, pretty few Ft. Hood-style incidents depending on how you count them).

At this point, though, we have to ask what exactly we're going to believe. The FBI says it's stopping a steady trickle of wannabe Islamic bombers. We don't know if this is something closer to entrapment or not (stories vary). Again, let's look at some numbers.

Here are the American Muslim numbers from the Pew Poll. 81% of US Muslims think suicide bombing of civilians is never justified. Good to know. On the other hand, if 19% of US Muslims think that sometimes bombing civilians is okay then while that's a pretty small number percentage wise--and the conditions might be really rare--you are still dealing with a smaller slice of the population that US Christians who think that.

It's An Awful Graph. Bad X-Axis! No Cookie!
David Hume, writes that, based on the Pew research, highly Conservative Christians compare best to Moderate Muslims

That is: the degree of religiously based thinking and action for a "Moderate Muslim" is far closer to what we'd expect in terms of extremism from a highly conservative Christian.

I can't speak to his math or method--he doesn't explain it--but the charts I have seen appear to bear that out to some extent.

If this is true then I would say "No." American fundamentalist Muslims are probably more radicalized than American fundamentalist Christians. While, perhaps, there is a closer match-up along some spectra and at certain McVeigh-like data points, when you expand the "error bars" to take in more of the population I'm not sure I agree that it's all the same. 

Even here in the US.

A Final Important Point
The idea that Christian extremism and Islamic extremism might not be the same is NOT an excuse for posting blanket condemnations of Islam on Facebook. That is broad-brush stupidity and simply speaking is not okay. The idea (and this article is based on, what? a couple hours of research?) that there is stronger strain of radicalization in Islamic culture than Christian--and mostly Western Christian--culture (there's all kinds of high murder-rate stuff happening in strongly Christian Latin America, for example) is a position against taking the "There IS no difference" or "It's ALL in the reporting" statements at face value.

Numbers will never tell the whole story and statistical profiling of human beings leads to catastrophic injustices when applied as a policy. Even if X is more radical than Y on some kind of world-wide probabilistic basis turning that into an affront to specific individuals (that is: people you might be actually interacting with) is what it has always been: finding an excuse to be an asshole.

1 comment:

  1. Like the closing sentence.
    I wonder though... why does news, media, etc, refer to this stuff as "killings", and not "murders". McVeigh murdered. Al Qeida murders. A bus blowing a tire and rolling down the mountain side kills.
    Haven't figured that out why the reluctance to attach the more accurate (even if more pejorative) word.