Contrary to what is alleged by people like Bill Maher, Muslims are not more violent than people of other religions. Murder rates in most of the Muslim world are very low compared to the United States.
As for political violence, people of Christian heritage in the twentieth century polished off tens of millions of people in the two world wars and colonial repression. This massive carnage did not occur because European Christians are worse than or different from other human beings, but because they were the first to industrialize war and pursue a national model. Sometimes it is argued that they did not act in the name of religion but of nationalism. But, really, how naive. Religion and nationalism are closely intertwined. The British monarch is the head of the Church of England, and that still meant something in the first half of the twentieth century, at least. The Swedish church is a national church. Spain? Was it really unconnected to Catholicism? Did the Church and Francisco Franco's feelings toward it play no role in the Civil War? And what's sauce for the goose: much Muslim violence is driven by forms of modern nationalism, too.
I don't figure that Muslims killed more than a 2 million people or so in political violence in the entire twentieth century, and that mainly in the Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988 and the Soviet and post-Soviet wars in Afghanistan, for which Europeans bear some blame.
Compare that to the Christian European tally of, oh, lets say 100 million (16 million in WW I, 60 million in WW II - though some of those were attributable to Buddhists in Asia - and millions more in colonial wars.)
Belgium - yes, the Belgium of strawberry
beer and quaint Gravensteen castle - conquered the Congo and is estimated
to have killed off half of its inhabitants over time, some 8 million people at
least. Or, between 1916-1917 Tsarist Russian forces - facing the Basmachi revolt of Central Asians trying to throw off
Christian, European rule - Russian
forces killed an estimated 1.5 million people.
Two boys brought up in
or born in one of those territories (Kyrgyzstan) killed 4 people and
wounded others critically. That is horrible, but no one, whether in Russia or
in Europe or in North America has the slightest idea that Central Asians were
mass-murdered during WW I and looted of much of their wealth. Russia at the
time was an Eastern Orthodox, Christian empire (and seems to be reemerging as
one!). Then, between half a million and a million
Algerians died in that country's war of independence from France, 1954-1962,
at a time when the population was only 11 million! I could go on and on.
Everywhere you dig in
European colonialism in Afro-Asia, there are bodies. Lots of bodies. Now that I think of it, maybe 100 million
people killed by people of European Christian heritage in the twentieth
century is an underestimate. As for religious terrorism, that too is
universal. Admittedly, some groups deploy terrorism as a tactic more at some
times than others. Zionists in British Mandate Palestine were active
terrorists in the 1940s, from a British point of view, and in the period 1965
-1980, the FBI considered the Jewish Defense League among the most active
US terrorist groups. (Members at one point plotted to assassinate Rep. Dareell
Issa (R-CA) because of his Lebanese heritage.) Now that Jewish nationalists are
largely getting their way, terrorism has declined among them. But it would
likely reemerge if they stopped getting their way. In fact, one of the
arguments Israeli politicians give for allowing Israeli squatters to keep the
Palestinian land in the West Bank that they have usurped is that attempting to
move them back out would produce violence. I.e., the settlers not only
actually terrorize the Palestinians, but they form a terrorism threat for
Israel proper (as the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin discovered).
Even more recently, it is difficult for me to
see much of a difference between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Baruch
Goldstein, perpetrator of the Hebron massacre. Or there was the cold-blooded
bombing of the Ajmer shrine in India by Bhavesh Patel and a gang of
Hindu nationalists. Chillingly, they were disturbed when a second bomb they
had set did not go off, so that they did not wreak as much havoc as they would
have liked. Ajmer is an ecumenical Sufi shrine also visited by Hindus, and
these people wanted to stop such open-minded sharing of spiritual spaces
because they hate Muslims.
Buddhists have committed a lot of terrorism
and other violence as well. Many in the Zen orders in Japan supported
militarism in the first half of the twentieth century, for which their leaders
later apologized. And, you had Inoue Shiro's assassination campaign in 1930s
Japan. Nowadays militant Buddhist monks in Burma/ Myanmar are urging on an ethnic
cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.
As for Christianity, the Lord's
Resistance Army in Uganda initiated hostilities that displaced two
million people. Although it is an African cult, it is Christian in origin and
the result of Western Christian missionaries preaching in Africa.
Wahhabi preachers can be in part blamed for the Taliban, why do Christian
missionaries skate when we consider the blowback from their pupils? Despite the very large number of European
Muslims, in 2007-2009
less than 1 percent of terrorist acts in that continent were committed by
people from that community.
Terrorism is a tactic of extremists within
each religion, and within secular religions of Marxism or nationalism. No
religion, including Islam, preaches indiscriminate violence against innocents.
It takes a peculiar sort of blindness to see
Christians of European heritage as "nice" and Muslims as inherently
violent, given the twentieth century death toll I mentioned above. Human
beings are human beings and the species is too young and too interconnected to
have differentiated much from group to group. People resort to violence out of
ambition or grievance, and the more powerful they are, the more violence they
seem to commit. The good news is that the number of wars is declining over
time, and World War II, the biggest charnel house in history, hasn't been
Juan Ricardo Cole is a prominent blogger and essayist, and the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.