Mosque = Muslim = Terrorism? Really, America?

24 08 2010

It’s on the news every day lately and I decided it’s time for me to weigh in on it.  To recap, there are plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York.  The plans have met with opposition because many think it is insensitive and inappropriate to build an Islamic monument of sorts so close to the site of what is considered to be a Muslim-perpetrated act of terrorism.  I’m not going to talk about whether or not the mosque should be built in this post.  But this story has sparked a lot of discussion about Muslims in America and people have been sharing their opinions of Muslims.  I have been very disappointed to see how many people have negative opinions about Muslims in general.  That is what I want to address here.

Several months ago, I wrote a post about how overprotective Americans are becoming and that it’s getting out of hand.  I explained that people overreact to statistically very unlikely events and hyperinflate the probability and dangerousness of those events.  And they ignore how common it is for those same events NOT to happen.  (The Base Rate Fallacy, for anyone who wants to read about it.)  Well, that same phenomenon appears to be at work when it comes to Americans’ opinions of Muslims.

Why do people think poorly of Muslims?  I imagine it mostly has to do with Islam’s connection to the September 11th tragedy and to other widely publicized terrorist groups and the actions of these groups.  I don’t think anyone would argue with the claim that the 9/11 terrorists were Muslims.  Now, let’s look at some numbers:

Muslims in the world: about 1.5 billion

Fundamentalist Muslims with Jihadist tendencies (according to this website that seems to think poorly of Muslims): about 1.8 million or 0.12% of all Muslims.  Keep in mind that this statistic is an estimation of the number of Muslims who have a mindset likely to lead to acts of terrorism, not necessarily actual terrorists.

Proportion of Terrorist acts in the last 30 years perpetrated by Muslims: 6%  (from FBI report on terrorism; and this site graphs the info)

So let’s get this straight, many Americans base their opinion of all Muslims on the actions of less than 1% of all Muslims.  They are allowing a statistical improbability to get in the way of seeing what is far more likely, ie. that the Muslim next door is completely harmless.

If you look at the graph I linked to above, you’ll see that the majority of terrorist acts in the US were perpetrated by Latinos.  Why aren’t we afraid of them in the way that we seem to be afraid of Muslims?  Is it because Latinos are usually Christian?  Is it a case of preferring the devil we know to the devil we don’t?  I don’t have the answers, I just know it’s foolish.

In America, we think pretty highly of Christians.  The different Christians do not always agree but, generally speaking, Christians are good.  But not all.  For example: the Ku Klux Klan is a Christian organization; the Army of God was responsible for attacks on abortion clinics; the Hutaree Christian militia group that made the news earlier this year didn’t practice the kind of Christianity most of us do.  Do we judge all Christians by the actions of these small groups?  Of course not.  We know that would be foolish.

So why do we do it with Islam?  Are there bad Muslims out there?  Sure, there are groups like Hamas and Al-Qaeda and others that I don’t know about.  But we need to be smart enough not to let our fear get in the way of reason.  Statistically speaking, it is very, very unlikely that the Muslim you meet at the store is any threat to you at all.  And we should not act as though they are.

To conclude my little rant, I would like to refer you to an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Aug 19).  While addressing this same topic (although much more humorously than I) Jon eats some humble pie and plays part of a speech given by Charlton Heston after the Columbine shootings.  I encourage you to watch it thoughtfully.  The relevant part of the video begins at about 7:40 and goes to 9:55.




6 responses

25 08 2010
Andrew Irwin

So… us canuckdians can’t see this link…cuz we’re in canada…but I found this one… Is that the right one?

25 08 2010
Peter Leavitt

If it’s the Daily Show from Aug 19, it should be the one. The guest is Jennifer Aniston.

25 08 2010

Its all about the worldviews, Peter. People are naturally hostile to people whose worldviews differ from their own. Because we base our entire lives around a certain set of believes, we don’t like people who think that our believes are wrong. This is why Americans are much more forgiving and lenient towards Christians than Muslims. Even though there are some bad seeds among Christains, we are familiar and comfortable with the religion as a whole.

Also, its the media. Instead of dedicating 99% of their coverage to the 99% of Muslims that are peaceful, they dedicate 99% of their coverage to the 1% who are extremists: with those odds, its not too surprising that people equate Muslims with terrorism. Its illogical, but I’ve certainly never accused the general population as being logical.

25 08 2010

And PS – I’m glad you’re posting again. I love to read you opinions on world matters (probably because they are always so close to my own).

26 08 2010
Anthony Leavitt

I would agree with everything you said Peter. I have made pretty much the same point to several people over the years. With over five trips to the middle east and a couple to the Balkans where we had to deal with Muslims, let me say this. I have fought, bleed and killed with and beside Muslims who have portrayed better “Christian” morals than most Americans. However I still don’t think it is a good idea to build a Mosque that close to Ground Zero. I know it is a small element of the Muslim population that is radical but the message they will receive from this is not one of tolerance. I have chased and hunted this segment of the Muslim population for years, the message will be twisted and warped to what they want to believe. The only thing that will fix this education and time.

26 08 2010
Alycia Crowley

I see how huge events like 9/11 can at first make people a little uneasy. But if people took one second to realize where those fears really come from, and put themselves in check, we wouldn’t have such a problem with people fearing Muslims. I totally agree with your article. I have so many good friends that are Muslim and it is sad to think that people make their opinions on all Muslims or most Muslims based off some extremists in the religion.

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