Should we fear that religion whose believers have killed so many people?

Summary:  Another question from readers, timely and relevant!

Comment sent to the FM website team in reply to Hatred and fear of Islam – of Moslems – is understandable. But are there hidden forces at work? (3 August 2010).

Your comparison of Islamic terrorists to the Irish Republican Army is misguided. I may well be mistaken, but Islamic terrorists are correct in believing that their holy text commands them to combat or subjugate non-Muslims. Christians that hold the same opinion can not fall back upon the holy text to justify their actions. In that respect, Christian terrorists are extremist, whereas Muslim terrorists are fundamentalist. Of course, that does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists; but I do find the comparison to Christian extremists improper.

I have yet to see any Biblical passages commanding violence similar to those found in the Qur’an.


As always there many levels to this question.  Let’s start at the top.  Holy texts provide an unreliable guide to their followers actual behavior.  Note the wide range of behavior over time by Jews, Christians, Moslems, and Buddhists.  Violent periods, peaceful periods.   Low correlation with the contents of their texts.

But the recent burst of “experts” discussing Islam’s violent fundamentals suggest that we should, at least for a minute, take this perspective seriously.  History gives a clear answer about the most violent religion during modern times.

First, look at people’s recent behavior.  During the past 500 years or 100, we see one especially violent religion — seeking converts through force, warlike both within and without the faith.  Christians.  Worse, their impulse to convert seems to have mutated during the past 2 centuries into simple blood-lust.  Note the increasing body-count, rising century by century.

Unlike today’s small fraction of violent Islamic jihadists, millions of Christians joined the wars.  The jihadist are extremists.  That makes Islam less dangerous than Christians, for whom violence is mainstream (i.e., conducted by mass armies).  Perhaps these Christians preferred the advice frequently given in the Old Testament advice — kill all your enemies, and their cattle — to Jesus’ pacifism.  But that’s neither an analytically or operationally useful insight.
During the past few centuries Islamic wars have typically (but not always) been reconquests (e.g., Arabs vs. Israel), nation-building (e.g., Turkey), fighting insurgents (e.g., Syria in Hama, Indonesia in Timor), and ethnic cleansing (Africa, Iraq).   Internal conflicts, sports that all major religions play.   Not like the great western wars.  And the jihadist body count — so far — shows they’re amateurs compared to Christians.

Perhaps they’ll improve their skills.  Perhaps the 21st century will see the red baton shift from Christian to  Islamic hands.  If so Christians will have no basis on which to throw stones, given their history.

But those were not true Christians!

For more about this rebuttal, see the Wikipedia entry about the no true Scotsman logical fallacy.

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