Are Muslim Extremists a Fringe Group?

There’s been plenty of talk already about Newsweek‘s offensive cover… and the backlash… and the backlash to the backlash

… but Ayaan Hirsi Ali‘s cover story is worth discussing just on its own:

The Muslim men and women (and yes, there are plenty of women) who support — whether actively or passively — the idea that blasphemers deserve to suffer punishment are not a fringe group. On the contrary, they represent the mainstream of contemporary Islam. Of course, there are many Muslims and ex-Muslims, in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere, who unambiguously condemn not only the murders and riots, as well as the idea that dissenters from this mainstream should be punished. But they are marginalized and all too often indirectly held responsible for the very provocation. In the age of globalization and mass immigration, such intolerance has crossed borders and become the defining characteristic of Islam.

It was Voltaire who once said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” As Salman Rushdie discovered, as we are reminded again as the Arab street burns, that sentiment is seldom heard in our time. Once I was ready to burn The Satanic Verses. Now I know that his right to publish it was a more sacred thing than any religion.

Gianluca Mezzofiore at the International Business Times takes issue with Hirsi Ali’s ideas:

Megan Reif, assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado Denver, has compiled a spread sheet comparing the crowds involved in the so-called Arab Spring and those which have congregated for the current protests.

The result is that the percentages involved in the anti-American incidents are much smaller than those in the Arab uprising in their respective countries. The author also noted that the deaths involved in the so-called Arab Spring were much higher.

“Given that the U.S. is the target of this anger, this disproportionate emphasis is not surprising, but it discounts the fact that the vast majority of Muslims are not protesting the film, US values, or even US policy,” Reif added.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic supports that idea with some numbers:

the fact that these enormous populations — 76 million Muslims in Nigeria, 75 million in Turkey, 29 million in Ethiopia, and so on — across dozens of countries are not protesting shows the extent to which violent protests are the exceptions rather than the norm.

I’m inclined to agree with the Hirsi Ali-dissenters on this one. The extremists are a small but vocal (and dangerous) minority. But when your life has been threatened by those extremists, no doubt the anti-American, anti-secularism rhetoric seems even more overblown than it already is.

That’s not to say we should ignore them or just brush them aside. But let’s not lose perspective and make the false assumption that the majority of Muslims around the world take the Koran as literally as the fundamentalists do. Not all, not the vast majority, not most Muslims are hellbent on killing the infidels. But it sure as hell would be nice if more of them would say that out loud.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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