Terrorism and the other Religions

Contrary to what is alleged by bigots 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 1916-1930 Tsarist Russian and then Soviet forces — facing the revolt of Central Asians trying to throw off Christian (and then Marxist), European rule — Russian forces killed an estimated 1.5 million people. Two boys brought up in or born in one of those territories (Kyrgyzstan) just 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 before and after, and looted of much of their wealth. Russia when it brutally conquered and ruled the Caucasus and Central Asia 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 nationalsts 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 bigots 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. If Saudi 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 and 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 repeated.

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103 Responses

  1. Very objective and facts based. For me very insightful and revealing.

    • Where is the clear distinction between national wars and religious ones?
      Attacks against civilians vs. men in uniform?
      Attacks by people of the same religion against each other vs. against other religions?
      Governments and militias that use fundamentalist religious narratives vs. those who focus on earthly interests?
      And last but not least, number of those civilians killed by each religion?
      There is no comparative mention of numbers, size and activities of Christian vs. Muslim vs. Buddhist vs. Jewish non-state organizations. Nor is there a list of countries who’s governments actively and publicly support organizations that target civilians vs. those that arrest and fight such extremists.
      Looking forward to reading a complementary factual qualitative analysis.

  2. All well and good to address historical patterns of wars and terrorism, but as an average American I am concerned with the here and now. In a time of mourning and frustration with radical Muslims, it’s hard to get traction with a grieving public by using historical perspective.

    That said, it is well worth remembering the bomb set off by Zionist at the King David Hotel in the mid 1940s, a bomb that killed and maimed so many innocent civilians, in light of the comments made by Netanyahu’s right hand man and possibly the next Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer. Dermer said 9-11 and the Boston bombs were good things, in that it will solidify support and aid for Israel. Nice to know they care so much about our tragedies.

    • Usually they only say that sort of thing in Hebrew, snickering similarly at “Uncle Sucker.”

      I once attended an early post-911 seminar about “terrorism,” with one of the panel a local Rabbi (at a big land-grant university in US). I tossed out a reference to the King David Hotel, amongst other Irgun attacks, in the context of the one-mans-terrorist is the next man’s freedom-fighter quandary.

      What was not so much surprising was how he jumped all over me and that statement, but rather how locked & loaded this Backwater Rabbi was, going through a checklist of “corrections,” starting with the hotel being a military target. He protested a bit much, as the Bard would say.

      You make a potential mistake (in my now cynical opinion) trying to engage in a rational conversation to deal with the truth in these matters. There are those whose only intent in such exchanges is to deceive, delay, or deflect you from the truth. In the absence of good faith, further conversation along these lines is not only a waste but counterproductive.

      At this point I can fully appreciate the case for the stick, to change the balance of power and absence of motivation now evident.

      • Many of Israel’s top leaders had backgrounds in terror gangs or were alleged to have complicity in war crimes:

        (1)Avraham Stern was killed by British police official Jeffrey Morton as he was being captured; he headed the Stern Gang and his top deputy was Yitzhak Shamir, who would be imprisoned in Sudan by the British for terror activities – Shamir would go onto service in the Mossad and become a prime minister in Israel.

        (2)Menachem Begin took part in the planning of the Deir Yassin attack in 1948 and also was complicit in King David hotel bombing as leader of the Irgun terror gang; the British issued an arrest warrant for him which was active well into the 1970s – he was eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as PM of Israel and voted by the Israeli public as the second most beloved Israeli.

        (3)Ariel Sharon led an IDF unit in Kibya that massacred scores of Palestinians in 1954; in 1983 the Kahane Commission found him guilty of negligence in the September 17, 1982 massacre of over 1,000 Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. He served as Israeli PM for over four years.

        (4) Tzipi Livni has served as foreign minister and several high-ranking government posts in Israel; her father served in the IDF successfully as an high-ranking officer and also had been elected to the Knesset; he nevertheless requested that the Irgun emblem be engraved on his headstone since it was his service in that organization he was most proud of and wanted to be known for.

    • What about your friendly (white/Christian) maniacs that we’ve discovered in schools and cinemas? The “Islamic” label is not involved in these cases, so let’s push these events to the side. . . .they’re fairly recent, too, Mr. “I don’t believe in historical trends.”

    • “it’s hard to get traction with a grieving public by using historical perspective”

      You mean the grieving Iraqis?

  3. What Juan has written needs to be said, but in the current North American environment he is swimming upstream. (I imagine he is used to it by now.)

    Look at Asra Nomani’s hand-wringing piece about “we, the Muslims” published April 23 at the Daily Beast. Look at the group of imams who were invited to be present at the April 22 Toronto press conference announcing the exposure of a foiled terrorist plot (“linked to al-Qaeda in Iran” [?]).

    Is there some middle ground for North American Muslims between denial and internalization of a pathologizing discourse? Of course, visible Muslims in the US and Canada will do what they must to protect themselves. Buying into the self-pathologizing approach may be necessary at this juncture (“immigrant anxiety”, etc.). But the net result is further to feed the discourse of “what’s wrong with the Muslims?” that Juan’s post tries to debunk.

    • “(“linked to al-Qaeda in Iran” [?]). ”

      Last I heard Iran helped the United States in the early stages of going after al-Qaeda. Are these forgiving Islamist terrists?

    • After the toppling of Taleban in Afghanistan, hundreds of al-Qaeda supporters fled the country, mainly to Pakistan and other neighboring countries, but also a few dozens to Iran. They were mostly arrested by Iranian authorities, and initially Iran tried to use them as a bargaining chip to get the head of the Mojahedin-e Khalq in return for handing them over to the US. When their demand was rejected by the Bush Administration, Iran repatriated most of them to their native countries, but apparently still a few remain in Iran under house arrest. What is meant by “linked to al-Qaeda in Iran” is presumably a reference to a number of al-Qaeda operatives who are active in Sistan and Baluchestan region between Iran and Pakistan. The Iranian government is involved in many clashes with them, but for some Western media with an agenda it is useful to keep linking Iran to al-Qaeda without providing the context. Here is a useful link about al-Qaeda and Iran.

      link to csmonitor.com

  4. Well bethought, but I think you should add the Armenian massacres at the hands of the Turks to Muslim side of equation. It doesn’t alter your main point, but adds a percentage point to the Muslim side of the equation.

    • The Iran-Iraq War killed about 250,000, the Afghanistan War 1 million, so there’s room for other things in the original estimate. But if it was 3 million it would not change my point.

  5. With all due respect I find your article … Terrorists are terrorists, Christian or Muslim offensive. It is evident you don’t have a clue what Christianity is. Your rhetoric is nothing more than planting seeds of ‘hatred’. But, guess what, go back into American history and you will find that it was ‘Christianity’ that enabled you to be free, free to even promote hatred …. for it was the Church, the preachers that rallied their congregations to go into battle against the British. It was the ‘Black Robe Birgade’ that the British feared. That ‘Black Robe Birgade’ were the preachers that went into battle wearing the black robes they preached in. Yet today, I bet you have the ‘audacity’ to consider them terrorist. How sad ! That, in essence makes you part of the problem in the on going destruction of our Republic. I’m sure you mean well, but you need to be ‘well meaning’ in all of what you promote instead of being a ‘minion’ of those who seek our destruction. ‘Nuff said’ … thanks !

    • “And the Brits went into battle with their Anglican priests in support.” All armies do; they always have. And both European and American armies now have Muslim clergymen ministering to their ranks as well as Rabbis and Hindu clergy, even Wiccans and Native American religious leaders.

    • What rubbish!

      In the early “Church,” more Christians were put to death by fellow Christians (usually for “heresy”) than were ever put to death by the Romans.

      The Church has to answer for the barbarities of the Crusades and the Inquisition and, at least with the Catholic Church, millenia of anti-Semitism.

      Native Americans, and natives of South America, were treated brutally by empire-building, Christians conquerors.

      Slavery lasted ~50 years longer in the USA than it did in England, principally because of the strong support for slavery among Southern Christians.

      The guards pulling the levers in German gas chambers during the Holocaust weren’t Jewish; they were overwhelmingly Catholic and Protestant.

      The Catholic Church supported the tyrannical military dictatorship in Argentina, responsible for up to 30,000 deaths and disappearances. {The Church actually apologized, years later.)

      The uber-Christian Guatemalan dictator, Rios Montt, one of Ronald Reagan’s favorites, was notorious for his savagery. And during the ghastly “Dirty Wars,” every U.S.-supported, tyrannical Latin American dictator was a Christian. Uber-Catholic Pinochet actually hosted Pope John Paul II as a guest!

      In the Kosovo Wars, Christians were vastly more violent toward innocent Muslims than visa versa.

      And during the Vietnam War, American soldiers, overwhelmingly Christian, committed myriad atrocities that were covered up by our own military, a fact proven by once-secret documents in Nick Turse’s excellent new book, “Kill Anything that Moves.”

      So, Gordon, It’s time to own up: Christians are NUMBER ONE! Muslims don’t even come close.

    • Talk about living in historical vacuum. Given the content of this article your response is almost breathtakingly absurd.

  6. Dear Professor: This is an excellent, timely article. I know a number of people who state and believe that Islam is an evil religion which deeply disturbed me. Of course, none of them have read the Koran. I think of the historical facts concerning Christianity, which you cite, and ask “does this make Christianity an evil religion?

  7. “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”

    Are you not including the Ottoman government’s killing of an estimated one million or so Armenians in the early 20th century?

    • The couple of specific events I mentioned don’t account for the entire 2 million I estimated. Adding this one wouldn’t change the point of the piece.

  8. Not to take issue w/ the overall message of this post, but I think that the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire of the early 20th century might reasonably be added to the Muslim tally of death & violence, thereby bumping it up by more than 50%. And speaking of the Ottoman Empire, some of the death toll of early 20th century wars, though not a major part, may be laid at their door.

  9. You’ve completely disregarded how Islamic cultures behaved when they were “top dog”. Had the Muslim nations not been degraded by the time of the Industrial Revolution there is no reason to think they too would not have let Nationalism lead them down the same path.

    • You may well be correct, but your point is not disregarded in the article:

      “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.”

      In the alternate history you describe, ‘European Christians’ would simply be replaced with ‘Asian/Middle Eastern Muslims’. No better,no worse.

  10. “I don’t figure that Muslims killed more than 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.”

    I agree with the basic premise of your article, Professor Cole. All religions historically have included elements that, for political and religious reasons, have committed mass murder and massacres. Nevertheless, I wonder if your statement that Muslims have killed no more than 2 million people during the entire twentieth century includes those killed by the Ottoman Turks in the Armenian genocide of 1915-1916.

    The Young Turks, then ruling the Islamic Ottoman Empire, initiated the genocide against the Armenian population in April 1915. It occurred in two phases. The first phase was the killing within Asia Minor of Armenian males. The second phase saw the “deportations” of women, children, and the elderly, and Ottoman troops accompanying the deportations allowed rogue elements to murder many of those being deported.

    Scholars have estimated the number of Armenians killed at between 600,000 and 1.5 million, but the most accurate estimate appears to be around 850,000. Are you factoring this figure into your estimate of the number killed by Muslims in the twentieth century?

    • The Young Turks were anti-religion fanatics. Ataturk, who followed them, was of their ilk, and he suppressed the Sufi tekkas or monasteries of Istanbul. They cannot be included in Dr. Cole’s statistics.

      However, I would request something of Dr. Cole: Andrew Sullivan, of andrewsullivan.com, is opining over at his website, that the principal difference between Islam and Christianity, which accounts for their essential difference regarding violence, is to be found in the lives and teachings of their great Founders. He argues that Muhammed was just as much a political leader as a religious prophet, and that his teachings are positive regarding the state’s right to resort to violence, whereas Jesus Christ was exclusively spiritual and non-violent in His teachings, and that, therefore, no political agenda can be read into them, unlike what can be clearly discerned or inferred from Muhammed’s. I’d really like to see you engage with what I take to be Sullivan’s Catholic supremacist notions, because I think they’re dangerous.
      What I suspect is true is that Jesus Christ, like all Bronze Age religious teachers, did, indeed, include specific injunctions which bordered on the political, but that the Early Church doctors laundered them out, to make Christ’s teachings more palatable to the Roman establishment. I also think that many Muslims would claim that, if Jesus actually DID leave no practical injunctions regarding how society should be arranged, that would show that THEIR Prophet had greater consideration of and compassion for His people, not wishing to leave them without practical guidance.
      My personal belief is that ALL the great spiritual paths of the world HAVE, indeed, provided guidance toward the Truth and spiritual nourishment for their followers, and that the reason they have survived was that they all had the capacity to “develop their doctrines” (John Henry Newman’s phrase) through a time-space continuum that allowed for CONTEXTUALIZATION with respect to humanity’s changing condition. I don’t believe that the root causes of violence are to be found in any of them. However, it would appear that the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) needs some reasonable defence from Islamophobes, and that it shouldn’t just be Muslims to do the defending.

      • “The Young Turks were anti-religion fanatics. Ataturk, who followed them, was of their ilk, and he suppressed the Sufi tekkas or monasteries of Istanbul. They cannot be included in Dr. Cole’s statistics.”

        Wrong. The Young Turks, like Ataturk, were not anti-religion fanatics. They were Muslims, but they realized that one did not need to exhibit all the trappings of Islam that, in their view, held back Turkey’s modernization. I repeat, they were Muslims. That is an undeniable fact. But they wanted to emulate the West in its complete separation of the state and religion, and they succeeded. It was the Islamic religious establishment that the Young Turks, and Ataturk, considered to be fanatics, a fanaticism that was considered to be an obstacle to modernization.

        Nevertheless, Islam was by far the dominant religion of Turkey, and it certainly was used to fuel the fire of genocide against the Armenians during the period 1915-1916. The Turkish genocide of nearly one million Armenians absolutely qualifies to be included in the total of non-Muslims killed by Muslims in the twentieth century.

        • “they wanted to emulate the West in its complete separation of the state and religion…”

          You cannot be Muslim–not even moderately Muslim–and do that; it is actually one of the GLORIES of Muslim civilizations that a political agenda of social justice is BUILT into the religion.

        • “You cannot be Muslim–not even moderately Muslim–and do that; it is actually one of the GLORIES of Muslim civilizations that a political agenda of social justice is BUILT into the religion.”

          Of course you can do that. Turkey did. Rather than one of the GLORIES OF Muslim civilizations, the inability to separate the state and religion is one of the elements that has held back most Muslim countries.

  11. In non-Muslim countries nowadays, mass killers are condemned, hunted down, prosecuted, convicted, sentenced and, in the McVeigh case (oft-cited by apologists for radical Islam), executed. Only in Muslim countries are terrorists lionized.

    • @ Clegg

      You should refer to some articles that Juan has posted over the years citing numerous instances where terrorists were condemned in the Muslim world.

      While everyone appreciates the irony of posting fabrications in the comments of an article based on a respectable gathering of facts (although maybe not complete, based on some of the more intelligent comments), there are other websites that would appreciate your willful ignorance more

    • “Only in Muslim countries are terrorists lionized.”

      To the contrary, many of the people who initiated the illegal and immoral war on Iraq with its shock and awe (terror in Iraqi minds) have retained prominent positions in the United States. One is having a library dedicated in his name this week in Texas.

      • Dr.Baruch Goldstein in Israel is considered a hero by many in the Jewish settler movement.

        Alan Goodman, the former Israeli Army reservist who opened fire near the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 1982, killing a Palestinian woman and wounding many others, had been sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years. He was given an unusual early parole after serving 16 years and moved back to his native Maryland after his release.

        Many leaders in the Irgun and Stern terror gangs later became top government officials in Israel.

    • “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” I forget who said that first but it is an historical truth. Check out the Irish on that score, as well as all the liberation movements of the late colonial period.

  12. One thing you left out was the massacre of the USS Liberty which those of us who are Navy veterans will never forget.

    • Supposedly a number of U.S. and foreign intelligence services had transcripts of the actual radio exchanges between the IAF pilots and their dispatcher in which a pilot in the Israeli air force stated that the American flag was clearly visible – to which the dispatcher replied to ensure the ship was sunk and to leave no survivors.

      It was only the USS Liberty crew’s ability to get off a distress signal that was picked up by US servicemen to cause US jets to scramble into the area that deterred the IAF from sinking the ship.

      An American official had confronted the Israeli ambassador to the UN with the transcripts. Later those transcripts disappeared from government files however a number of U.S. government employees did come forward to verify their existence.

      Benson Buffham, a retired National Security Agency deputy director, whose agency lost one of its civilian employees in the air assault, stated that he believed the attack was intentional. Bobby Inman, who served as NSA director said the same thing.

      Ironically, not very far away in the Mediterranean Sea from where the USS Liberty was attacked, the Mavi Marmara incident occurred in which Israel PM Netanyahu now is apologizing for the “accidental” loss of life.

    • I’ll never forget the Liberty either and I’m not in the Navy. It was horrible and unbelievable that LBJ allowed it to go unanswered, as far as we know anyway.

      • LBJ was initially angry that the New York Times did not place the USS Liberty attack on the front page.

        LBJ was reportedly outraged over the incident, however the story goes that he did want to accuse a close ally of intentional killing of sailors – and let the incident pass.

  13. Few more examples, try asking abortion clinic workers in certain parts of the USA if they have felt terrorized doing their job. Last one killed was in 2009: link to en.wikipedia.org

    As for buddhist terrorism occurring right now, look no further then Sti Lanka: link to gulfnews.com The government is basically looking the other way, or members are even actively involved.

    • As for Buddhist terrorism, read up on how the (Muslim) Rohingyas are treated by the Burmese people and police (with the darling of the Western media, the supposed human rights heroine Aung San Suu Kyi, pretty much staying quiet about it).

  14. As for the 21st Century it appears to be, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “deja vu all over again.” How many Muslims have been killed so far by or on the orders and plans of people of Judeo-Christian heritage? How many people of Judeo-Christian heritage have been killed by Muslims?

    If I recall correctly, Adam Hochschild in his book, “King Leopold’s Ghost,” estimated 14 million Congolese were killed in his majesty’s name. Plus an uncounted number who had limbs amputated.

    • Yeah, I read this book and was horrified by it. I had taught Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for years, but had no vital statistics on it. This book laid it all out in spades.
      Not so funny, Leopold does not seem so much an aberration as one might think. His behavior is in keeping with many powerful people. The Borgia’s come to mind almost immediately. And that is only because of the excellent TV series.

      • Sorry, I realize that I am missing the magnitude of Leopold’s excesses. I meant to confine my observations to the extent that power corrupts.
        There is nothing to compare Leopold II to. I cannot begin to explain him.

    • Leopold killed more than double the number of people killed during holocaust. Since they were blacks & had no sacred religion, it is not called a holocaust & king Leopold is generally ignored of what he has done.

      He is a much bigger killer than Hitler is.

  15. Professor,

    You do go on and on. And, as usual, you have a true gift for putting things out of context. Lumping the world wars in with the Crusades? You need to get out more.

    • ” Lumping the world wars in with the Crusades?”

      The human condition applies to both and everything in between.

  16. Whilst I am sure your analysis is correct, you couldn’t sell that story in England for a dime, if it was a bucket of fresh water in the desert. I don’t know what its like in the States, but the unfounded prejudice against Muslims over here is staggering.

  17. Your analysis is interesting. But, at the end of the day, you’re merely shifting the blame than looking to solve the problem.

    All these “Christian” massacres, genocides and wars that resulted in loss of lives have been widely studied in the West. After which they have recognized their mistakes and taken steps to make sure they don’t do the same again. The EU is one the results.

    Wrt Islamic terrorism, the root cause remains unabated ie. Petro dollars being funnelled into Salafist/Wahabi organizations. They only preach their narrow minded opinion of the world and absolute intolerance for people of any other disposition. Unless that is tackled, nothing else will help. Everything else will be merely putting on a band aid to the incision.

    • I love these predictable responses. For instance, when it is pointed out that the US military kills civilians, the response is that it’s not the same because the US doesn’t TARGET civilians. When it is pointed out that there are very high rates of murder, sexual abuse, domestic violence, etc., in the US, the response is that it’s not the same because THEY have laws against this – as if other countries don’t…

  18. If India was rich in oil and the Middle-East was just desert, this article would be about Hindus..

  19. Hitler was a Christian? Stalin was a Christian? To associate blame for the millions of murders that they caused with Christianity is clever sophistry.

    • There are historical arguments back and forth about the extent of Hitler’s Christianity. But of course he didn’t perpetrate the Holocaust and other atrocities on his own, so the question to answer is: was Germany or was it not a Christian nation?

    • You cleverly sidestep all the millions dead from Christian colonialism, WW I, etc. And, most of the people who fought in WW II were Christians, regardless of their leaders; and most Germans serving in the Nationalist Socialist period were Christians. This way of excusing what your civilization has done by othering all the atrocities your coreligionists have committed is precisely my point.

      • Also, most of the Muslims who fought in World War II fought against Hitler (and Tojo). The Indian army, which fought in North Africa, Italy, India proper and Southeast Asia was about one-quarter Muslim. Scores of thousands of troops in the Free French forces were Muslims from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, who would fight in Italy and France.

  20. Dear Prof. Cole,
    Not to be pedantic about an otherwise excellent essay but the Basmachis were anti-Soviet resistance in Central Asia in the post-revolutionary Civil War. Estimates of the total casualties in this war and the famine that attended it are hard to come by, but Marco Buttino has estimated at least 1.5 Muslims lost their lives in this struggle mostly due to enforced food requisitions. As for the 1916-17 events, these were the great Steppe Revolts resisting conscription into the Imperial Russian army during the Great War. These rebels also suffered serious losses, as did the mainly nomadic and Muslim populations of the steppe regions (mostly in present day Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan). Settler violence was quite severe–even against loyal nomads–and the losses here have been estimated in the thousands, not the millions or hundreds of thousands. As the Imperial Russian state was explicitly Orthodox Christian but the Soviet state was atheist, it might be better to make a distinction.

  21. Interesting to read, and I’d like to make it clear that Islam does not endorse killing civilians. It is only legitimate to fight enemy combatants. Proof:
    {Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors.} Quran 2:190

  22. There are lot of unknowns and one can spin data however they want. But one thing is clear and troubling, we depend on comedians to inform us!

  23. What about the genocide of 1.5 million christian Armenians by the Moslem Turks from early 1900’s to 1915?

    • The Ottomans had killed many Muslims in the Arabic speaking area of their empire as well. Many wars at not motivated by religion, but by economic or hegemonic reasons.

  24. I respectfully submit that you are confusing the issue. The error of counting atrocities and deaths and ascribing them to one religion versus another is nothing more than a confusion of correlation and causation. Whether we are talking about the Ottoman Turks, the Christian Crusaders, or the Lord’s Resistance Army, the violence, the deaths, the abuse of innocents is not caused by religion, but by the desire for political or economic gain. Religion, certainly, is often used as a justification. When you are committing unjust atrocities, it helps to have an invisible (and therefore un-refutable) voice in the sky justifying, indeed, “ordering” your actions. It’s much better for your image than coming out and admitting to wanting, power, fame, wealth, or all of the above.

  25. Good article. But you forget to mention the Christian vs. Christian terrorism in Ireland. Interestingly, notwithstanding that many prominent US citizens had close ties (including financial ties) to a known terrorist group, the IRA, no one argued that we should surveil Irish Catholics, subject them to indefinite detention, or bar them from immigrating to the US. That applies only to “dark skinned” Muslims.

    • One wonders whether singing traditional Irish drinking songs such as “By The Rising Of The Moon” and other pro-Irish Republican Army songs would be considered material support for terrorism under today’s laws.

      Interestingly, one of the most virulent US politicians espousing military tribunals for “terrorists” used to condemn Great Britain – for failing to try accused IRA members in civilian courts.

      It’s the terrorist/freedom fighter thing.

  26. Good on Juan Cole for nailing Bill Maher for the bigot he is. I watched him make a complete ass of himself on his last show, brushing off a guest who questioned his bigotry, by saying by saying his POV was the “truth”. End of conversation.

    Given that, and his whole hearted support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine, I have a sneaking suspicion that Maher is a closet Republican in denial. Even the idea that 9/1 might be an inside job makes him apoplectic, probably because it doesn’t fit in with his anti-Muslim outlook.

  27. Thanks for the historical perspective. It does not mitigate what took place in Boston, but it does shed some critical perspective on it, although I wonder about the charge of “weapons of mass destruction” in light of the Iraq debacle. One puzzles over what precise meaning this might have, given its usage in the run-up to the attack on Saddam.
    I worry about this kid now on trial and how he will be perceived. I know that there is a contingent within the government who want his pelt nailed up on the wall in some trophy room to prove that we are tough on terrorism, and I also worry about what repercussions this will have on the Immigration Bill now under consideration.
    That said and looking at the state of democracy as it currently stands, what chance does anyone in this country see that his individual vote has? What means of changing things are in the hands of the people?
    Popular impotence breeds violence, and unemployment fuels this.

  28. You wrote:

    “within secular religions of Marxism”

    As a Marxist, I take extreme offense at this combo of propaganda and misreadings. Marxism is no more a “religion” than the scientific method or bourgeois economics (both of which have been used for reasons other than lofty ones).

    Maybe, like a good bourgeois liberal, you were trying to spread the shit around so nobody would feel slighted (or maybe you’re just a smug, liberal asshole when you’ve managed to blind-side yourself as to your own “secular religion” of high liberalism).

    • As a self-proclaimed Marxist, you should know better than to deny that Marxism is a secular religion. Marxism has all the hallmarks of a religion: It has a theory of historical inevitability (a teleological endgame) that explains how mankind has gone through the various phases of economic organization, leading to the demise of capitalism and the rise of communism. And it has all proven to be wrong! (Another attribute it shares with much of religion.)

      You will recall that Marx wrote that the internal contradictions of capitalism would lead to its collapse. The final irony (and what any rational person would recognize) is that it was the internal contradictions of communism that led to communism’s collapse. Capitalism has demonstrated the flexibility to change and prosper, while communism’s sclerotic rigidity was its Achilles Heel. Marx was good at describing the conditions in England and Europe in 1848, but he was absolutely wrong in his analysis of the future development of both capitalism and communism.

      • Hi Bill,

        I am not a Marxist. But you are wrong on all of your points about Marxism somehow being a religion. I think that you need to go back and think about the difference. Practicing science is not a religion, and neither is clipping off your toe nails at night. I hope you get my point. People measuring reality is different from people measuring their beliefs.

        • Practicing science? Clipping off your toe nails at night? I’m always willing to meet challenges to my comments, Matt, when there is a challenge to be met. Unfortunately, your comment does not refute any of the points I made about Marxism. You have not presented me with a challenge to be met. Your comment reminds me of what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, “There is no “there” there.”

        • Marxism incorporates the philosophy of dialectical materialism – which denies the existence of religion.

      • Just as the actual teachings of Jesus Christ have never been implemented by any large population, so have the theories of Karl Marx never been implemented by any, either. Capitalism, as Adam Smith described what it should be, quickly devolved into “crony capitalism,” rather than the “even playing field” of a truly entrepreneurial society. I really think it’s wrong to blame all of the historic failures of POLITICIANS on the doctrines and thoughts of individuals who were trying to improve humanity. Stalin is no more Karl Marx than Alexander VI Borgia is Jesus Christ.

        • “Just as the actual teachings of Jesus Christ have never been implemented by any large population, so have the theories of Karl Marx never been implemented by any large population.”

          Three points need to be made here.

          A. Karl Marx’s description of capitalism in 1848 was, for the most part, accurate. Where Marx’s theory went off the rails was his inability to imagine that capitalism could change and accommodate various pressures, rather than collapse. Marx’s theory of the historical inevitability of capitalism’s collapse (a sort of religious teleological process), wedding Hegel’s dialectic with materialism, failed the test of empirical evidence.

          B. For the reasons listed in point A, above, Marx was turned on his head when, rather than capitalism, it was the internal contradictions of communism that led to its collapse.

          C. And how could it be otherwise? The Marxian view of the state withering away was a chimera that simply defies the logic of individual humans living together with differing desires and impulses, not to mention different levels of ability.

      • “Marxism incorporates the philosophy of dialectical materialism – which denies the existence of religion.”

        Two points, Mark.

        A. The point is that Marxism, with its all-encompassing explanation for man’s condition and its historical determinism, is like a religion, in this case a secular religion.

        B. Dialectical Materialism is not a philosophy. Marx borrowed Hegel’s dialectic (thesis-antithesis-synthesis), which was one part of Hegel’s philosophy of history, and married it with his concept of materialism. It is part of Marx’s philosophy, but not a philosophy in itself.

    • Leaping to Bill’s defense, one must observe that there’s scant evidence in the record here to support a charge that he is any flavor of liberal.

      Thanks again to Dr. Cole for not suppressing the range and rage in these comments. As a self-proclaimed Futilitarian, I have to chortle and gloat at endless proofs of the obvious unfitness of the species I was born into. (One downside of looser moderation is that this space may become just be another ravin’ Partisan Saloon, verbal fists and emotional bottles and chairs flying every whichaway.)

      Where we as a species maybe ought to be doing a lot of pulling on the same end of the rope, if we are to have a chance at survival and moderate prosperity for our progeny and maybe even ourselves, instead we go off down the tribal and egoistic paths we usually follow, sniping at others likewise sneaking through the underbrush in pursuit of being the boss of everyone else, or just being absolutely and irrefutably RIGHT about stuff. And of course protecting the little sets of personally profitable behaviors and elements of personal identity and skills as didactic scolds that we have so illiberally gathered about us.

      For the ones who are deep into the Game thing, and the Financial Industry and its offshoots, and the upper echelons of politics, of course, where all the money and power congregate, you folks probably don’t have to worry too much about being nice and comfortable for the rest of your lives.

      “Can we all just get along?” Sorry, Rodney — you and your hematomas and broken bones knew the answer to that before you asked the question. Stay out of Simi Valley!

    • “Imagine there’s no countries
      It isn’t hard to do
      Nothing to kill or die for
      And no religion too”

  29. Quite an interesting article by Juan Cole, just shows how a polarized view of a subject can skew the facts, but it seems that our media works with the view, don’t let a good story get in the way of the facts!

  30. We should put Stalinists, Maoists, and Nazis into the atheist camp, in which Bill Maher sits so proudly.

    • Hmm, as far as I’m concerned Stalinism, Maoism and Nazism are all political ideologies nothing to do atheism.

  31. Sorry mate,

    I feel your account of this is rather un-nuanced, and it detracts from some of the useful points you are making.
    You paint with broad strokes, which prove to be quite untrue when we look at the historical realities.

    Take the church of England, for example. That their head is the monarch, who holds little sovereign control, and could just as easily be entrusted to an atheist… Does this suggest Church control of state, or state control of Church?
    Here lies a tension that is a very interesting thread from the earliest days of Christianity, through Christendom, to the modern day secular state. But your account does not treat any of this tension.

    Further, where is the comparison of the relationship of church and state in the Western, with the theocratic governance in Islam?
    Is it really a profitable historical analysis to lump political violence in the west at the feet of Christianity because there is some vague allegiance to Christianity? Is this really the same case as in an Islamic nation where there is virtually no division between the political and the religious? Is modern England synonymous with Christendom?

    One must also ask whether religious violence done in the name of a religious cause is in line with that cause. Is it done in the face of the message (as the Lord Resistance was)? Or is there a permissiveness within the worldview itself (as an ardent atheism seen in the communistic regimes)? [that is not to say that many atheists agree with what the communists did, but that the logic of their world view is permissive of the actions]

    Friend, this seems to show more of an axe to grind, on your part, than a balanced review of history.
    I appreciate that Islam is not as blood thirsty as the secular West and the rise of the nation state has been. Point well made. One could also do interesting studies on the current blood-thirst of the West and compare that with the so called terrorism of Islam. But there is more to be said, and I don’t feel you’ve risen to that challenge.

  32. This is a wonderful essay, and while it is an attempt to make a rather valid point (the disparity between the historical numbers of people killed by Christians vs. Muslims and/or other religions), I think it makes a much more vital point: This is a human problem, not a Christian or Muslim one (although radicalized religion does fuel and provide significant justification for war and related atrocities, as does ultra-nationalism. The two combined can be a freighting mix). It is a damning and factual portrayal of the cruelty of the human race. The Christian European’s have such higher numbers simply because they had become so much better and so much more efficient at producing the instruments of war and mass killing.

    The stark reality is that we humans all live in glass houses – it is ill advised for any of us to throw stones.

  33. I really do not see the point of counting bodies each side like a competition to see what religion wins the thropy of evil. As we see , in the name of god thousands were dead
    The important point here, as the article shows is Religion and nationalism are closely intertwined.
    we must be aware of that fact in order to not be manipulated . in general gvts use religion to justify political violence, genocides, wars,lost of civil liberties….
    And how easy is to use muslins as scapegoats…

  34. Tarring an entire people based on their ethnicity, religion, or skin color for the crimes of a few is a fool’s errand, as even a moment’s reflection would reveal. Intolerance is intolerance. Consider analyzing the history of tolerance among religions. It would be a refreshing tonic to the toxic comparison of which religion is responsible for slaughtering the most people.

  35. Since any violence – including forms of Terrorism, coming from anyone who is either Muslim (including by conversion) or was raised Muslim, is currently then blamed on/attached to the 1/5 of the World’s population who are Muslim (including by the corporate media, and by a number of government officials), the points raised in Professor Cole’s article are valid.

    If individuals were being judged for their actions – sans blaming any and all from any religious and ethnic background considered “Islamic”, there wouldn’t be such a great need for this article.

    Consider, for example, if any and all who were “Christian” (i.e. all “Catholics” and “Protestants” and Caucasian (aka “White”) in the entire World were blamed for the actions of Timothy McVeigh in regards to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995?

    Rational minds would have then also tried to point out that “Catholic” and “Protestant” doesn’t even begin to cover have many variations – via many different sects and denominations there are, besides that any and all of any “religion”, ethnic background, and/or skin color should not be mass condemned and/or mass punished on that basis, and that individuals should being judged as individuals for their actions.

    The movements and trends of “Shia” and “Shiite” appears to be just as complex, as the movements and trends within “Jewish”, as the sects and denominations of “Christian”, and also within religions that are other than what are called “The Children of Abraham” religions.

    Then add in the geo-political and historical factors – by nations and by region, and add in the economic factors – including where indigenous people are oppressed and/or dispossessed. and it’s even more complex.

    I see Professor Cole taking the two-dimensional “either-or” mentality we are being force-fed by the corporate media, and by many of those in government supporting the so-called “war on terror” (which also involves stripping everyone of their human rights in stages), and turning it on it’s head as a lesson; Thus “holding up a mirror” in which we might see what is reflected back at us, regarding the demonization of 1/5 of the World’s population that we are be taught and conditioned to “think” in.

    When we object to that “reflection”, perhaps we really should pause for a moment to realize what the “undeclared” multiple (overt and covert) wars “unending for all time” and the forms of occupations being done “in our name” have been like and are like for the mass of humanity on the receiving end of those horrors, in the very recent and present time.

    Add to that, bothering to remember (or perhaps learn, in some cases) the history that Professor Cole is pointing out, do we not then want a different path to be followed?

    Do we not understand the reasons that Professor Cole is trying to get us all, to look at all of this – uncomfortable as it may be to face?

  36. This is a really specious argument, though the author reveals his biases by labeling Bill Maher a “bigot”, right up front.

    Why don’t we compare all these deaths to the Spanish Flu, while we’re at it?

    The problem isn’t Islam per-se, all religious dogmas have more than enough quotable passages that could give cover to anyone looking to murder in the name of said religion. It can be argued that absent any religion, the leaders of these fundamentalist sects would have a harder time finding recruits willing to kill themselves and others, however, the core of the problem is that the places that breed these actors are in a dire state of repression and poverty, which makes it very easy to turn them into conscience-less monsters. However, to call someone that identifies the very obvious fact that most modern terrorists are groomed into their roles under the umbrella of Jihad is to willfully deny reality in the name of false equivalence.
    Yes, Christianity (and every other religion) has had their time in the sun as the ostensible rationale for many heinous acts… but at the present moment it’s folly to pretend that Islam isn’t being used as the driving catalyst for most of the world’s terrorist activity.

  37. “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

    I can look at history and see the atrocities committed by many indivduals from many religions. Presently, the radical arm of Islam is probably the most active of the religious whackjobs(Non PC term descriptor).

    They have showed me all I need to know and I believe them. :(

  38. I’m willing to grant Cole’s point that nationalism and religion were inextricably intertwined throughout history and even in the 20th century. But Maher’s argument, as he said, was not a historical one, but one of current events; and his point about the impossibility of a “Book of Mohammed” on Broadway seems inarguable. Muslims may not have slaughtered en masse as xtians did in the past century, but the sanctioned murderous violence toward women and girls, the murderous intolerance for depictions of the prophet, their refusal to integrate into the European countries they emigrate to, and the call for the overthrow of those liberal democracies all bespeak a kind of fanaticism that Cole seems to willfully ignore.

    • Maher makes a logical error. There are some things that upset Muslims and cause riots that seem to us innocuous. But there are things that upset everyone in every culture and can cause riots.

      Maher should try performing at the Apollo in Harlem in blackface, liberally using the N word, and ridiculing Martin Luther King.

      Or, let him play south India dressed as Lord Siva and make fun of him and the other gods. Boo hoo, you’re really torn up by the story of Ganesha. Really? an elephant head?

      I really don’t think he’d get out of the theater alive.

      We know the rules of subcultures in the US and we don’t typically cross certain lines (and if we do there is trouble). We don’t know the rules for other cultures, and they therefore seem uniquely touchy to us.

      • Point taken. But what of the ‘when in Rome…’ adage? Even if it were possible, I certainly would not move to Tehran and protest in the streets for the overthrow of their government to be replaced with a xtian theocracy; yet that is exactly the mirror image of what has happened in London and other cities. And, while I am not in the business of defending Bill Maher, I do believe he is correct that religious fanaticism is the cause of too much ‘touchiness’ and violence and division among the peoples of this fragile planet.

  39. I really won’t have the time to ask the one who is going to kill me, what religion he/she is? All I know is I am going to die by some human!

    In another word, religion has NOTHING to do with it!

    Anybody can kill anybody provided the he/she can justify it to him/herself!

  40. Well written! Similar myths persist in India. Replace the word “Christian’ by ‘Hindu’ and you have the same picture. Only details in the myths are different.

  41. Great article! The spin the Media gives the situation is amazing, truly instilling hate. As an American Muslim with a Hijabi Wife, This event created nothing but fear for my family, and no amount of objective discourse can undo it. Muslims speak out against such atrocities, but their voices are not carried, no news outlet will cover it. Objective articles like this are extremely helpful, and I highl appreciate it.

  42. can some please update me? i’ve lost track of the score… i’m assuming the score is what’s important here?

    seems pretty clear to me that the general point the headline of the article makes stands: ALL religions can be bent by people from the best intentions to the worst. people killing each other is really, really sad.

    the comments and arguments over which particular group killed fewer is even sadder. what’s the imagined conclusion? is anyone actually hoping to win this argument?

    we’re all as bad as each other. when was the enlightenment again?

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