18 March 2016
The perception of the Muslim world’s association with violence and extremism has become progressively entrenched in mainstream consciousness during the post-9/11 years. This is partly due to power shifts in the Middle East and the consequent response of a struggle for a new political order.
Those who claim Muslims are unusually inclined to violence often cite the late Samuel Huntington’s assertion that Muslim societies are more “bloody” than others because they experience more intra-state violence. But American political scientist M. Steven Fish dispels Huntington’s unsupported claim through rigorous quantitative analysis of data between 1946 and 2007.
In his book Are Muslims Distinctive? Dr. Fish finds no evidence that countries with a larger share of Muslims experience disproportionate acts of mass political violence. In fact, Dr. Fish notes that when it comes to violent crime such as murder, Muslim-majority countries have consistently low rates compared with Christian-majority countries. Such facts get lost when the focus is on the Muslim extremists who commit the majority of violent political and terrorist acts on a global scale today.
The notion that Islam is a religion that somehow leads its followers into violence is reinforced by the various confrontations playing out in the Middle East, and closer to home, deadly acts such as the Jakarta bombing in January. However, the tendency to attribute causality to extremists’ religious identities obscures the underlying pressures which they purportedly respond to.
In South-east Asia, certain extremist groups have pledged allegiance to the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Middle East (or ISIS as it is also commonly known), including most recently groups in Central Mindanao. However, framing ISIL’s appeal in this region as only religiously-driven is limiting. In fact, one way to diminish ISIL’s influence in South-east Asia is to emphasise that violent upheavals in the Middle East are driven by regional political interests rather than religion.
… Saleena Saleem is an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. This is part of a series prior to an upcoming RSIS conference on “Islam in the Contemporary World” on 28 April 2016. A version of this commentary was published in TODAY and Berita Harian.
IDSS / Online
Last updated on 21/03/2016