The Difference Between Islam and Muslims

Back when President Obama was criticized for failing to call ISIS “Islamic,” I wrote that it was wrong for non-muslims to speak about what qualified as “Islamic.” The basis of my argument was that what qualifies as Islamic is hardly in the jurisdiction of the non-muslim head of a secular state. But I cautioned that whether or not ISIS is Islamic, it consists of Muslims.

Today, with an executive action by President Trump that does not apply to all Muslims, but appears to apply only to Muslims, the discussion about the link between Islam and terrorism is once again a hot debate.

But there is a difference between a religion and its followers. While it is disingenuous or ill-informed to deny that Islam in general has a place for violent jihad, this does not mean that all Muslims are holy warriors. This should be obvious, but it appears not to be. It’s a question of basic predicate logic.

Just for example, Judaism pretty clearly forbids eating pork. Are there forms of Judaism where this is ignored or even overruled? Sure. But regardless of the teaching, not all Jews abstain from pork. What about Christianity? Examples abound. All you need to know about the difference between a religion and its followers is that attendance at religious services in just about every religion is less than 100%.

In other words, not every follower upholds every tenet of their faith, even if they feel guilty about it. Which are they most likely to find ways out of? Ones that have a high cost, obviously. So even granting the obligation to varying forms of jihad in Islamic teachings—a fact which should not be denied both because it is the truth and because ignoring an issue doesn’t make it go away—not all Muslims will do it.

Given this, it should be clear that a ban on Muslims in general, even if extended to the entire world instead of a few unstable countries, would be both overly broad and too narrow at the same time to prevent any harm and reeks of the same bigotry that prevents Jews and Israelis from entering many countries.

However, one must be careful. The experience in Europe appears to show that high densities of recent immigrants from Muslim countries do in fact become highly fertile breeding grounds for people who formerly weren’t interested in jihad to become so. As such, the frequently seen meme that one has a one-in-a-billion chance of being killed by a refugee is misleading.

Furthermore, politics irrationally selects which fears we choose to address all the time. It may be that the odds of being attacked by a refugee are lower than by a white supremacist (even when adjusted per capita, which the currently circulating memes do not), but the odds of being killed by a drunk driver are roughly the same as being killed by a gun, yet guns are far more heavily regulated in the United States.

Even in this time, I still believe facts and not shaming are the way to good politics and policy. This often means much more nuance is required than a Facebook image or a tweet provide.


About the Author
Jon-Erik G. Storm is an attorney, politician, and former professor of religion and philosophy.
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