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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

What Obama should have said about Islamist terrorism, the Crusades and religious violence

From The Washington Post:

Obama essentially seems to be simply saying that "we're all sinners; and let he who is without sin cast the first stone." But by fleshing that out with specific historic examples -- the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery -- he's inviting us to weigh very different forms of violence and suffering against each other, which is not typically a smart idea.

On the one hand, by any objective measure the Crusades and slavery were far more barbaric enterprises than contemporary global Jihadism. Historian Matthew White, who literally wrote the book on human atrocities, puts the death toll from the Crusades at around 3 million, and the Atlantic slave trade around 16 million. By contrast, only ("only") 107,000 people have been killed in global terrorist incidents since 2000, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Of course, if you think about this for a bit you start to see the problems with the comparison. Some slave traders may indeed have sought justification for their actions in the Christian faith, but much of the trade was driven by economic reasons (a demand for cheap labor) and racism. The Crusades were just as much about political power as they were about religion.

And so, Obama's drawing parallels between today's acts of violence in the name of Islam and acts of violence through history in the name of Christ omits a key nuance. Violence, some of it religiously-motivated, is a common denominator across time and place. But the reasons of individual acts of barbarism are each unique and different in their own awful ways.

But the evidence also shows that religion has become a much more powerful motivator of terrorism in the past 15 years or so. The chart below, from the Institute on Economics and Peace, shows that the number of terrorist incidents driven by religion has increased dramatically since the year 2000.

And most religiously-motivated terrorism today is perpetrated by Islamist terrorists in the name of their misreading of Islam. Fully two-thirds of terror-related deaths in 2013 were caused by just four Islamist groups -- Al Qaeda and its affiliates, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the  Islamic State, and the Taliban.


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