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The Myth of the Murderous Muslim


Another excellent article by Haroon Moghul, who takes on the demented historicity of Islamophobic claims regarding Jihad, Muslim empires and those who’ve died in conflict throughout the ages in relation to the historical population growth of the world.

The title, “The Myth of the Murderous Muslim,” perfectly highlights the attempted dehumanization by Islamophobes of Muslims, it is undeniably true that they want Muslims to be viewed as “murderous.” This article will go some way in aiding those debunking myths about the “eternal violent jihad in the cause of totalitarian Islam.”

The myth of the murderous Muslim

by Haroon Moghul (AlJazeera English)

Muslims are subversive jihadists. The Middle East is perpetually unstable. “Islam has bloody borders.” If you’ve already made up your mind, you’ll find a way to twist the facts to support your conclusion. And if the facts don’t do the job, you can always hire new ones.

In the last year, American anti-Muslim hate groups have increased threefold. As playwright Wajahat Ali and others have found, the farther we move away from the September 11 terrorist attacks, the worse discrimination, prejudice and violence against Muslims become.

There’s a simple enough reason for this: Islamophobia has become an industry. In the absence of alternative narratives, which can make sense of Muslim extremism, place it into context and guide American domestic and foreign policy, we are stuck with the voices we have – too often, these have been unqualified and uninformed.

It will take us a long time to get past the damage done by years of well-funded Islamophobes, who have dominated the media landscape (finally answering, incidentally, why it is that “Muslims don’t do more to condemn terrorism” – nobody was listening). But the resistance to bigotry has already begun and has already scored a number of successes.

There is only so long, after all, you can lie to people.

The boy who cried Islamist

Islamophobia promotes a racialised view of Islam, viewing Arabs and Middle Easterners and Muslims generally as one interchangeable, subversive, homogenous mass; the actions of the few represent the intentions and aspirations of the whole. Thus we were led to believe there could be a plausible connection between bin Laden and Saddam. The resulting cost in American lives, treasure and credibility, is hard to quantify. This is Islamophobia’s fruit: poisonous policies.

For reasons of strategic shortsightedness alone, Islamophobia would be discredited soon enough. But there’s another reason: Islamophobia doesn’t correspond to reality. The more likely an American is to know a Muslim, the more likely she is to have a positive view of Islam. Exposure undermines prejudice. That is, meeting real Muslims pushes aside the media narrative that is so pernicious and harmful. Why? Because much of what Islamophobia peddles is hyperbolic, fanciful, or meaningless.

Let’s see how Islamophobia does its damage. The value extends beyond anti-Muslim bigotry, by the way. The same type of “reasoning” is employed by all bigotries – radical Muslim voices, who require a conflict between a homogenous West and an ideally homogenous Islam, make the same types of arguments, often down to the disturbing details. But then it shouldn’t be any surprise that extremisms are broadly similar, or that they need to see opposites in the world, for their own identities to take root and thrive.

A lie told often enough feels true

Consider this interview from The New York Times, in which a prominent anti-Muslim voice makes the following remark:

Why isn’t it a shrine dedicated to the victims of 9/11 or the 270 million victims of over a millennium of jihadi wars, land appropriations, cultural annihilations and enslavements?

The woman behind these words, who I have no interest in naming (I don’t want to give her any more attention than she already has), used to be a regular on Fox News, but has lost even that perch. Her extremism was too extreme. (Indeed, one of the best ways to fight Islamophobia is to give the bigots a microphone and let them keep talking. Their disturbing rhetoric will soon unsettle the overwhelming majority of people, who recoil from such extremism.)

But let’s spend a moment to reflect on this allegation; namely, that “270 million” are victims of a homogenous jihadi juggernaut. It is certainly an amazingly precise claim. It is often frequently repeated – Islamophobia resembles nothing if not an echo chamber of incorrectness. In the months since, I’ve encountered many anti-Muslim voices repeat or inflate this number. Most recently, I’ve been challenged to explain the “300 million” killed by “jihad”.

Even if we stick with the lower number, I can tell you that this number was probably pulled out of thin air. (Even if it wasn’t, as I will show, it doesn’t matter.) But for the sake of argument, let’s take this claim seriously. Namely, that “Muslims” killed somewhere between two or three hundred million. Can that be possible? Where does this number come from? Does it reveal a uniquely and dangerously recurrent Islamic aptitude for mass violence? In short, no, out of nowhere, and no.

1,000 years of jihad

First, I think, it’d make sense to choose a time period. We’re told there were 1,000 years of jihad, although to be fair, elsewhere the same person described millions of years of jihad, but this is a thought exercise. I imagine she means the period from roughly 600 to 1600 AD, which covers the time when Muslim states were generally not (as was subsequently true) on the receiving end of colonial conquest.

When Islam emerged in western Arabia, around 610 AD, the total population of the world was likely between 300 and 400 million. Fast forward to right past our period. The United Nations Census Report suggests that the world’s total population in the year 1800 was 1 billion; since then, of course, it has shot up to some seven billion.

At that point, the world’s largest Muslim population, which would be located in South Asia, was almost entirely under British rule. (In 1947, the population of the Indian subcontinent was under 350 million.) We are being asked to believe that jihadis killed, by the year 1600, more people than lived in South Asia in the year 1600. Keep in mind that India is one of the most densely populated parts of the planet and has long been a centre of world culture and civilisation.

How did Muslims kill so many people?

India, or properly most of northern India, was under Muslim rule from 1200 to 1800. By the Islamophobe’s logic, millions of these Indians should have been slaughtered. But by whom? Muslims were never more than a minority and Islam was never imposed by force. The proof for this is in the geography – the capitals of Muslim India rotated between cities like Delhi and Agra, but conversion proceeded most widely on the fringes of these empires, in what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh. This is like saying the Roman Empire imposed Christianity and Christian populations were found farthest from the centre of imperial power.

Further, under Muslim rule, India became increasingly wealthy. (The same happened, by the way, in Muslim Spain, as Arab rule brought with it an agricultural revolution and an urbanising boom.) How was India becoming increasingly wealthy while its Muslim rulers were slaughtering Indians left, right and centre? How were they able to cause so much damage, for so long, without being overthrown? Muslims never enjoyed the kind of decisive advantage in military technology the West enjoyed after 1800. And the organisation of Muslim India gives the lie to the entire edifice of eternal jihadism.

The capital of the world 

We often look to the Ottomans as the world’s most powerful pre-modern Muslim dynasty. But the Mughals, rulers of much of South Asia, ruled over far more people and were far wealthier – compare Istanbul’s monuments to the Taj Mahal and you’ll see what I mean. There is however one thing both empires had in common: both ruled over majority non-Muslim populations.

Under the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, some 30 percent of this Muslim dynasty’s nobility were not Muslim, a proportion that had risen to 50 percent in the reign of his son Aurangzeb (1658-1707). By nobility, I mean those individuals given land and status based on their ability to muster troops to defend and expand the realm. If Islam was perpetual jihadism, why would so many non-Muslims join in – and be allowed to join in?

If Muslims were savages bent on perpetual terror, by what moronic logic would they arm their enemies, teach them to fight and incorporate them into their armies? What would we make of the fact that the greatest threat to late 17th century Mughal rule was the remarkable rebellion of a Hindu king named Shivaji, who was finally captured and defeated by the Mughals’ senior most general, whose name was Jai Singh – he, too, was not a Muslim.

Somewhere jihadis are killing everyone they come across, more or less, but still Muslim dynasties remain in power, their wealth increases, the urbanisation of their population increases and they leave behind magnificent public and private structures, which suggests they had quite a bit of free time. When the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed at the end of World War I, its capital, then called Constantinople, was over 50 percent non-Muslim. This is not to suggest the Ottomans were liberal democrats. But it also suggests they were remarkably tolerant for their time. Probably no other city in Europe was so diverse.

And we’re not even talking about most of the planet.

Muslims aren’t everywhere 

Many of the territories conquered, ruled or dominated by Muslims, such as Central Asia, North Africa and Arabia were comparatively empty. Muslim dynasties never touched the Americas, Australia or East Asia; the last of these undoubtedly held a significant percentage of the world’s population throughout the last 1,000 years plus.

So Muslims, who ruled over vast desert spaces and many sparsely populated areas of the world, still killed something of the equivalent of one-quarter of the world’s population in 1800. When the first Mughal emperor Baburconquered north India – from another Muslim dynasty, I might add – his army is estimated to number around 10,000; his opponent’s army is estimated at several times than that.

Is it conceivable that Muslim empires, such as the UmayyadsOttomans and Mughals, who ruled over majority non-Muslim populations, could have contributed to the killing of huge percentages of the world’s population while staying in power for centuries? How would they, as minorities, have been capable of sustained carnage for decades at a time? When did they get the time to build huge public works projects, establish towns, rebuild cities, fund wells, hospitals, mosques, pools and fountains?

What technological advantage did they have that made them so superior to their enemies that they could sustain such a bloody and vicious record – for 1,000 years? The Mongols exploded out into the world and caused horrific damage, but they managed that for only a few centuries and left nothing of the kind of legacy the great Muslim empires did. Indeed, the Mongols ended up adopting the religion of the peoples they conquered, whereas the reverse happened early in the Muslim period.

A most post-modern warfare 

And thus we are left with an implausible and absurd suggestion that jihad killed 270 million people. But even with all this, still three more points need to be stressed, because in recognising their significance, we recognise the ultimate absurdity of the Islamophobic worldview.

First, more Muslims died fighting each other than died in battles against non-Muslim dynasties. Armies were often mixed too, which drives bigots off the wall; when the Ottomans were defeated at Vienna in 1683, they were finished off by a charge of Polish Muslim cavalry, allied with their enemies. Where do these casualties fit in? Should we arbitrarily decide that “intra-Muslim jihad” killed 50 percent of the total number? Why not, considering most of Islamophobia’s made up? How were Muslims who so often fought each other also able to fight everyone else?

Unless of course it’s not about Islam versus non-Islam.

Second, this isn’t real history. It’s dumping “facts” on the unawares, hoping that the sheer flood of information covers up the lack of an explanatory framework. Not only does the Islamophobe play loose and fast with very different eras, places and peoples, but she ties events together without attempting to explain why. If jihad is really the most murderous ideology ever and it is equal to Islam, then why would so many people become Muslim? What motivated their violence? What sustained it? And how come most Muslims live peaceable lives?

Bigots make up history because actual history undermines them.

Third, let’s say for the sake of argument Muslims killed 300 million people over a 1,000 year span. That doesn’t meananything. One could just as easily construct a counter-narrative that works like Islamophobia does: arbitrarily, ignorantly and entirely unself-consciously. I mean, we’d link disparate events based on the religious (or cultural) identity of the culprit.

We could construct a narrative of Western perfidy in response.

According to Charles Mann’s 1491, which explores the pre-Columbian Americas, nearly 100 million perished during the European “Age of Discovery”, making that the most violent contact between peoples in human history. Nothing in Islamic history remotely compares. With the typical sloppiness of the Islamophobe, we could note how Western ideologies like Communism and Nazism led conservatively to the deaths of another 120 million people; we could note the brutal colonial exploitation of Africa and Asia, in which millions more perished and then breathlessly announce, “Five Hundred Years of Western Civilisation Kills Hundreds of Millions!”

We could toss in the fact that the West has invented weapons of mass destruction and used them in ways no other parts of the world have. (Chemical weapons in World War I; aerial bombing was invented by the Italians against Libyan civilians; and, of course, only America has used nuclear weapons, and twice, both times against civilian targets.) But this would be stupid, because it assumes that people in different times and places are the same, responsible for each other’s actions and should only be judged by the dark chapters of their history.

Osama bin Laden portrayed the history of Islam and the West as one long narrative of confrontation, as do many intemperate and extremist voices. He chose to ignore all the countervailing evidence and ignored the differences between times and places, peoples and their leaders. He downplayed and dismissed the achievements of Western culture and civilisation, of which there are so many I’m hard-pressed to know where even to begin. Penicillin? Goethe? The modern museum?

Islamophobes play a similar game, linking events that take place across the planet and hundreds of centuries apart, and they want us to take this seriously. And so you get numbers like “270 million” or “300 million”. And these are brought up talismanically, as if they constitute overwhelming proof. The Islamophobe is completely and congenitally incapable of reflexivity. They cannot, in other words, look in the mirror; their mind has been made up, and what history is marshalled is not to engage in discussion but to preclude it.

The jihad on accuracy

There is this last little problem.

The Muslim proportion of the world’s population has accelerated dramatically in the past centuries and continues to do so today; during our 600-1600 AD window, there were far fewer Muslims in the world, proportionally speaking. Which means we have to figure out what everyone else was up to.

What about the people killed by other peoples – or, the biggest killer of all back then – disease and its most vulnerable victims, infants and the young? Where do we put the Crusades, the Aztecs and the Incans, the Eastern Roman Empire, the Mongols (good heavens), Slavs and Byzantines, the Chinese, Korean and Japanese?

Add them all together, and more people were probably killed than ever lived, which is about as accurate as you can expect this kind of nonsense to be.

Haroon Moghul is a Fellow at New America Foundation and the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is an author and a graduate student at Columbia University. 

Follow him on Twitter: @hsmoghul

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  • 1DrM

    Rubbish post from a joker who believes in “hard evidence from the internet” coupled with his own childish ignorance and paranoia.

  • SpaceBoy

    I’ve read about the 270 million “tears of jihad” and I certainly want to know more. And I’m sure many are here for the same reason.

    Sadly, this article sounds biased as fuck to me.

    If you want to defend the islam from negative public opinion, this article should be more neutral when expressing the ideas.


    For starters, this whole article depends upon assumption anyone spreading those statistics regarding Islam, are people motivated solely by phobia.

    The way I see it, with all the hard evidence all over the internet of extremist beheading men in the name of Islam, suicide bombing, and whatnot… there is more of an incentive to learn and put it into perspective, than the theory people are just being islamophobic.

    Listen well, this is not the color of people’s skin in question. This is a number of inhumane atrocities done by men, caught on camera. Phobia is irrational fear… but wanting to learn the roots of of *proven danger* is not just rational, it’s necessary.

    And… damn, certain things in this article are mere insults to our intelligence. Such as asking us why “if muslims are so bad, there so many muslims?”, because surely we must the oblivious about indoctrination throughout history, especially when it’s start at birth.

    Also, along the way it’s full of “argumentative crutches”, such as reminding us how these “islamophobic” characters are incapable of reasoning.
    *Fun fact: a compelling argument had never required claims about other people reasoning skills.

    …Such debating methods belong to people who either know they’re wrong or hiding part of the facts, or fear they might not be entirely right.

    And bringing in the atrocities caused by the west as comparison, just in case. Trying to failsafe the whole thing in case claims against jihad have some truth after all?

    I have a hard time taking this article seriously, and it’s a shame… because I’m not an islamophobic, but since I’m not so quick to disregard information about a 1400 year old practice that starting to fall into the light of modern information… I guess that’s how this article chooses to portrait me.
    No honest debate can exist in this childish treatment to the reader.

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  • Kirook

    I don’t know how UK politics work (you are from the UK right?) but the left wing (Democrats or liberals) tends to be more in favor of change or social reform, as well as higher taxes, while the right wing (Republicans or conservatives) are more traditional; they are in favor of lower taxes but also lower spending. The majority of loons are either part of, or in line with the ideology of, a far-right Republican group called the Tea Party; Peter King, Allen West and Michele Bachmann among others are notable members. As far as I can tell, the right wing does tend to be more extreme than the left (though like any political system, both sides have their crazies).

  • Kirook

    I have encountered many of that species exploring the internet. One trait to note is that hūmānus irratiōnālis is driven into an uncontrollable berserk rage when confronted with a logical argument that contradicts its case. It seems to perceive anyone who does such as one of its natural enemies, Muslimus radicalis, or an ally of such, regardless of whether or not they are actually confronted with one. However, far fewer Muslimus radicalis exist than hūmānus irratiōnālis believes, despite the fact that the latter wil go to ridiculous lengths to find nonexistent members of the former species.

  • eslaporte

    The Habsburg Spanish were also in conflict with the Ottoman Turks at the time. The wearing necklaces could have also been to poke the Spanish in the eye by cheering for their enemies.
    The security policy of the Habsburg Spanish was to prevent a influences and encroachments by both heretics (Protestants) and infidels (Turks) in the lands and possessions.

  • eslaporte

    Yes, with pictures on page 13 of the necklaces they wore.

  • He went from one extreme to the other. He went from the far left to the far right

  • Talking_fish_head

    Logic and reason are like poison to the Islamophobes, even when proven wrong, they’ll defend the argument like the gospel truth

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    “Better the turban of the Turk than the tiara of the Pope”

  • I can understand strong Islamophobia in countries whose national identities were forged against Islam (such as Greece, Bulgaria or Serbia). But the strength of Islamophobia in the Netherlands baffles me, as Dutch patriotism was forged not against Islam but against Catholic Spain.

    Didn’t the Dutch resistance against Spanish rule have a slogan “Liever Turks dan Paaps”, implying they’d rather be ruled by the Turks than by the Spanish?

  • David Horowitz’s parents were outright Communists IIRC.

  • Leftwing_Muslim_Alliance

    Have they ever met a real left wing person ? Someone whom I would consider left wing and I dont mean some kid fresh out of unversity. As far as I could make out the USA has a right wing and a righter wing
    Sir David

  • Many of them like David Horrowitz, even think that academia can’t be trusted because is dominated by leftist ideologies who hate America and the west as well as Christianity.

  • The “counter Jihad” bigots would be playing the Massacre her was responsible for on Islam and the fact he was a Muslim, or Sharia, or something that had something to do with Islam, regardless of whatever he stated was his motivation.

  • eslaporte

    Science and academic research also means nothing to Islamophobic loons – lol. If it does, it’s from the view that universities and educated viewpoints are “leftist” and “anti-Christian” and are intended to undermine “Western civilization.”

  • eslaporte

    “Dutch photographer was held by ‘Jihadis’ on Turkey-Syria border” – ohhhh, true to form for a Dutchman to be involved. I wonder if this guy is actually and AIVD agent who has been indoctrinated into the same nonsense about his own countrymen of Moroccan decent. After all, Theo was murdered by a “jihadist – al Qaeda agent.” Sounds like something we’d get out of the Buitenlandse Zaken when Uri Rosenthal was in charge and Geert Wilders was standing over him.

  • Solid Snake

    Hmm this..ISLAMOPHOBE ( irratiōnālis hūmānus) speak of sounds like a most peculiar creature. Perhaps further observation of their behaviors in their natural habitat will help us understand the Islamophobe much better. From my studies I have deduced that irratiōnālis hūmānus reacts uncontrollably in the presence of green rectangular pieces made of a cotton and linen blend. The severity of the reaction depends on the Arabic numerals printed on corners of the paper. The higher the numeral, the more severe the reaction. I will need further funding to continue my research. Donations of all sizes are accepted.

  • mindy1

    No matter how many facts you have, they will not matter to the true loon.

  • Sam Seed

    Wow, a very thought-provoking article. Please write more, Haroon!

  • Reynardine

    We know what it would be.

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  • eslaporte

    Further question: If Adam Lanza was Muslim, what do you think the discourse would now be in the mass media?

  • eslaporte

    There are two things here with regard to the neocon adherents of Clash of Civilizations thesis. First, Samuel Huntington opens his book with the end of the Cold War and the “need” for America to have new enemies. “Civilizations” are drawn up according to religious parameters and Huntington tell us that “we” need to hate those who are “not like us.” Hence – the fussing over sharia law and social and family practices of Muslims is one area of discussion of Clash adherents.

    Second, Huntington’s thesis not only applies to relations between “the West” and the “Islamic world,” but between Orthodox civilization (Russia, Greece, Serbia), Confucius civilization (China) and the like. So – we see Russia as still the outsider and of course China are outsiders. Huntington’s ideas are actually structural realism with a religious twist, as countries and their leaders are find their “civilization kin” countries based on religiously order relations. Clash thesis is a recipe for constant conflicts and misunderstandings.

    Also – in the backdrop of this essay is the idea that horrible crimes committed by suspects with a Muslim background are “terrorists” – when the same type of crime by someone else is “just a horrible murder.” The Theo van Gogh murder turned into an “act of terrorism” by the Dutch government is a good example. This allowed treating youth (mainly young Moroccan men) with religious extreme ideas and identity as a “national security threat” rather than a problem in need of youth and family services. Radicalized non-Muslim young people, such as neo-Nazis and skinheads, are never treated as a national security problem, but a police and youth management problem. What if Theo was actually murdered by an ex-lover rather than a street gang member who claims to be a “jihadist?”

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