WASHINGTON — When television host Bill Maher declares on his weekly show that “the Muslim world … has too much in common with ISIS,” and author Sam Harris, a guest on the show, concurs, arguing that Islam is “the mother lode of bad ideas,” I understand why people are upset. Maher and Harris made crude simplifications and exaggerations. And yet, they were also talking about something real.
I know all the arguments against speaking of Islam as violent and reactionary. It has a vast following of 1.6 billion people. Places such as Indonesia and India have hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t fit these caricatures. That’s why Maher and Harris are guilty of gross generalizations. But let’s be honest. Islam has a problem today. The places that have trouble accommodating themselves to the modern world are disproportionately Muslim.
In 2013, of the top 10 groups that perpetrated terrorist attacks, seven were Muslim. Of the top 10 countries where terror attacks took place, seven were Muslim-majority. Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center rates countries on the level of restrictions governments impose on the free exercise of religion. Of the 24 most restrictive countries, 19 are Muslim-majority. Of the 21 countries that have laws against apostasy, all have Muslim majorities.
There is a cancer of extremism within Islam today. A small minority of Muslims celebrate violence and intolerance and harbor deeply reactionary attitudes toward women and minorities. While some confront these extremists, not enough do so and the protests are not loud enough. How many mass rallies have been held against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in the Arab world today?