from Jonathan Wright by Jonathan
The Pew Reseach Center has put out the results of its survey on the attitude of Americans towards Islam and propensity to violence, to coincide with the congressional hearings called by Rep. Peter King. Fairly predictably, it shows a very strong correlation between rightist politics and the belief that ‘Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence’. Ethnicity and religious denomination also seem to correlate, along the scales white-Latino-black and Protestant-Catholic-‘unaffiliated’. The prevalence of the association between Islam and a propensity towards violence is still high among Americans (at an average of 40 percent), but perhaps not as high as one might expect by reading the online comments posted to almost story relevant to the subject. One encouraging sign is that fewer young people say they believe there is any link. What the survey does prove is the persistence and prevalence of essentialist ideas about large religious communities. Maybe it’s time that educational curricula made a deliberate effort to explain the diversity of opinion within such communities, emphasizing the way that believers, as individuals and as groups, emphasize the doctrines that suit their worldly interests and political dispositions. Any religion that has existed for so many centuries across such a vast geographical expanse offers a wide range of alternative doctines, many of them incompatible or contradictory. ‘Islam’ as a stable unitary construct hardly exists, except in the most banal sense, however much both Muslims and their enemies might claim that it does. Only individual Muslims can endow the label with meaning, and each Muslim does so in a way that is never identical to the way other individual Muslims do so. This is widely accepted among theoreticians (Aziz al-Azmeh comes to mind – “There are as many Islams as there are situations which contain it”), but it’s clearly taking quite a while for this to sink in among the general public. One day, the Pew Research Center might offer people who respond to such surveys an option reflecting this insight.