On the BBC this morning, they were probing various segments of French public opinion toward Muslims in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo Paris murders. Opinions ranged from a far-right politician who made predictable statements about closing "radical" mosques and expelling people who wouldn't "accept French society" to a person who was apparently supposed to represent a more middle-of-the-road point of view, who made the following statement:
Most Muslims aren't terrorists but most terrorists are Muslims and we should not be afraid to examine why.
I found myself rather taken aback by that - instinctively my left/liberal bias is to reject blame of any segment of the population on the basis of actions of some of its members. Then my brain produced the following:
Most men aren't rapists but most rapists are men and we should not be afraid to examine why.
Well, shit. I think I believe the second statement and now I'm trying to figure out whether the first statement is also one I should believe and if not, why not. In particular, pretty much every discussion I've seen of why women may rightly fear strange men (see for example Schroedinger's Rapist) might be applied to French (or American) attitudes towards Muslims with some pretty simple cut-and-paste. Is that right? Is it appropriate?
If that's the gist of the "analogy is correct" argument, I need to probe why the analogy might be wrong. I started to think about possible counter-arguments, and I'm having problems.
One thing that leaps out at me is that most of the victims of terrorism are themselves Muslim. From the recent Taliban massacre of Pakistani schoolchildren to the daily bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan it feels like the vast majority of those killed around the world by terrorists are Muslims. Some of the more targeted attacks such as Charlie Hebdo and some of the general attacks such as the London Tube bombings affect non-Muslims more, but the statistics argue the other way.
Conversely, the vast majority of rape victims are women. It's true that men do rape men, particularly in situations like prison or child abuse, but again the statistics argue that 'men commit rape against women' is the canonical case. So that's a way the analogy is flawed.
Some argue that terrorism is more often fatal and physically injurious. Some rapes are violent and do physical harm to the victim but we've learned that looking for bruises is not a good way to judge if rape happened. But this is a misery contest nobody wins - rape victims may suffer life-long devastating injuries; terrorist victims may suffer life-long devastating injuries. I don't think it's fruitful to try to distinguish along these lines. It is true that laws worldwide almost always treat terrorist offenses worse than sexual assault offenses, but perhaps that's a flaw in the legal system, not in the analogy.
Terrorists often argue that they are using the only means available to them to remedy injustices. There are reports that the NYC shooter thought he was avenging a wrong, and it's clearly true that many people who go to conflict zones such as Iraq or Syria to join the jihadist fight do so because they see it as their only way to respond to perceived aggression by white/western invaders. Perhaps then one way that the analogy fails is that terrorists act out of a political motive where rapists act out of personal motives. This might be right but I feel like I'm on pretty shaky ground here - I'm sure there are people who have done good research on what motivates rapists and terrorists but I don't feel qualified to comment.
But even if I am not, isn't that the thrust of the original comment - that we should investigate the motivations of Muslims? Doesn't that end up lending support to the analogy?
And here is where I feel like I've foundered in the tar pit: I don't know what to think past this point.