"Is Islam violent," is a question that implies an answer. It is already loaded with a suggestion, that implies that somehow Islam is exceptional as a religion and is inherently violent, backwards, and uncivilized. This is not an easy topic to explain in brief, but I will try. First off, I believe that Islam as a religion promotes peace, universal brotherhood, and nonviolence, and there is enough proof historically and even in the present context to validate this. Here are some facts and background context to understand this argument.
If it was true that Islam is inherently violent and Muslims are bloodthirsty, then how come the world hasn't exploded, yet? Consider that there are over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world in almost every country imaginable. This billion-plus group of people comprises every race, ethnicity, and traditional group imaginable and also a multiplicity of schools of thought ranging from Sunni to Shi'a Islam to other traditions. Also, to speak about religion, international relation experts need a bit more background and understanding than small talk about a football game. Unfortunately, many of the so-called "experts" are hardly qualified to talk about Islam. Here is a recent report from the Center for American Progress report on the growth of Islamophobia in the U.S, fueled by charlatans, who have made a career out of demonizing Islam and Muslims.
Carl Schmitt has argued that communities are defined not by mutuality, but via definition of the "enemy." This seems to be at play when one speaks of Islam these days. Post-Cold War international relations is predicated on the search for an eventual "enemy," and in the minds of many post-Cold War thinkers, this enemy is the Muslim world. Scholars such as Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington proposed and gave credence to these theories and we are witnessing a massive onslaught on Islam based on this false premise.
Dr. Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, points out in a recent blog post that "Contrary to what is alleged by bigots like Bill Maher, Muslims are not more violent than people of other religions. Murder rates in most of the Muslim world are very low compared to the United States." He goes onto point out that the political violence unleashed by Christian nations of Europe far outweighs any violence that Muslims have carried out, simply because Europe industrialized war. This was done in the guise of nationalism, but how far is it from religiosity?
He further points out that "The Swedish church is a national church. Spain? Was it really unconnected to Catholicism? Did the Church and Francisco Franco’s feelings toward it play no role in the Civil War? And what’s sauce for the goose: much Muslim violence is driven by forms of modern nationalism, too."
While this is not to deny that there are crazy extremists who happen to be Muslim, the questions that people ask about Islam should be examined from the perspective of whether they are seeking real understanding or only seeking to indulge in polemicism. Discourse concerning religion often gets mixed up in politics, and I believe one must parse out the religious teachings of Islam from the political actions of the Muslim governments to get clearly understand what is going on today. This makes all the difference. It is not really whether one religion is more violent than the other, but whether our understanding of the issues at stake is clear — or is biased according to our own interests and world-view. One must also remember, as one of my favorite teachers used to say: "Are you really seeking after the truth, or looking for proof to validate your existing beliefs?"