Why Islam? Of the three great monotheistic religions only one did not go through the Enlightenment

Why Islam? Of the three great monotheistic religions only one did not go through the Enlightenment

One of the central tenets of science is to define a problem to be studied with as much clarity as possible, and the key to clear communication is calling things what they really are. Unfortunately, both the American media and public intellectuals have failed to be honest in identifying what everyone in Europe knows is the primary source of terrorism in the world today: Islam.

Yes, there are political and economic motives behind terrorism in addition to religion, and most Muslims are not terrorists, particularly those living in Western countries. And of course Islam is not the only religion that can lead to violence, as witnessed in the occasional abortion clinic bombing by Christians, but I can’t even remember when the last one was. (I just checked: there were two in 2012, no injuries, three in 2007, also no injuries, a handful of inept attempts at arson in the early 2000s, with most serious attacks made in the 1980s and early 1990s.) Instead, most Christians who oppose abortion protest peacefully, as they did in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington DC that I happened upon on January 22, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when I was in town on my book tour for The Moral Arc.

By contrast, a news cycle does not go by without a report of Islamic terrorists blowing themselves to smithereens, igniting car bombs and IEDs, shooting or stabbing so-called infidels and heretics, and cutting off the heads of or burning alive journalists and other innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. How common are these attacks? According to a preliminary report issued by scientists at the University of Maryland at College Park working at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, Islamist terrorists stand out far above domestic terrorists on both the Far Left and the Far right. Utilizing data from the Global Terrorism Database, which has accumulated information on over 125,000 terrorist attacks from 1970-2013, including 58,000 bombings, 15,000 assassinations, and 6,000 kidnappings, researchers have been able to more carefully identify what the problem is, starting with a clear definition of terrorism: “The threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.” Their focus is on terrorism in the United States. Here are a few of their preliminary findings.

Waves of terrorist violence have flared up over the decades. Far Left violent extremists were most active in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Far Right terrorists were most active in the 1990s. And since 9/11 most terrorists are Islamist extremists.

Far Right and Far Left extremists tend to be loners and individuals with psychological problems, whereas “Islamist extremists tended to be part of tight-knit groups.” All three groups experienced similar rates of radicalization in prison.

Additional risk factors for all three groups included relationships with other extremists and romantic relationship troubles, but “only far right extremists had extensive previous criminal backgrounds.”

Violent Islamist terrorists tended to be young (between 18 and 28 years old), unmarried, and not well integrated into American society.

Most tellingly (for my point here) is that for both Far Right and Far left extremists, “religious activities and beliefs were negatively correlated with the use of violence,” whereas for Islamist terrorists, almost by definition, religion was the primary motive (why else would they be so labeled—the motive is right there in the name “Islamist”).

This graph, generated from the Global Terrorism Database by typing in the keyword “Islam” found a total of 5,704 terrorist incidents, the vast majority in the last couple of years, thereby confirming our intuitions that the trend lines match the headlines.

graph of terrorist attacks related to Islam

Additional data illuminates why violence may be inherent in the Islamic religion, to the extent that Muslims believe in sharia, especially the parts of the law that command corporal punishment for minor crimes, stoning for adultery, and capital punishment for leaving the Islamic faith. A 2013 Pew poll found these disturbing percentages of Muslims who believe that anyone who leaves Islam should be executed: South Asia (76%), Middle East-North Africa (56%, Southeast Asia (27%, Central Asia (16%), and Southern-Eastern Europe (13%). Why do they believe this? One reason is that most Muslims believe sharia is the revealed word of God: Pakistan (88%), Afghanistan (81%), Palestinian territory (76%, Egypt (70%), Malaysia (66%), Jordan (57%), Iraq (56%), Kyrgyzstan (54%), Lebanon (50%), Bangladesh (50%), Tunisia (44%), Albania (43%), and Russia (39%).

A 2009 Pew study found these percentages of Muslims who say suicide attacks against civilians in defense of Islam are justified: 43% of Nigerian Muslims, 38% of Lebanese Muslims, 15% of Egyptian Muslims, 13% of Indonesian Muslims, and 12% of Jordanian Muslims. A 2006 study found that nearly a quarter of British Muslims believe that the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London in 2005 were justified, and 28% said they hoped that one day the U.K. would become a fundamentalist Islamic state.

So when the Islamic terrorists who murdered the editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo shouted “Allahu Akbar” and proclaimed their acts to be revenge for insulting the prophet Muhammad, we should take them at their word that their religion is what motivated them.

But why is Islam caught up in this cycle of violence and not one of the other two great monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity. It was not always so. In the book of Numbers, 31:7–12, for example, Moses assembled an army of 12,000 troops to defeat the Midianites, who were allied with the Moabites in their desire to see the Israelites wiped off the face of the earth.

They warred against Mid′ian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and slew every male. They slew the kings of Mid′ian … And the people of Israel took captive the women of Mid′ian and their little ones; and they took as booty all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods. All their cities in the places where they dwelt, and all their encampments, they burned with fire, and took all the spoil and all the booty, both of man and of beast. Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses.

That sounds like a good days pillaging, but when the troops got back, Moses was furious. “What do you mean you didn’t kill the women?” he asked, exasperated, since it was apparently the women who had enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful with another God. Moses then ordered them to kill all the women who had slept with a man, and the boys. “But save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man,” he commanded, predictably, at which point one can imagine the thirty-two thousand virgins who’d been taken captive rolling their eyes and saying, “Oh, God told you to do that, did he? Right.” Was the instruction to “keep the virgins for yourselves” what God had in mind by the word “love” in the “love thy neighbor” command? I think not. Of course, the Israelites knew exactly what God meant (this is the advantage of writing scripture yourself—you get to say what God meant) and they acted accordingly, fighting for the survival of their people. With a vengeance.

Worse, the book considered by over two billion people to be the greatest moral guide ever produced recommends the death penalty for saying the Lord’s name at the wrong moment or in the wrong context, for imaginary crimes like witchcraft, for commonplace sexual relations (adultery, fornication, homosexuality), and for not resting on the Sabbath. How many of today’s Jews and Christians agree with their own holy book on the application of capital punishment? I dare say it is close to zero. That is how far the moral arc has bent in four millennia.

The reason, I argue in The Moral Arc, is the Judaism and Christianity went through the Enlightenment and came out the other side less violent and more tolerant. Ever since the Enlightenment the study of morality has shifted from considering moral principles as based on God-given, Divinely-inspired, Holy book-derived, Authority-dictated precepts from the top down, to bottom-up individual-considered, reason-based, rationality-constructed, science-grounded propositions in which one is expected to have reasons for one’s moral actions, especially reasons that consider the other person affected by the moral act.

The Enlightenment secular values that we hold dear today—equal treatment under the law, equal opportunity for all, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, civil rights and civil liberties for everyone, the equality of women and minorities, and especially the separation of church and state and the freedom to practice any religion or no religion at all—were inculcated into the minds of Jews and Christians (and others) in the West, but not so much in Muslim countries, particularly those who would prefer a return to the medieval barbarism of theocracies. Until we can take an honest look at the problem and stop accusing people of “Islamophobia” who are courageous enough to say what almost everyone else is thinking, the problem will not go away on its own.

About the Author:

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, and the author of The Moral Arc. His previous books include: The Believing Brain, Why People Believe Weird Things, Why Darwin Matters, The Mind of the Market, How We Believe, and The Science of Good and Evil.


  1. Hugo Lindum February 25, 2015 at 1:43 am - Reply

    I would suggest to Mr Sharmer that the reason that Christians (and Jews) have found it relatively easy to be more flexible in the theology is the following:
    a) Christians never had any illusion that the Bible was dictated word by word by Jesus. Muslims do believe that the Koran was dictated directly by Mohamed who got it from the Angel Gabriel (who got it from god);
    b) There is no violence (that I am aware of) by Jesus nor of him encouraging violence; Mohamed was personally involved in battles, encourages the taking of non muslim women captives “concubines” and worse;
    c) It is difficult to assert that one part of the Bible is superior to another, which leaves a lot of room for debate. In the case of the Koran there is the important concept of abrogation, in which in the Koran itself Mohamed says that latter revelations trump earlier verses (god has the right to change his mind). The problem with this is that the earlier parts of the Koran are much more “love thy neighbour” than the latter verses, which are much more “go out and kill non-believers without mercy.”

    My final point would be about the statistics of Islamic violence. I would suggest that pre 1990 it just was not reported as there was little integration of the world compared to today. I lived in Indonesia per 9/11 and there was regular violence against the local Christian minority, but it would certainly not have been reported in the western media.

    • akka acute February 25, 2015 at 5:43 am - Reply

      have you ever read the coran !!! please try to be more rational don’t let felling change your mind read the coran again and ask help from muslims did they explain it to you and you will find the truth is not shame to find yourself make mistake but the shame is to close your eyes from the truth and in addition you speak about something you don’t understood the real meaning or you want to curse the coran just because you follow the majority in your state search search search

      • Lynne Daniels February 25, 2015 at 6:39 am - Reply

        Some of us HAVE read the koran, more than once (Dawood translation twice, Ali’s once) and it is precisely that reading that lead to a deep dislike of islam. The notion that anyone with an aversion to islam is so out of “ignorance” is a comforting assumption I see moslems make online all the time…It is understandable that they would create and cling to that illusion, but it is nonetheless an illusion.

      • seve February 25, 2015 at 11:48 am - Reply

        i read the Koran – and since then i hate islam.

      • Nerberg March 1, 2015 at 2:13 pm - Reply

        @akka acute
        The only important part Hugo Lindum forgot to mention is the concept of “taqqiya.” As a muslim I’m sure you know that this means you can (and should) lie/deceive in order to protect your religion or yourself from non-believers.

        Other than that, after reading the quran (and parts of the hadith) I too agree with Hugo Lindum. There are fundamental differences that separate islam from all other religions, making it more primitive, more totalitarian, more violent and more resistant to change/enlightenment.

        Personally I don’t believe in gods or deity, but the other religions are at least more peaceful and tolerant of people and opinions that differ from their own beliefs.

      • Hugo Lindum March 3, 2015 at 3:51 pm - Reply

        I have read the Coran (sic).
        Have you read it? Most muslims have not. All they have done is memorised it like little parrots leaning back and forth in a language they cannot understand. I say to you one word: abrogation.

      • Max March 22, 2018 at 11:57 am - Reply

        Hey, Muslims: Learn English before posting here.

        • CheChenBoyYT April 30, 2018 at 4:32 pm - Reply

          Hey, read a real Qoran instead of a Christian-made one

    • David Powell February 25, 2015 at 6:04 am - Reply


      A) Strictly true, but there are many Christians (Protestants of various flavors in particular) who believe the Bible is the “inspired, inerrant Word of God.” Maybe Jesus didn’t write the Bible for them, but God did.

      B) “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother….” — Matthew 10:34 ff.

      “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” — Luke 14:26

      While they need to be placed in their historical and literary contexts like any other text, these “hard sayings” of Jesus have made Christians itch for a long time. Jesus is not always the warm and fuzzy figure that many Christians and other seemingly contradictory texts make him out to be. And there might not be so much violence, as we’re using that term here, in the name of Jesus, but there is plenty of hate in his name.

      • Hugo Lindum February 25, 2015 at 4:13 pm - Reply

        My point though was that Jesus of Nazareth is not quoted in the bible as encouraging violence, whereas Mohammed did. If the quote you had given from Matthew had been from Jesus himself, do you not think it would have more force?
        A thought experiment: if Jesus had been a warlord and not a carpenter, would this not have had a serious effect on Christianity, and the worldview of Jesus himself?

      • Martin Pusey Nichols March 2, 2015 at 3:31 am - Reply

        There are also other incidents that lead me to believe that Jesus could give way to unjustifiable wrath. The cursing of the fig tree that did not bear fruit, and more particularly the overturning of the money changers in the Temple of God. The latter was a singularly sedicious and anarchistic thing to do, and was bound to lead to trouble with the authorities.

        • Bendixen March 3, 2015 at 3:42 am - Reply

          @Martin That is of course true, though I would hardly put jesus and muhammeds actions in the same category.
          One known for civil vandalism, and swearing at a tree, compared to one who made military campaigns.

          I personally take from this, that the first is a sort of anarchist leader :) ,and the second a conquering general/

          It follows thus from my view point, that if the first can inspire all sorts of horrors, the same can and will come true for the latter. Its for me even likely, that the bad shit will be on a greater scale compared to the circumstances and opportunities.

  2. John Smith February 25, 2015 at 4:00 am - Reply

    A oouple of issues, one smallone larger:

    -Palestine is not a territory. It is an occupied nation. Refer to it as Palestine.

    -The largest, deadliest terrorist organization in the world is the US government. This is inarguable and should be noted. I know that is the thrust of your story, but even all of the religious expired acts totaled up are a rounding error compared to what the US government does. While not totally inspired by religion, GW Bush was a devout christian.

    • Craig Crosby February 25, 2015 at 7:56 am - Reply

      Recall, sir, that the article defines terrorism by excluding the acts of a state, which by strict definition would be acts of war. Now, no doubt the US wages war in many places, and it maintaining its empire has done so for a good while. That makes it a warring organization, not a terrorist one.

    • Jay Samples February 26, 2015 at 8:21 pm - Reply

      John Smith: If you think the US is a terrorist organization, then you need to learn what the definition is of terrorism, because you are seriously mistaken.

      • Ola March 2, 2015 at 1:08 pm - Reply

        It’s been a debatable topic even in the united nations (i.e. definition of terrorism)

    • Martin Pusey Nichols March 2, 2015 at 3:49 am - Reply

      It is only because we live in a free society that you can post your ridiculous comments, John Smith – surely not your real name ! It is turning the common sensical use of language on its head to suggest that the USA is a terrorist organization or state (in spite of all the mistakes that have been made). And what gives you the right to categorically call the Palestine territories a nation ? Read your history : there has never actually been an independent Palestine. (Which is not to say there never should be).

    • Max March 3, 2015 at 11:02 pm - Reply

      Sam Harris’ response to this Chomskyite idiocy.

      In brief, by completely ignoring intention and just comparing civilian body counts, the U.S. becomes worse than Nazi Germany because it killed a lot more German civilians than Germany killed U.S. civilians.

      In the Pew poll, Palestinian territories obviously refer to the West Bank and Gaza. You have a problem with that, take it up with Pew.

  3. leeskeys February 25, 2015 at 4:28 am - Reply

    Very thought provoking article. Thank you.

  4. Larry Winkler February 25, 2015 at 6:04 am - Reply

    “The threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.”

    This is the definition of terrorist. Quite self serving. Eliminates all technologically advanced Christian nations for the continual violence.

    • David June 26, 2017 at 10:47 pm - Reply

      I somewhat agree. Note the use of “non-state actor” here which relieves any country to plan, fund, support and execute terrorist groups, revolutionaries to topple governments, change of regimes and ultimately creating a favourable market, base or situation for them. All this goes in the name of maintaining peace in the world.

      In case such groups are caught, they are terrorist for the world until a link with a state is identified upon which it becomes​ a “state actor” thereby excluding the group from the definition of terrorism. Countries using violence under the guise of “covert operations” to achieve their political, economical or any type of goals should also come under this definition.

  5. Pat Dunlap February 25, 2015 at 6:15 am - Reply

    And yet, during the Middle Ages when Christian scholars were busily burning the “heretical” writings of Plato, Aristotle, and other intellectuals of the ancient world, Muslim scholars were rescuing those they could, copying them, and translating them. In fact, without these particular Muslims, we would probably know nothing about the ideas of men such as Ptolemy, Thales, and the many other ancients whose ideas became the foundation upon which the Enlightenment was built. Islam has had its Age of Reason, too.

    • Lynne Daniels February 25, 2015 at 6:36 am - Reply

      Don’t forget the role the monks played in keeping alive classical knowledge.

  6. Lynne Daniels February 25, 2015 at 6:33 am - Reply

    Great article, good comment from Mr Lindum too.He said pretty much everything I was gearing up to write. (The beating of the moneychangers might count as an act of violence committed by Jesus BTW.)

    I would only add this : The typical moslem may not be a terrorist in the sense that s/he would personally go out and plant a bomb or fire a machine gun into a crowd…But if islamic-inspired terrorism were to create the world that many adhering moslems believe is inevitable and a positive good (a global caliphate with only sharia law in effect, moslems privileged over non moslems, non moslems reduced to the three choices (conversion, slavery , or death, and dhimmitude IS slavery, not second or third class citizenship , as apologists for islam pretend.*) , how many of those peaceful non terrorist moslems would be unhappy ? How many would consider this state of affairs unjust ? (“Man made” governments and laws are considered inherently unjust by believing moslems, and that includes any form of government and legal system not based on islamic laws-that’s what moslem “freedom-fighters” mean when they say they’re fighting against “oppression” or “injustice”.) How many “peaceful moslems” would really object to living in idleness while being supported by taxes levied on non moslems (Jizya)? And those moslems who would object to my comments : Are they sincere, or is it taqqiyah?

    As a non theist, as a woman, and as a US citizen, it is chilling to me how many Americans are willing to compromise on sharia law being administered in the USA. Liberals/progressives say it’s only fair that moslem communities in the USA have their own legal courts, like the Jews-ignoring that Jews have never believed they have a duty to impose their legal systems on non Jews. Many moslems believe that sharia law, as divinely inspired,should he imposed on ALL humans. On Men’s Rights Activist sites, not a day goes by on which I don’t see multiple posts musing about how great it will be when sharia courts are up and running : The posters seem to be of the opinion that non moslems can use these courts without having to convert**, and the sharia courts’ rulings on divorce , child custody, and spousal maintenance will be legally enforceable even if one party (the wife) objects to the ruling. (No one ever said MRAs were smart…But they are a fairly large and apparently growing percentage of the US population, and they are openly salivating over islam and sharia reversing every gain women have made since the Married Woman’s Property Act.) And don’t think there aren’t Christian sites online in which the posters have mentioned how much more tenderly moslem foibles are dealt with by the media than are Christian stances : Not wanting to bake a cake for a gay wedding ceremony is a crime against humanity and the person involved is a subhuman troglodyte . But FGM? Hatred of dogs? Honor killings? Well, that’s their culture which we must respect, and anyway, the only reason anyone brings up such matters is because they hate “brown people”.

    I realize that a global caliphate is unlikely in the extreme, but the sheer number of “enemies in our gates” is nonetheless troublesome.

    *The dhimmi is property of the moslem government but not of an individual moslem. As a slave , everything he owns is technically state property and can be confiscated-including his wife and children
    **On the MRA/MRM sites on which I lurk , a large percentage of posters claim to be Atheists/skeptics/agnostics . The percentage of those who claim to be Christian traditionalist is pretty small, though there are traditionalist Christian MRA sites on which most or all the posters will be Christian .

    • Hugo Lindum February 26, 2015 at 1:03 pm - Reply

      Excellent post. To your list of muslim foibles which are tolerated I would add one more: Rotherham. I am sure you know what I mean. For those that don’t its a long and horrible story and not for here.

  7. Philomorph February 25, 2015 at 7:39 am - Reply

    I know almost nothing about the Koran, but if Mr Lindom is correct about abrogation, it sounds like the Koran went the opposite direction from the Bible. The biblical old testament was pretty hard-line and god-fearing, punishment, etc. But the new testament sort of softened and superseded that with more “love they neighbor” and “god forgives”.

    • Craig Crosby February 25, 2015 at 8:11 am - Reply

      Historically, after Muhammad came back with the first Surats of the Quran and was pretty much ‘dissed,’ he went back out and got the rest – the angry ones, where god changed his mind. Actually Muhammad was insane, and hearing voices. Of course the voice he heard was his own, and when he got pissed off because his nomadic bretheren didn’t accept the nicey nice god, he presented them with a nasty one. And he got all the angry arabs in the area together and they waged war against everyone around until they were worn down and said, “uncle.” Now, nasty-god rules. And they continue to ‘convert’ by wearing people down. They do not and will not give up. It has worked so far, so why should they? And we are nuts to expect anything else, especially with Taqiyyah and Kitman being ‘okay’ to nasty-god.

      Of course, the problem is as much with the Hadith as with the Quran. These guys are a real work.

  8. willsypher February 25, 2015 at 7:50 am - Reply

    In a provocative and sometimes helpful essay, Dr. Shermer makes two crucial errors.

    One, as already pointed out above, is to limit terrorism to non-State actors, an artful dodge. This is a deliberate distortion of reality; States continue to imprison, torture and kill their citizens at a rate orders of magnitude greater than all the non-State terrorists combined. Think about Saddam’s Iraq, Qaddafi’s Lybia, or al-Assad’s Syria as recent dramatic examples. The earlier monstrous State terrorism by Mao Tse-tung or Stalin need hardly be cited.

    The second error is in its way, even more serious, a circular argument ascribing religious motivation to violent extremists from Islamic countries. He states:

    Most tellingly (for my point here) is that for both Far Right and Far left extremists, “religious activities and beliefs were negatively correlated with the use of violence,” whereas for Islamist terrorists, almost by definition, religion was the primary motive (why else would they be so labeled—the motive is right there in the name “Islamist”).

    Let me get this straight. I will readily acknowledge strong religious motivation in many, if not most, terrorist attacks by Muslims. My quarrel with Shermer is with the thrust of his argument: the “proof” that Islamic terrorists are religiously motivated is in the name we have given them: As he states ” . . . why else would they be so labeled–the motive is right there is the name “Islamist.” This hardly rises above the off-cited tautology: “pig are called pigs because they look like pigs.” It is we who have labled the terrorists “Islamists”, which we then cite as “proof” of their motivation. While ISIS does use Islam in its name, most terrorists from Muslim countries do not so label themselves. Think of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shebab in Somalia, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Yeman and elsewhere.

    Dr. Shermer, we deserve far better than this from you. The proof of religious motivation lies in facts on the ground and statements these terrorist have made not from our convenient labels.

    • Solomon Sharpie February 25, 2015 at 8:59 am - Reply

      Thank you willsypher for very clearly making those points about Shermer’s errors.

      I’d like to add another one. Shermer’s whole thesis here is based upon the idea that the Enlightenment (approx. 1650 to 1780 AD) is a historical watershed moment that altered and separates the character of the 3 big monotheistic religions. His evidence? Stats from 1970 to 2013, and anecdotes from 2014. Um… He kind of left out about 200 years of evidence. He even acknowledges the spike in “Islamic” terrorist acts as primarily something of the last decade. If we looked only at the whole 20th century, the data would flip his thesis on its head, not to mention the 19th and 18th centuries. If one simply looks at the historical record anytime before 1970, Christianity and Judaism do not at all appear more tolerant, reason-based, and less violent than Islam. In fact, one would reasonably find the exact opposite.

      Additionally, the notion of Europe’s Enlightenment occurring totally independent and without influence or interaction from its Muslim neighbors is a silly, myopic fantasy that has been thoroughly debunked. In fact, not only did the vibrant Muslim corpus of philosophy and science influence Enlightenment thinkers, but there are many Enlightenment thinkers that developed a great affinity for Islam as a religion of reason. That being said, one of the most negative products of the Enlightenment was a Euro-Christian-supremacist worldview that is exhibited in the thoroughly intolerant post-Enlightenment ideas and polemics that espoused the inferiority of Africa, and the Muslim world. Arrogant orientalism was essentially born with the Enlightenment, and we, today, operate off of many of the falsehoods about Islamic belief and its absence in civilizational history crafted in that time. Perhaps we might even say that Shermer’s ignorant, narrow-minded, intolerant, disdain for Islam is a child of the Enlightment. :)

    • Ken Farnsworth February 25, 2015 at 12:13 pm - Reply

      You criticize Mr. Shermer over two points, and yet both of those points came from an academic study. True, he quoted from the study, but they weren’t his words. They came from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, from scientists at the University of Maryland. Both of your objections should have been directed at them. To define terrorism in a particular way (generally accepted, by the way), and then to provide data based on that definition is clear, transparent, not misleading in any way, and allows you to agree or disagree with the conclusions as you wish. You have to evaluate the evidence at face value, however. The evidence is presented as facts, and you have to have strong reasons for disputing those facts. Do you have contrary evidence? You certainly have a right to your own conclusions. But don’t blame Dr. Shermer for anything other than bringing a valuable study to your attention.

      • willsypher February 25, 2015 at 5:04 pm - Reply

        Ken Farnsworth is technically correct in saying that Shermer was citing statements from a University of Maryland study. But I must take exception to his admonition that I should not be criticizing Shermer but directing my comments to the authors of that study.

        There are at least two problems with this position. To the extent that readers can separate the exact words of the study from Shermer’s– he mostly paraphrases rather than quotes –he cites the conclusions of the study approvingly and thus can be assumed to hold these views.

        Moreover, the accuracy of his paraphrasing is questionable when he says “. . . for Islamic terrorists, almost by definition, religion was the primary motive (why else would they be so labeled–their motive is right there in the name Islamist.” This is arrantly circular and hardly spounds like the words of a distinguished, sober, academic panel and I suspect that Shermer has gone far beyond their actual conclusion in support of his polemical stand on Islam.

        As to supporting my critique with facts, I was only challenging Shermer, not the accuracy of the study he cited, and thus have no responsibility for factually refuting it.

        Where did you get the idea that ‘terrorism” is generally accepted to mean only non-State actors? Accepted by whom? You are simply ignoring much of history, the considerable threats and violent actions by governments to intimidate their citizens, which is the point I was making.

        • Max March 25, 2018 at 8:43 am - Reply

          His “polemical stand on Islam” happens to be correct. Get over yourself and help us clean up this country.

  9. Bad Boy Scientist February 25, 2015 at 8:09 am - Reply

    I wonder what Dr Schermer has to say about Catholic terrorists from Ireland who so plagued England with attacks for over a century? Sure, things have died down for now but they were most active after the so called age of enlightenment so, to be fair, he has to explain them away.

    Also, what is it about exerting control over a bit of geography (establishing a ‘State’) that excludes one from the ranks of terrorists? Is that a meaningless distinction? [I mean, I have never heard anyone say “Well, my child was killed by a government force rather than a non-government force so it is OK.”] If we count clandestine operations of agents of so-called Christian nations – e.g. many of the snatch & grab or assassination operations of Navy Seals – how do they compare with the ‘bad guys’?

    • Hugo Lindum February 25, 2015 at 4:29 pm - Reply

      The IRA were not Catholic terrorists in the same way that Al Qaeda or IS are. Islamic terrorists claim that they are fighting for Sharia Law, the Muslim Caliphate and often scream “God is great” as they commit their atrocities. Indeed I invite you watch the video of the cruel burning of the Jordanian pilot inside a metal cage – it is overtly religious.
      The IRA were Catholics, but what drove their violence – they clearly stated, was the situation and lack of representation of the Catholic community – not the Bible or Catholic doctrine per se. I never recall Jerry Adams or others quoting from the Bible to justify the killing of Protestants or British soldiers.

      A point about your reference to the Navy Seals – are they not targeting those involved in violence – who consider themselves to be soldiers, rather than taking random civilians and just killing them to engender fear in others? Are the Navy Seals killing people just because they are not Christian? Indeed, are the Navy Seals even Christians?

  10. Tim Callahan February 25, 2015 at 10:06 am - Reply

    I think Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” offers an excellent reason for the failure of Islam to go through the Enlightenment. Diamond notes that the geography of Europe made it possible for many states to exist as separate political entities. Therefore, when one kingdom failed to accept a new idea, another would. The advantages of accepting the new idea forced those reluctant at first to embrace it to change their policy and grudgingly allow it in. Thus, despite the atrocities of Europe’s religious wars, culminating in the Thirty Years War, Christianity was dragged, kicking and screaming, into a secularized world. I should also point out that the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century didn’t touch, for the most part, European Jews. However, the Jewish Enlightenment hit in the nineteenth century.

    In contrast to Europe’s many states, The Islamic world was divided into but a few major empires, chief among them that of the Ottoman Turks. Their failure to embrace modern technology can be seen in the sea battle of Lepanto in 1571, in which an allied Christian fleet consisting of about 300, mainly Spanish and Venetian, ships met the Ottoman fleet of similar strength. The outcome of the battle was that the allied Christian fleet lost 20 ships, while the Ottoman fleet lost 280 ships. The difference between the two fleets was that the Europeans relied far more heavily on cannon, Their galleys had five cannons mounted on their bows, compared to the three cannons mounted on the bows of the Turkish galleys. In addition, the Spanish introduced galleons, three-masted ships with rows of cannon on their sides and galleasses, ships midway between galleys and galleons. Aboard the ships, the European troops were armed with arquebuses, primitive firearms, while the Turks were armed with bows. The new technology of cannons and firearms was available, known and used by both the Europeans and the Turks, but embraced far more enthusiastically by the Europeans. The crushing defeat inflicted on the Turks at Lepanto shifted naval power from the Mediterranean to Sea to the Atlantic seaboard. While the Turks remained a threat to central Europe until they were crushingly defeated by the Austrians, led by Prince Eugene, at the Battle of Zenta in 1692; the shift of geographical power from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic was the beginning of the end for Muslim power and influence in the world. Eventually, the shift in power to the Europeans led to the occupation of much of the Islamic world by European powers. Thus, the Islamic nations not only failed to go through the Enlightenment, but entered the twentieth century feeling humiliated.

    If we look back on Europe’s religious wars, we find numerous instances of religiously based atrocities. For example, in the English civil war, after the Battle of Naseby (1645), the victorious parliamentary forces, raided the royalist camp. Finding a number of women there, soldiers’ wives and camp followers, the round-head soldiers cut off the noses of the English women. However, since the Irish women were considered “Papists” (i.e. Roman Catholics), the soldiers killed them by staving in the women’s skulls with their musket butts. Not only did Islam fail to go through the Enlightenment, most Islamic countries are today, ideologically, where Christianity was in the 1600s. Unfortunately, their religious ideology is abetted by modern technology. While the Qur’an embraces violence to a greater degree than do the Christian scriptures of the New Testament, the secularization of the Islamic world will eventually tame Islam, just as the Enlightenment eventually tamed Christianity.

  11. Robert Corfield February 25, 2015 at 11:19 am - Reply


  12. jasonaquest February 25, 2015 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Islam didn’t go through “the” Enlightenment, but it had *an* Enlightenment period. Arabic culture (largely Islamic) was responsible for preserving much of Classical math and science during the period when Europe (largely Christian) was going thru the Dark Ages. Europeans later adopted the Arabic numeral system and inventions such as al-jabr (“algebra”).

    • Karl G Booth February 25, 2015 at 6:02 pm - Reply

      Jasonaquest. I feel you are in error. The numeral system is originally from Hindu India. The origins of algebra can be traced to the ancient Babylonians, who developed a positional number system that greatly aided them in solving their rhetorical algebraic equations.

      Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī who wrote the treatise re Al Jabr was Persian and not an Arab. He was also catigated by the Muslim leadership on many occasions.

  13. Tom Beal February 25, 2015 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    I think this article would be more valid if you substituted “Arab/Middle Eastern Patriarchy” for Islam. It is the patriarchy that uses tenants of Islam to justify their privileged position. Some of it is fear, justified in many ways, of the corrupting moral influence of the West. Just watch a video of Miley Cyrus and who wouldn’t be afraid for their daughters. Their response is a reactionary, romantic turn to some purer era.

  14. Dan Vignau February 25, 2015 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    I only have one comment: If all of the paranoid schizophrenics, who believe that the desires of their fictitious man/god in the sky matter one iota, would seek treatment instead of continuing to join in rituals that continue to brainwash them into thinking that their hallucinations and infantasies are real, then we humans could accomplish wonders without having to cow-tow to lunatics who are so terribly disjointed about their lack of immortality, that they value their delusions more than human life.

    • Mike February 25, 2015 at 10:38 pm - Reply

      See nail. Hit head.

    • Diogenes April 6, 2018 at 7:09 am - Reply

      That explains why all those overtly atheist regimes have been such shining successes.
      You don’t need religion to be a preachy, self-righteous, nasty, intolerant, one-eyed, utterly vicious bastard.

  15. Michael Rudnin February 25, 2015 at 1:23 pm - Reply
  16. Edward Fox February 25, 2015 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    The Islamic peoples (defined as those living in the lands dominated by the religion, history and culture of Islam without presuming necessary doctrinal allegiance) DID seek out the Enlightenment, motivated above all by the desire to meet the challenge of Western power so painfully impressed on their society.

    The trouble is they didn’t find it.

    The liberties, prosperity and power of the West, without remote historical precedent, were predicated on ideas, ideals and values of the Age of Enlightenment e.g. rationalism, individualism, secularism, liberalism and republicanism, however inconsistently and incompletely.

    But in the latter 19th century and throughout the 20th Middle Eastern scholars traveling to Western, particularly European universities found a new, radically opposed philosophical tradition that had gained ascendancy in its ivory towers, a tradition referred to by an increasing number of scholars as the “Counter-Enlightenment.” This was the Germany-centered tradition dominated by Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831) including figures such as Rousseau, Hume, Fichte, Schopenhauer, Marx and their 20th century heirs.

    Often couched in the Enlightenment’s sensibility and terms e.g. “pure reason” and “scientific socialism” this reaction was broadly marked by its hostility to every core Enlightenment value i.e. by its anti-rationalism, anti-individualism, anti-liberalism, statism, militarism and enmassment of society by collectivism – from socialism and communism on the left to the racist, nationalist völkisch (volk or folk) movements of the right. Politically a decisive, often explicit rejection of the Western ‘bourgeois’ liberal tradition it laid the foundations of 20th century totalitarianism in its Nazi, Fascist and Marxist incarnations. These were ideologically driven catastrophes. The mother of ideology is philosophy.

    It was this latter intellectual milieu Middle Eastern scholars studying in the Western humanities found, assimilated and imported so hopefully as the vanguard of Western thought. But these ideas and ideologies were no more successful implemented in the Middle East than elsewhere. Ultimately they undermined its every effort at political, economic and social reform in the region, as they did the drive to decolonize and modernize worldwide. That failure armed the most reactionary elements of Islamic society with rationalizations for their agendas.

    “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”
    – Bertolt Brecht, German poet and playwright

    Brecht, a Marxist, penned his powerfully acerbic words thinking of Adolf Hitler. Yet Hitler’s carnage, if perhaps more concentrated and virulent, was surpassed in sheer scale by those waving the banner of Marx, though the latter was more hidden from Western eyes by “iron (and bamboo) curtains.” While leftist and rightist totalitarians fancied themselves polar opposites – though not above ad hoc alliances such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – they were in fact two offshoots of the same philosophic root and shared the same mystical-collectivist-totalitarian premises. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini began as a socialist and shaped his theory of Fascism deeply influenced by, among others, the syndicalism of Marxist’ Georges Sorel. Later Pol Pot, heavily influenced by the writings of Marx and Lenin, the French Communist party (which he joined as a student in Paris) and Maoism would blend Marxian and rightist völkisch (volk or folk) elements into a genocidal program to realize a classless, ethnically pure Khmer society. That root has not been extirpated and continues to sprout new shoots, most alarmingly in the West itself. Kant for example remains the West’s central philosophic figure.

  17. Mike February 25, 2015 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    It could be argued that Islam did actually go through a sort of enlightenment under the Ottoman Caliphate, in whose later years a more benign kind of Islam held sway across the Middle East, but that this has been – to a significant extent – replaced by the Saudi-backed Wahhabi and Salafi doctrines. These doctrines are becoming increasingly popular, and if the author was to name them specifically then I would have no problem at all with the article. The above the problem I have then is this: accuracy matters.

    We atheists do no good making the ontic fallacy of defining Islam as a single ‘thing’, that is, a unitary rational agent capable of causing consequence. Rather, as history clearly demonstrates, there are multiple competing Islams, each of which share a broadly similar set of symbols; but they very crucially interpret scripture variably and consequently act very different ways.

    Given the above then, we should instead identify the specific movements within the faith that are causing trouble, and criticise them; this would leave the Islamists and their apologists literally without a proverbial ‘leg-to-stand-on’. After all, Wahhabism and Salafism were conceived neither in Palestine nor poverty. No, instead they came from an extremely wealthy Saudi elite, who continue to serve as both the economic and ideological engine for these doctrines. When we accept that these Muslims are the legitimate voice of ‘Islam’, we disempower moderates such as Maajid Nawaz, who has another, equally valid, interpretation of the faith.

  18. Glory Glorifikus February 25, 2015 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    Look, in the US we voted Bush into office, a man who never ceased to insinuate his Christianity into his views on policy and international relations, he even claimed that God had told him to go into Iraq. That’s not terrorism by definition but it’s still a heavily faith-based decision that resulted in a mountain of bones. In Israel there’s a similar sentiment, an undercurrent of religiosity that is the impetus behind acts of violence, how could there not be? Their flag is the star of David. And not so long ago they were bombing Gaza and ignoring the UN’s request to stop, costing many *innocent* civilians their lives. So perhaps other religions are less guerilla about it because of opportunity and resources and various factors that dilute the covertness of a faith-based agenda but that doesn’t make them more advanced than Islam, they just choose other conduits. This is why organized religion is just a paved road to pervasive elitism and death and no religion is better than the other or more evolved because they all presume to know the will of the universe and all of reality (God).

    • Hugo Lindum February 27, 2015 at 1:29 pm - Reply

      I am afraid you are using what the muslims call “Kitma” – deceit through omission. While what you are saying is true, do you really think that Bush was sincerely a Christian or was it just politically expedient when leading the GOP to pretend to be so?

  19. Mohammed Sani February 25, 2015 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    Unfortunately these days it is always like the saying that the one eyed man being king in the kingdom of the blind, your article is so myopic and dry without clear conviction and reason and it is either that you are ignorant or deliberately trying to misguide some other ignorant people like yourself. I’m a Muslim and i’m a Nigerian, i wonder where you came up with those statistical figures. you quoted some biblical verses which you claimed were violent but you have failed to quote or make reference to even one Qur’anic verse of equal gravity yet you were busy trying to make a point. One of the problems we have in the world today Mr Shermer is scholars and journalists becoming biased in their judgements, more than half of those terrorism crimes that have been committed and reported in the west and elsewhere were committed by non Muslims dressed up like muslims and chanting the word “Allahu Akbar”. We Muslims are caught in between some unknown people dressed up and infiltrating our religion and committing crimes in the name of the religion and biased writers like yourself who instead of investigating like real journalists do you just went ahead to write rubbish. Just yesterday i shares a picture from a muslim brother showing ISIS fighters pretending to perform salat and each one of them was facing a different direction, every Muslim adult and child knows that we face the same direction. The difference between Islam and Christianity will be clear to you when you read the speech of Pope Urban II at the council of clemont and compare it with Umar bin Khattab’s speech of trust and promise to the people of Jerusalem 500 years earlier, it will even become clear when you read that the muslims did not spill a drop of blood when they liberated it from the romans and how the crusaders came 500 years later to murder every man, woman and child in it. One thing i will admit though is that Islam is under attack and we the true adherents of the faith are watching while we are painted as something less human and insensitive by zealous writers and fanatical scholars.

    • Hugo Lindum February 27, 2015 at 1:22 am - Reply

      Thank you for your post, which is interesting, however, it is an example of the muslim concept of Taqiyya (lying to “kuffar” (the non believer) to cover up the truth of Islam from them). As I am sure you are aware there are over 100 verses in the Koran advocating violence How many would you like? Here is just three:

      Quran (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing…
      but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone. But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers.)”

      Note there is no “historical context” as this is when the muslims have just moved to Medina and there is no danger of attack.

      Quran (2:216) – “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.”

      Note – this is suggesting that violence is a good thing in itself – again from the “prophet” himself.

      And for any that reject Islam:

      Quran (3:56) – “As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”

      I could carry on with the nasty stuff from the “prophet” himself, and I would like you to note there is no such violence from Jesus of Nazareth or the Buddha or leaders of other world religions; but I
      will address your point that muslims are caught by people pretending to muslims to discredit the religion. This is a common belief, and you usually go on to blame Jews are the CIA for this, but I suspect that you know this wouldn’t fly in this forum. This is even a common believe about 9/11 and 7/7 (the attacks in the UK, even though there are video recording of the terrorists themselves saying what they are going to do). These stories are again either an example of Taqiyya in your case, or probably in others cognitive dissonance.

      • Takif March 7, 2018 at 5:26 pm - Reply

        Hi, I know that this comment is three years old but I just wanted to point out an error with your statements about the “Kill them where you find them verse.” First of all, you translate Al-Fitnah as disbelief, where the Arabic word for that is Kufr. Fitnah actually translates to persecution, so the verse is saying “persecution is more grievous than slaying,” making clear that fighting against oppressors, not innocents, is what is being condoned in this verse. It’s quite a widespread mistranslation.
        You also make mention of how there is no historical context (I got a little laugh out of that, as we are talking about HISTORY), but I assume you meant relevant historical context. You are also wrong there, as the verse is talking about when the Muslims were returning to Mecca to perform Hajj, and preparing to be stopped.
        Also, Taqiyya does not mean to deceive kuffar, or anyone else for that matter. In Islam, lying is considered to be worst than missing the five required prayers. It means to guard oneself out of fear and deny being Muslim, not to lie about the Islam and its teachings. It was popularly used by Shiites under Sunni rule (a situation that never should have arisen as division amongst the Ummah is the antithesis of Islamic teaching). It is not meant to deceive, but to protect oneself in extenuating circumstances.
        A side note: It is possible to be a Muslim and NOT believe in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and/or be anti-semitic in general. I don’t blame the Jews and the CIA for everything.

  20. Abdul-Kareem Abdul-Rahman February 26, 2015 at 1:57 am - Reply

    I don’t have an issue with the point that Islam needs a form, its own form, of Enlightenment for it to come out on the other side more tolerant and less violent.

    But as a scientist, I have an issue in cherry picking the religion itself as the main source or cause of violence conducted by Muslims.

    The author himself says and acknowledges that there are “political and economic motives behind terrorism in addition to religion”. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that religion, here, Islam is a more important cause of Muslim violence than political and economic disenfranchisement and deprivation.

    And proving it would be very difficult indeed, with the massive risk of confounding politics and economic injustice poses to Islam as a ’cause’ of Muslim violence. As such I would ask scientists, and philosophers and other intellectuals, to refrain from using the word ’cause’ or ‘source’ or other such words until there is scientific proof of this causative relationship.

    Having said that, we also need to be aware that violence conducted on the part of oppressed peoples such as slaves and occupied peoples can now be accepted as being casused by political and economic structures by society and scientific and learned circles a lot better than for contemporaries of the violence. They would tend to focus on less systemic variables, and more on individual attributes such as moral failings, race, religion, and so on.

    It is on this basis, I believe, that there is warrant to view that muslim violence, abhorrent and unacceptable as it is, is caused by mostly the systems and structures that cause political and economic disenfranchisement and deprivation on the part of muslims (e.g. colonisation and occupation, authoritarian and undemocratic leadership and governance, and extreme neoliberal economic policies that favour economic protection and growth of corporations than people, even by using public funds to do so, and its downstream effects, such as corruption, racism and so on), just as we can now accept that violence of other oppressed and disenfrenchised peoples are caused by the systems and structures that perpetuate their oppression and disenfranchisement.

    The intelligentsia of the West aught to promote muslim Enlightenment by focusing more on structural and systemic causes of violence and promote readings of the Islamic law and jurispudence (sharia) that say that these are against Islam, rather than by furthering structural exclusion of muslims by attributing violence to individual attributes such as their religions.

    • Hugo Lindum February 27, 2015 at 1:34 pm - Reply

      “….Islam is a more important cause of Muslim violence than political and economic disenfranchisement and deprivation.”
      Then how do you account for several muslim doctors in the UK (average salary of over $175,000), who have full voting rights, and who received free education by for by the state, being involved in terrorism?
      As for you objecting to cherry-picking – it is you that is cherry picking your religion to not see the violence advocated by its founder. Or is your comment just another example of Taquia?

      • Moe Panahi March 3, 2015 at 10:02 am - Reply

        Oh seriously, mate.

        As soon as anyone tries to point something out to you, you just ramble a bit of crap, and then yell: “taquia”.

        I’m an atheist. Grew up muslim. Not once was I told to lie to someone outside of the faith. Taquia may have been a war tactic back in the day, and may very well be utilized by zealots today. Jeez, even Sun Tzu advocated deceit.

        A minority of muslims are extremists, a minority of muslims are terrorists. The majority just want to fucking get on with their lives and live inside of their little pretend world, with a sky daddy.

        • Hugo Lindum March 3, 2015 at 4:03 pm - Reply

          You are of course that a majority of muslims just want to get on with their lives. However within every muslim community there are a small but not insignificant percentage that are committed to the violent expansion of their faith. This violent minority scares the rest into keeping quiet.

          Even in the UK according to the latest poll BBC 27% of muslims offered some degree of support to those that killed the people in Paris. This means that about 1 million people here support to a greater of lesser extent this level of violence. You also get quite significant levels of support for ISIS and the introduction of Sharia in the UK,

          By the way saying “you ramble a bit of crap” but don’t say what that is. Now, when you were a muslim that level of argument was probably acceptable, but I am afraid in civilised society, just chucking insults doesn’t constitute cogent (q.v.) argument.

          Finally your understanding of Taquia as being something which is simply used during war is a poor understanding of the religion in which you were bought up.

          • Hugo Lindum March 3, 2015 at 4:04 pm

            Correction “Brought up not “bought up”.

  21. Michael meyerson February 26, 2015 at 3:07 am - Reply

    It’s disconcerting to read Michael Shermer referring to the Old Testament book of fables as if it is a reliable historical text as creationists do

  22. Scott Peters February 26, 2015 at 4:54 am - Reply

    The notion that the USA has only committed “acts of war” through the deployment of their military is unfounded. Much US military action over the last half century at least is clearly illegal, and not an act of war. And, we haven’t even begun to examine their covert operations, or proxy actions. From Cambodia to Nicaragua to today’s drone attacks, the US has conducted terrorist operations under many guises and subterfuges.

  23. mohammed February 26, 2015 at 6:27 am - Reply

    the essay meanline must be why we have middle east tragedic history and how it transformed into the 21. century enlightement and why moslim’s history from middle era to the 21 .century changed absolutly wrong way…….. maybe itis because of deny and give up truth and reality for muslims and from the darkness awakening beğin to catch and grasp reality for christians

  24. viddy9 February 26, 2015 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    It all depends on the definition of terrorism one uses. If you use many others which say nothing about non-state actors (such as those the British and US governments use), it’s quite clear that the United States government has been one of the biggest perpetrators and exporters of terrorism in recent decades, including their illegal drone strike campaign which, incidentally, creates more terrorists due to radicalisation. And, let’s not forget their support of all those rightwing juntas in Latin America along with their death squads.

    And, equal treatment under the law inculcated into the minds of Jews and Christians in the West? Since when? It was only 50 years ago when racial segregation existed in the most Christian states in the United States, helped along by a Christian terrorist organisation, the Ku Klux Klan. Even today, blacks are disproportionately given the death penalty and arrested for certain crimes. Civil liberties? What about the people the US government has tortured in recent years? What about the innocent people who the US government are keeping in the gulag known as Guantanamo Bay. Equality of women? Have you seen the abortion fiasco in Ireland, which I presume is part of your ‘West’ and has a high Christian population? Equality of minorities? Jews in the Palestinian Occupied Territories certainly don’t treat the Palestinians with equality? There’s an Apartheid system there, in case you haven’t looked. Perhaps you’d like to ask Desmond Tutu. Or, perhaps Tutu doesn’t fit into his fiction of ‘Enlightened Western Christians’.

    I admire a lot of Pinker’s and Shermer’s work, but they’re utterly complacent about the problems that still exist everywhere in the world today.

  25. srjwaugh01 February 26, 2015 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Another narrative that can be described from the graph, is that with the fall of communism in Europe, the American military-industrial complex needed a new scapegoat, one that would be around for awhile (political ideologies don’t last as long as religious ideologies). Hence the rise of the ‘islamic terrorist’.

    • Hugo Lindum February 27, 2015 at 5:06 pm - Reply

      1972 Olympic Games, during cold war.

      • Max March 4, 2015 at 12:54 am - Reply

        The U.S. by necessity allied with the Communists against the Nazis, and then helped the Afghan mujaheddin fight the Soviet Union, and then fought the Taliban. It’s hard to fight all enemies at once, so you have to prioritize the more immediate and serious threats. Communist China is still an adversary by the way.

      • Max March 4, 2015 at 11:41 am - Reply

        The Munich massacre doesn’t appear in that graph because the respective database entry doesn’t have the word “Islam” in it. The terrorist group was Black September. Searching for the word “Islam” yields terrorist groups like “Islamic State” and Jemaah Islamiyah (Islamic Congregation) as well as terrorist attacks on Islamic targets. It’s a crude search, but it works for the most part.

  26. John Reilly February 26, 2015 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    While Islam is the most violent religion currently, I have had fundamentalist Christians tell me that th world was 6,000 years old, that many of the things on The Science Channel were lies. They clearly reject science.

    • Hugo Lindum February 27, 2015 at 1:27 am - Reply

      You are absolutely correct that the fundamentalist Christians, like many Muslims, reject science as lies. However, there are not terror events *every day* committed by these Christians driven by their faith.

  27. Peedro February 27, 2015 at 5:20 am - Reply

    I would like to know where “The Moral Arch” was during the USA western expansion based on slavery and Native American killing and land expropriation. Where was “The Moral Arch” during the Spanish Inquisition? Where was “The Moral Arch” in Nazi Germany? Where was “The Moral Arch” in South Africa’s Apartheid? Where is “The Moral Arch” in Israel treatment of Palestinians?

    To me slavery, lynchings, floggings, burnigns, hangings, land expropriation and home demolitions are all acts of terrorism. I think we should stop demonizing Islam religion as a whole based on acts of ignorant religious fanatics that have their root cause elsewhere, perhaps in politics, poverty and lack of education.

    • Max March 4, 2015 at 12:02 pm - Reply

      89% of Palestinian Muslims favor Sharia law, and 84% of those favor stoning as punishment for adultery.

      What’s the root cause of that? What’s the root cause of ISIS massacring Yazidis and destroying ancient statues? Poverty and lack of education? Al Baghdadi has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies. Mohammed Morsi has a Ph.D. in materials science from USC. Aafia Siddiqui has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Brandeis. Jihadi John is a rich kid with a degree in computer programming. Not to mention Osama bin Laden. But you’re right about root cause in politics: political Islam, favoring Sharia law.

      • Hugo Lindum March 5, 2015 at 6:21 am - Reply

        You are correct. Osama bin Laden (it is important to say which one as most of the bin Laden family are perfectly respectable) is believed to have degrees in civil engineering and Business Administration.

        • Max March 5, 2015 at 11:05 am - Reply

          And Ayman al-Zawahiri is a surgeon from a wealthy family of doctors and scholars.

          Al Baghdadi, Bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, they may be terrorist leaders but they’re not that different from the Supreme Leader of Iran or the King of Saudi Arabia. Those countries execute apostates and homosexuals just as ISIS does, but they have an air of legitimacy. Baghdadi calls himself Caliph, and rules over large swaths of Iraq and Syria, and Mohammed Morsi ruled Egypt for a year, so these aren’t fringe figures.

          Hamas is a terrorist organization that rules Gaza and shares power with the Palestinian Authority, which itself was just found liable for terrorist attacks that killed Americans in Israel. By the way, Mahmoud Abbas has a Ph.D. from the KGB-run Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, with his dissertation on “The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism.” As opposed to the open relationship between the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Hitler.

  28. Carl Morano February 27, 2015 at 8:17 am - Reply

    While most enlightened humans now reject the ludicrous idea that objective morality is dictated by the gods, we need to understand now that human rights are not supernaturally derived as well. It is clearly reasoning that led to scientific thinking that has given us a solid, sane concept of rights. Read Shermer’s excellent book and let’s relegate all so-called ‘sacred’ tomes to the museums.

  29. M. Bruce Grosjean February 27, 2015 at 11:54 am - Reply

    As a long time admirer of Michael Shermer as well as Sam Harris, it’s been more than a little discouraging to see how comfortable they both seem to have become at finding fault in the “other”. Mr. Shermer’s myopic hairsplitting and conveniently selected definitions are about as unscientific as anything I’ve ever run across, a decidedly sad state of affairs to be sure. There’s no point in listing all of the errors Mr. Shermer willingly embraced here since many of the above comments do so admirably, but I can’t help but lament adjust how easily his arguments are dismantled. He of all people should know that if the observer discovers himself in a self-defined position of privilege, there’s a very good chance that bias has crept in to the observations, a scientific quagmire that never leads to any real understanding.

    • Hugo Lindum March 3, 2015 at 4:16 pm - Reply

      Your argument seems to be that Christianity is barbaric and killed a load of people in the past so its okay for muslims to do the same today.

  30. rhb March 1, 2015 at 2:30 am - Reply
    • M. Bruce Grosjean March 1, 2015 at 1:01 pm - Reply

      Thank you for reminding us of Karen Armstrong’s brilliant contribution to this discussion and the fact that youtube is an accessible source. I can only hope that Michael Shermer will reacquaint himself with her brand of objective analysis.

  31. Max March 3, 2015 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    To contrast Christianity and Islam, simply contrast the examples set by Jesus and Mohammed. I doubt that Jesus would approve of the Crusades and the Inquisition, but Mohammed was a warlord and would approve of holy wars.
    What’s more interesting is Judaism, and how even though Numbers 15:32-36 clearly says that God told Moses to stone a man to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, not even ultra-Orthodox Jews call for such punishments, and the State of Israel has no death penalty even for terrorist mass murderers. I don’t know how Jews reinterpreted the Holy Book so significantly, but this proves that it can be done.

  32. Manzer March 4, 2015 at 3:40 am - Reply

    The most important error in this article is definition of Terrorism. Shermer thinks himself as rationalist and follower of reason but he accepts this definition blindly. He just forgets to know the millions of lives eliminated by the governments specially by USA in just last 50 years after 200 years of his so admirable period of Enlightenment. Just to prove that religions and specially Islam more barbaric, he simply ignored the barbarity done by his own government. In the book, he based his argument of scientific study of Morality on the question of life and prosperity of humans everywhere but when his government heinous crimes involved, he just picked up a definition of terrorism excluding the States. This small example shows the hypocrisy and double standard of so called “Rationalist Scholar”.

    • Tracy Thompson May 31, 2016 at 10:54 pm - Reply

      Enlightenment has nothing to do with how old testament law is currently applied. The coming of Christ changed that. First Jews were covenant people who had laws given to them to seperate them from other nations and tribes.
      We call these laws ceremonial laws and civil laws. The ceremonial laws were precepts for all sacrifices in the temple. The civil laws were precepts for food,clothing even how to cut your hair. Also how the poor are to be treated. The moral law was written down within the civil law. Laws like no killing,or stealing. These moral laws we have known since man was on earth; these laws are written on our hearts and minds. For example Cain did not have the written law of thou shall not kill but he knew murder was wrong.
      Christ fulfilled all the laws and became the perfect sacrifice for sins. That’s why ceremonial laws were no longer needed. The temple curtain was torn after Christ died. Gentiles are not Jews so we arenot covenant people . We follow moral law of the old testament but not the civil laws. See Acts, Galatians, and Hebrews which explains the distinction between Jews and Gentiles.

  33. sarahimr2015 August 1, 2015 at 3:54 am - Reply

    a Rabbi shows true Islam! Amazing
    please watch & share this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LNq6nWvDsA

  34. […] Michael Shermer has a rather interesting chart within a recent article that surprised me. The following graph was generated from the Global Terrorism Database by typing […]

  35. Seif Salem August 11, 2017 at 12:59 am - Reply

    If you read the Koran, and find peace then you are truly peaceful. If you read the Koran and find violence, and hate you have revealed your true self.
    1/3 of our planet is Muslim. Only a hand full of “followers found hate. The rest are at peace.
    Word for word translation only make good when you have read or heard the real thing.
    It is mosty poetry that surpasses its word for word meaning.

    True Muslims believe that if you take a life it is punishable by God as is you killed all of humanity. This belief carries on animals, and plants.

    The only battle any true Muslim has is Jihad. The battle within.
    It states in The Koran. If someone does not share your belief you walk away, and stay away.
    In the Koran it says:
    Your God is not my God
    Your beliefs are not my beliefs
    You follow your path, and I’ll follow mine.

    • Max March 25, 2018 at 8:37 am - Reply

      Get out of our country. You’re the infidel. Bringing your Iron Age ways and rotten sexism into a wonderful, free nation that you attempt every minute of your life to subvert. You and your entire harem need to walk away and walk away quickly. Do NOT look back or it’ll be worse for you than the fate of Lot’s wife.

    • vipulschauhan91 June 8, 2018 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      These kinds of tru muslim is extremely rare. 90% are those idiots who are not tolerant, not logical and on killing-rape spree. this way other normal people if meet 10 muslims, only 1 will be your kind. others are motherfuckers. so stay aside or make other muslims as you are. or don’t come preaching your good muslim theory over here.

  36. Animas Hattas October 20, 2017 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    i disagree with you all.u cant say all those bad things about MY religion. Islam is about peace and Mohammad s.a.w. did not encourage viloence . he disliked it when people trated each other illy. and muslims are not teorsts , people who kill people are not muslims there are frawds! and the Quran (that is how it is spelt)is just messages to the umma of Nabi Mohammad s.a.w. from Allah (swt) and other phrophet’s stories.Also i disagree with seif salem i have many npn muslim friends and i love them with all my heart .also muslims are meant to encourage people to join Islam and if they dont want to it is fine , we can still be friends. I am honestly a very peaceful human being but i don’t apprecite it if you all would stop disrespectng MY religion which is Islam.


    • Max March 25, 2018 at 8:40 am - Reply

      I’m not going to stop “disrespecting” your so-called religion until all of you have been blown back to the Stone Age where you belong, picking raw meat off bones with your filthy fingers and trying to figure out how to start a fire (oh, I forget, your “people” already excel at arson). Get out of here, Ali Baba, and take your 10,000 so-called “virgins” with you. You’re like locusts attacking a field of grain.

  37. urubuselvagem March 16, 2018 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    Christians don’t kill, just incarcerate people for moralistic reasons such as abortion, marijuana use, homosexual relations (in UK up to 1967 – see Alan Turing – and in the USA up to 2003), etc. USA is the country with the highest number of incarcerated people – so many times for futile reasons. Furthermore, Christians also mistreat homosexuals, who are about 10% of population, as well as ethnic minorities like Amerindians, they also hate Chinese people and respect Japanese, when the latter were repeatedly much more barbaric than the former. We should appoint the mistakes committed by Muslims, but also those made by Christians and Jews. By people from every religion, actually.

  38. Max March 22, 2018 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Thank you for this piece. The reality of Islamist violence is sickening…but I can guarantee you it’s not limited to the terrorists who make the papers. Violence against infidels and non-believers is discussed at American Islamist dinner tables every night. These people are barbarians and deserve whatever punishment they get. Americans are far too merciful.

  39. همام أبو محمد April 30, 2018 at 1:55 am - Reply

    See how much Christianity has been killed so far and is still killing
    Millions of children have been killed so far in Afghanistan and Iraq
    See how much Christianity kills in Africa
    They burn Muslims alive
    See how many million have been killed before in Europe and America
    Christianity is the origin of evil in the world
    Enough lying

  40. Guru A June 2, 2018 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    None of us knows shit. Just chill…have lemonade, or wine, or milk. See human beings through their clothes and skin color, and talk to different kinds of people. You’ll soon see there are assholes in every religion or color, and there are really amazing ones who make us happy being on this planet.

  41. Rui M. Pinto June 4, 2018 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    Just one point the bibel doesnt need the Enlightenment to justify the message central of Jesus Christ and salvation to all humanity. The question of Moses is in context nowhere in the later Old Testament period do we see God commanding the nation of Israel to go and attack other pagan nations, either as self-defense or as a way to promote faith in the true God of heaven and earth.
    see more: http://www.answering-islam.org/Terrorism/violence.html

  42. Max June 9, 2018 at 3:44 am - Reply

    Pinto: Learn to spell, learn to write and learn to read.

  43. kasey June 11, 2018 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    people just take things to far .. all of these are books wrote long ago … and now we should be moving to science and proven facts …. I’ve no faith in a book that was wrote by man !!! … think about it … by man??? …. all these millions of people willing to end their lives for something again wrote by man ??? … wake up world … it’s a beautiful place if you subtract the religion away ….

  44. Rodela September 14, 2018 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    Assalamualikum,i check your articles .Your post is islam related post.You can check anotherislamic post.

  45. Kimi September 17, 2018 at 6:51 am - Reply

    Yes i agree to this article. I live in a Muslim majority country that is multi racial. However unlike the rest ,it is the Muslims who tend to be sensitive & easily agitated whenever there is critism or just doubtful questions on their religion. The nature of Islam is forceful despite the love & forgiveness mentioned in the Koran, especially towards non muslims.
    We just need to look at the world, it’s the Muslim people who contribute the most unrest & violence decades long.
    No need to dig deep & compare the teachings of various religions, just look at the actions & behavior of the people!!!

  46. Rodrigo September 17, 2018 at 8:07 am - Reply

    Christianity was AS VIOLENT as Islam up to the Enlightenment, and even after it. To this day Christians still destroy indigenous cultures, pretending they are “saving the souls” of those peoples. Not to mention their utter disrespect for our environment, hoping (or pretending) there will be another Earth after we destroy this one (like the Bible says). And the Enlightenment didn’t happen because of Christianity, on the contrary: it happened because a few people DIED or RISKED THEIR LIVES defying the Christian dogmas. Now let’s be honest about this, shall we?

  47. chris reed December 30, 2018 at 6:04 am - Reply

    Shermer opens this piece with ‘One of the central tenets of science is to define a problem to be studied with as much clarity as possible, and the key to clear communication is calling things what they really are. Unfortunately, both the American media and public intellectuals have failed to be honest in identifying what everyone in Europe knows is the primary source of terrorism in the world today: Islam’. In this he cites science as a guide then abandons it to rhetoric. I was surprised as his work on skepticism always suggested a thorough empirical, positivist, social science approach. I look at this more ecologically and suggest ‘place’ as Jared Diamond proposes also influences behaviour at a large geographic scale. As a European I cannot speak for ‘everybody’ (the rhetoric of bulltish) but about a million Britains protested the invasion, because I suspect they knew violence begets violence. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2765041.stm In ‘It’s the Occupation Stupid’ in Foreign Policy it suggests loss of autonomy could drive suicide terrorism more than the failure of the Islamic enlightenment 200 years ago. https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/10/18/its-the-occupation-stupid/

  48. Muhammad Fakharuddin December 30, 2018 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    I wrote a piece on Islam, would help clear some smoke around Islam, we need to understand Islam from it source instead of perceiving Muslim, https://medium.com/@mfakhar2000/islam-and-its-strangeness-e36aa1fe1638

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