The Washington Post‘s On Religion column takes a look at one of the details found in a new study [45-page PDF] released by the Public Religion Research and Brookings Institutes. The study is a wide ranging affair, from which I’ll extract future posts. This aspect looks at ow Americans apply a double standard when it comes to their understanding of religious violence. It contrasts their attitudes toward religion violence committed by Muslims and that committed by Christians.

The study finds that Americans are willing to assume that violence done by Muslims is done by ‘real Muslims’ whereas that done by Christians is only rarely seen as being committed by ‘real Christians’. While prejudice is certainly a large part of the mental calculations – group members dislike pointing fingers at other members of the same group – I think ignorance plays a large part as well. Having little actual knowledge about Islam, they find it easy to slip into stereotypical views generated by media. Which media one watches is a self-selecting choice. That is, people tend to choose media the reaffirms their prejudices, good or bad, in a sort of echo chamber. There’s little to challenge to prejudices, at least in their chosen media. You’d have to search long and hard to find positive images involving Muslims. And those that you find are not being conveyed by major media.

The data is depressing, but there it is…

The American double standard on religious violence
Robert P. Jones

When the news of a bombing in downtown Oslo, Norway, was closely followed by the shocking mass shooting at a teen youth camp on the island of Utøya, major news outlets were quick to pin the blame for the attacks on Muslim extremists. The New York Times briefly reported that a terrorist organization called “Helpers of Global Jihad” had claimed responsibility, while the British newspaper The Sun declared that the events were “Norway’s 9/11.” Hours later, it was clear that these early reports that the violence was related to religious extremism were correct, but the religion with which they associated the violence was wrong. The perpetrator turned out to be a blond-haired, blue-eyed Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who publicly identified himself as Christian on his Facebook page and also posted online a 1500-page ideological manifesto in which he declared himself to be a “cultural Christian” crusader standing up for Europe’s “Christian culture” against the forces of “Islamization.”

This revelation re-opened a fundamental question: are those who carry out acts of violence in the name of a religion true followers of that religion, or not? A new survey from Public Religion Research Institute, and a new joint report by PRRI and the Brookings Institution, reveals that Americans literally apply a double standard when answering this question, depending on whether the perpetrator is Christian or Muslim. More than 8-in-10 (83 percent) Americans say that those who commit violence in the name of Christianity are not truly Christian. On the other hand, less than half (48 percent) of Americans extend this same principle to Muslims and say that those who commit violence in the name of Islam are not truly Muslim.

September:13:2011 - 07:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink
7 Responses to “Double Standards and Religious Violence”
  1. 1
    Jerry M Said:
    September:13:2011 - 16:04 

    American may be biased against Muslim but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference between the religious committment of ‘Christian’ terrorists and that of ‘Muslim’ terrorists. The most recent example, Breivik may be culturally Christian but his ideology is not religious. The well known IRA was composed of Catholics but their ideology wasn’t rooted in religion at all. Eric Rudolph on the other hand did have an identifiable religious motive and he has been identified as Roman Catholic.

    When the Palestinian terrorists started their hijacking campaigns they were primarily identified as Palestinian rather than Muslim (and at least a few of their leaders were Christian). Today’s Muslim terrorism is multinational and clearly defined in religious terms. So, if American casually assume Muslim terrorists are real Muslim (and if they are not, what are they Congregationalists), that assumption is based on common sense.

  2. 2
    Andrew Said:
    September:13:2011 - 16:43 

    I believe that a key reason for the difference is what as known as observer bias.

    Most Americans are themselves Christian.

    As such, they likely have a rich context by which they understand and can evaluate whether a person is a ‘real Christian’

    Americans generally lack such a deep and nuanced understanding regarding Muslims.

    Presumably, what they see about Muslims is the endless cycles of religiously inspired violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

    As such, it is not depressing, but rather entirely normal.

    We Muslims are not different.

    Tell me what would be the result if we were asked at home in Saudi Arabia to evaluate the actions of Jews, based on endless portrayals of Israeli violence.

    It is entirely predictable that if a population is only exposed to one type of behaviour regarding a different group, that the behaviour will be seen as representative of that different group.

  3. 3
    John Burgess Said:
    September:13:2011 - 22:10 

    @Jerry M: Sort of… Breivik said he was taking action to ‘save Christian Europe.’ With that as a motive, it doesn’t really matter if he’s a church-goer, does it?

    And while many Muslims (define ‘many’) might be terrorists, what percentage of all Muslims do they comprise? Two percent? Five percent? Judging the whole on the basis of such a small number is neither smart nor charitable.

    As for N. Ireland, both groups identified themselves according to their Christian denominations. The Ulster Defense Force was no less guilty of crime in the name of their faith than the IRA. At heart, though, it was mostly about the economy.

  4. 4
    John Burgess Said:
    September:13:2011 - 22:11 

    @Andrew: I think that’s exactly right. Unfortunately, no American media is without an agenda these days. I wish they’d try to simply and objectively report, not editorialize.

  5. 5
    Jerry M Said:
    September:14:2011 - 08:27 

    “that as a motive, it doesn’t really matter if he’s a church-goer, does it?”

    Given the diversity of sects in Christianity it would be easy for other Christians to disown his ideology. There is nobody who can connect Brevik with any Christian scriptures or with any religious leaders. Tell me who are Brevik’s followers or who his confederates are?

    With Muslim terrorists, in particular al Qaeda or the Taliban, one can point to people like Qutb and connect modern Muslim terrorism to the Muslim Brotherhood. That is quite a different situation.

  6. 6
    Solomon2 Said:
    September:14:2011 - 11:22 

    “Unfortunately, no American media is without an agenda these days. I wish they’d try to simply and objectively report, not editorialize.”

    To objectively report isn’t just to cite facts, but to place them in context – otherwise we would never know if the gunfight outside the window was real or simply Mel Gibson shooting a new film. To argue about what facts mean is, indeed, to “editorialize” – that is much preferable to letting reported facts mean what they should not, isn’t it?

  7. 7
    John Burgess Said:
    September:14:2011 - 13:11 

    If one is providing context–as they should–then they have to provide more-or-less full context, not just the part that supports their framing.

    I’m not talking about outright advocacy journalism here–the FOX News and MSNBCs of the world–but the major daily newspapers and the networks. I find that much is excluded from the framing. And anyone who actually knows a field also knows that when the media delves into that field they get an awful lot wrong.

    I think there is (or used to be and still should be) a distinction between the editorial space and the news space. Right now, I don’t see that distinction being honored.

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