Vox’s Max Fisher continues to claim that Islamophobia is unfairly painting Muslims with a broad brush, but just last year Fisher himself said he found the data on what Muslims around the world actually believe “disturbing.”
Fisher’s most recent effort to combat media stereotypes is headlined, “The perfect response to people who say all Muslims are violent, in one tweet.” Fisher never identifies exactly who is claiming “all Muslims are violent,” probably because no one has actually said that. However, Fisher does link to an earlier piece in which he singles out Bill Maher as “The leading voice of American bigotry against Muslims.”
During his now infamous debate with Ben Affleck, Bill Maher said, “I can show you a Pew poll of Egyptians, they are not outliers in the Muslim world, that say like 90 percent of them believe death is the appropriate response to leaving the religion.” During a similar debate with Charlie Rose cited the same poll saying the percentage was “over 80%.”
In fact, Bill Maher was off in both cases, though it’s not hard to see how he made the mistake. Pew did do a worldwide poll of Muslims which included their attitudes toward Sharia law. What the poll found was that 74% of Egyptian Muslims (Maher referenced Egypt on both occasions) favored making Sharia the law of the land and, among those, 86% believed the death penalty was appropriate in cases of apostasy. Maher apparently remember the latter number but not that it was a subset of the former. If you multiply it out you get 64.5% of Egyptians who believe in killing apostates.
Egypt was not alone in that poll. In more populous Muslims countries like Bangladesh, 82% of respondents supported Sharia and of those 44% believed in killing apostates. That works out to 36 percent. In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, 72% supported Sharia but only 18% support death for apostasy. That works out to a total of roughly 13 percent. Still, with more than 204 million Muslims in Indonesia, that’s more than 26.5 million people who express support.
Just last year, Max Fisher expressed his own surprise at the strong support for this question around the world. He wrote about it in the Washington Post:
Amid an otherwise innocuous or even reassuring report, Pew’s study found some disturbing details. One that jumped out for me was the alarmingly high share of Muslims in some Middle Eastern and South Asian countries who say they support the death penalty for any Muslim who leaves the faith or converts to another.
The Pew report is not as “innocuous” as Fisher claimed. Another question Pew asked was about support for stoning women caught in adultery. The response to that question was similar or higher in some cases to the apostasy question. In Indonesia (again, the most populous Muslim nation) support was 48% of the 72% who support Sharia. That works out to 34.5% of the population as a whole or about 70 million Muslims.
Recall that Fisher also recently criticized the idea that Muslim countries have a particular problem respecting women. He rejected this saying the idea, “that Muslim and Arab countries will naturally set a lower standard for women’s rights,” was racist. But if large pluralities of Muslims around the world openly support stoning women to death for adultery, perhaps the idea isn’t so far-fetched.
Fisher also criticized Chris Cuomo of CNN for saying, “The Muslim world is responsible for a really big part of religious extremism right now. And they are unusually violent. They’re unusually barbaric in the places where it is happening.” Fisher suggests Cuomo should be “run out of journalism” for this comment.
Cuomo’s comment about violence and barbarity was clearly aimed at ISIS, which has made beheading people on camera a fundamental part of its media strategy. But the Pew research suggests that violent punishments which most Americans would consider barbaric are more mainstream in the rest of the Muslim world.
Muslims who support Sharia were asked if they also support the corporal punishment Sharia entails, i.e. whipping and amputating the hands of thieves. In Egypt support was at 70%, in Bangladesh at 50% and in Indonesia at 45 percent. Those are not majorities but they are large pluralities equal to tens of millions of people in these countries.
In fact, the Pew poll found, with one exception, that Muslims around the world are significantly more concerned about Muslim extremism than about Christian extremism. In Indonesia, 53% of Muslims were concerned about Muslim extremists while just 4% were worried about Christian extremists.
Contrary to what President Obama said last month, the most violent terrorists in today’s world are Islamic. While the truly violent jihadists make up a tiny percentage of Muslim’s worldwide; a significant percentage of Muslims around the world, numbering well over 100 million, believe practices like mutilation, stoning and the death penalty are appropriate for non-violent offenses.
Acceptance, even in principle, of these views is in fact barbaric and is directly connected to the Islamic faith (i.e. support for Sharia law). You can bet that if a large plurality of American Christians believed any of these things, Vox’s Max Fisher would not suggest that mentioning the fact was cause to run someone out of journalism.