In a recent article that has been widely circulated online by an unholy alliance of Islamists and extreme Leftists, the notorious anti-Israel propagandist Max Blumenthal has accused women’s-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali of “deception.” Unfortunately for Blumenthal, it is his own latest deception that has now come to light.
Blumenthal claimed that a statement by Hirsi Ali — that “at least 70% of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims” — was “suspect.” His evidence was an email from a spokesperson for the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, whose Armed Conflict Database is the basis for Hirsi Ali’s calculation. Triumphantly, Blumenthal tweeted that the IISS had “totally disowned her abuse of its data.”
However, it turns out that the IISS did nothing of the kind. Reached for comment on Friday, Nicholas Redman, the IISS’s director of editorial, said:
At no point did Max Blumenthal request an official quotation or statement from the IISS. Therefore, none was provided. Some of the remarks made were then reported out of context. Any information was provided on the understanding on our part that it was a research request. We have asked him to remove it from the article.
The IISS does not subdivide its conflict data according to the religions of combatants. It is, however, unambiguously clear from the Armed Conflict Database that fatalities from armed conflict last year were disproportionately caused by wars involving Muslims. If anything, Hirsi Ali’s 70% figure is too low.
A new report by the Project for the Study of the 21st Century (PS21), based on data from the IISS and others, concludes that:
- “Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan remained the three deadliest wars” in the world last year.
- “Nigeria was the fourth deadliest, its number of deaths almost tripling on the previous year as the conflict with militant group, Boko Haram, intensified.”
- “Many of the most violent conflicts involved radical Islamist groups – particularly Islamic State, the Taliban, Boko Haram and various Al Qaeda franchises.”
- “Sudan and South Sudan remained amongst the world’s bloodiest wars.”
A number of the experts quoted by PS21 acknowledge the role of Islamic extremism in a large number of the world’s bloodiest conflicts. Here, for example, is Jack Goldstone, professor of public policy at George Mason University:
One [reason for rising death tolls from violent conflicts] is a revival of religion as the prime factor of personal and social identity, including a revival of millenarian beliefs; these have led to fierce sectarian battles among religious sects for control of lives and territory in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Nigeria. This is largely Sunni vs. Shi’a but also involves fights against other religions and sects, e.g. Muslim vs. Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Bahai, and others.
Second, also driven by the revival of religion as a primary identity, is the conflict between the ideal of organizing society primarily on the basis of religious belief and holy writ, vs. the ideal of society as secular and individualist with religion limited to voluntary and private or communal activities that do not impinge on society’s primary legal/organizational framework. In Europe and North America, this conflict has played out mostly peacefully in agitation over abortion and gay marriage; but in Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Egypt the conflicts between authorities seeking to preserve a secular government and those determined to impose religion on social order have involved violence and terrorism. This force also fuels terrorism within Europe, as those committed to religious primacy (mainly jihadists) attack those who exemplify secular freedom (e.g. Charlie Hebdo).
The third factor producing rising violence is the conflict within the few remaining multi-national empires between imperial control and repressed nationalism . . .
This should be compared with Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s statement in the Wall Street Journal:
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at least 70 per cent of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims on one or both sides. In 2013 there were nearly 12,000 terrorist attacks worldwide. The lion’s share were in Muslim-majority countries, and many of the others were carried out by Muslims. By far the most numerous victims of Muslim violence — including also the executions and the lynchings not captured in these statistics — are Muslims.
Not all this violence, to be sure, is explicitly motivated by religion. But a great deal of it is. And I believe that it is foolish to insist, as our leaders habitually do, that the violent acts committed in the name of Islam can somehow be divorced from the religion itself.
So there is in fact nothing “suspect” about Hirsi Ali’s assertion. What is suspect — highly suspect — is Max Blumenthal’s integrity. This will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his abysmal record of journalistic malpractice.
– Daniel Mael, a senior at Brandeis University, is a fellow at the Salomon Center.