Bryan Caplan  

The Denunciation Deficit

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Some intriguing Psychology & Economics of the media from post-libertarian Joshua Hedland:

"If Muslims are peaceful, why don't they condemn terrorism?"

This is a common question in some philosophical corners in response to headlines about attacks by radical Islamists.
After providing a long long list of Muslim condemnations of terrorism, Hedland explains the origin of the perceived denunciation deficit:
Denunciations about terrorist attacks face multiple handicaps. First. people being killed tends to attract more attention than people talking. The latter is less likely to be introduced as "breaking news" or front-page headlines. Regardless of how prominently it is introduced, it is less likely to propagate through clicks, shares, comments, and general discussion.

Sometimes people talking about big events can attract more attention due to the connection to the big event. But a second handicap is that Western media and its Western consumers tend to pay more attention to Western people, especially those who are Important. That's how Obama not going to France - a non-event that would normally register even less attention than Obama talking about something - was apparently a bigger deal last week than hundreds or thousands of Nigerians killed by Boko Haram. If dying Africans can't compete with Obama's travel plans, what hope do talking Arabs have?

A third handicap is that we tend to pay more attention to events that elicit emotion than events that absorb emotion. An article about someone condemning violence - if it finally manages to make it past the other handicaps - is less likely to elicit much reaction. Well, duh, denouncing violence is what we would expect any normal person to do. Normal expectation satisfied, emotion absorbed, not much impulse to share that story with others.

Hedland concludes:

It can be simultaneously true that there are Muslims condemning violence done in the name of Islam and that the efforts of those voices should be increased. But I think people in good faith, if they really want those moderate voices to be more successful, should not respond with derision, but by recognizing the handicaps faced by those moderate voices and helping them out by encouraging and amplifying their voices.

Wise advice despite my prescription for fighting statistical discrimination against your group.

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Ahmed writes:

There is no such thing as Muslim terrorism. Only Saudi influenced and Saudi financed terrorism.

15 of the 19 hijackers that attacked the US on 9-11 were Saudi nationals, 19 out of 19 followed the salafi/wahabi extremist version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. The same can be said for every terrorist attack since then. ISIS teaches out of Saudi textbooks.

But the truth can't be stated out loud for to do so would break the US-Saudi relationship that controls Middle East oil. Threaten the Saudis and they would turf the Americans out, bring the Chinese in for protection, and oil would be priced in yuan. The yuan would become the prominent reserve currency and the US would drown in a wave of hyperinflation as everyone started dumping US dollars.

So everyone donkeys about while pretending they don't see the truth right in front of their eyes.

As an aside, I remember when Osama bin Laden was your guy, working with the Mujaheddin to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. You even supplied them with the Stinger missiles that helped to bring down the Russian Hind helicopters.

And more recently, terrorists supplied by the Saudis with the acquiescence of the Americans were working to bring down the Assad regime in Syria and thereby break the link between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Only when they established an Islamic caliphate did they go from being "good terrorists" to being "bad terrorists".

America. Terrorists "R" Us.

Pajser writes:

It appears Hedland didn't mention important reason for non-Muslim silence about Muslim's denunciations. Some non-Muslims want more aggressive politics against Muslims. They can get their way easier if they do not talk about denunciations.

How many? If we assume that actual US politics represents median voter, then half of the Americans (and more than half of American non-Muslims!) want more aggressive politics against Muslims. Same for the other nations.

Non-Muslims are not, on average, so benevolent as Hedland assumes.

David Michael Myers writes:

Are you kidding? Read the "Interpretation of the Meaning of the NOBLE QUR'AN in the English Language---Summarized in One Volume" by Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hillall and Dr. Muhammad Muhain Khan, published and distributed by DARUSSALAM, Riyadh, Houston, Lahore.

Many "peaceful" Muslims will give you a copy for the asking. That's how I got my copy.

It is a very practical, pragmatic matter.

Many Muslims want to continue living in this world.

Anyone (Muslim or not) who gains too much attention condemning Muslims and brings it to light will quite probably be put on a list for decapitation. Remember the "lone wolfs" we see popping up on the national stage. They are driven to uphold the tenets of the "Noble Qur'an."

The "Noble Qur'an" calls for devout Muslims to "convert" all infidels. Should Infidels fail to accept Islam, they are subject to the severest penalties. Heretic Muslims are also subject to severest penalties. Guess what? It's the "ultimate" !

Hazel Meade writes:

The thing that bothers me more is how after some terrorist attack or horrible revelation about ISIS keeping women as sex slaves, or something to that effect, you can always find one or two left-leaning commenters in the comment threads making fatuous comparisons to US history, as if to dismiss or excuse the horrors of what ISIS truly is. (AFAIK, the confederacy did not deliberately destroy 2000 year old archeological sites, nor is a moral equivalency to the US confederacy saying much, either.)
One hears these people excusing Islamist terrorism, and one assumes that they represent the positions of the Muslim majority. So it's less that Muslims aren't condemning these things as that a bunch of western people with unrelated political agendas have decided to pretend to represent the Muslim point of view, because they have an axe to grind about US hegemony, or something to that effect. And then Americans take these people tat their word that their arguments represent what Muslims really think about ISIS.

Ahmed writes:

@ David Michael Myers,

You obviously did not understand what you were reading.

One of the chief ways people seek to injure Islam is to quote verses of the Qur'an out of context. A common example is the "sword verse" which states "Kill the polytheists wherever you find them". Quoted out of context means that Muslims are commanded to kill polytheists.

This passage was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in response to a specific group of polytheists that had broken their treaty with the Muslims.

Here is the verse just before the "sword verse":

"Excepted are those with whom you made a treaty among the polytheists and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you."

Here is the verse just after the "sword verse":

"And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah . Then deliver him to his place of safety."

See what difference context makes!

The full link to a Qur'an source is below:

The "sword verse is in 9:5. Read verses 1 to 6.

[url fixed--Econlib Ed.]

Ahmed writes:

For some reason, my link to the Qur'an in my above post did not go through. I'll try again and this time I'll also leave it as text.

[You have to hit the link button a second time to close the anchor tag, and something has to be between the opening and closing anchor tags, in order to make URL into a link. I've made it into a link for you. You're probably better off just with the text in the future though. See --Econlib Ed.]

ThomasH writes:

Ahmed is correct about Saudi Arabia being the font of the ideology of ISIS, Al Queda, Boko Haram, Al Shebab, etc. And every time I hear someone refer to that most illiberal of states (worse than Iran!) as an "ally" of the US, I cringe. So A+ for politics


But the truth can't be stated out loud for to do so would break the US-Saudi relationship that controls Middle East oil. Threaten the Saudis and they would turf the Americans out, bring the Chinese in for protection, and oil would be priced in yuan. The yuan would become the prominent reserve currency and the US would drown in a wave of hyperinflation as everyone started dumping US dollars.

This is so ludicrous that I can only hope it is meant as a parody of what some supporter of the US-Saudi "alliance" may be thinking. As analysis it is right up there with the "Goldfinger" plot in which making the US gold reserve at Ft. Knox radioactive would destroy the world economy.

Nathan W writes:

Hazel, why would you assume that someone is left wing if they point out that US history includes many things pretty much as bad as what ISIS is up to? The slavers also used scripture to justify what they did.

This is not an excuse for Muslim terrorism.

If Muslims WERE condemning these things, which venue would you hear about it at? Do you go to mosque? Have Muslim friends?

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