Religious Extremism

Culture — in the form of religion — is a huge topic in the English-speaking world. People are worried about Islamic extremists, particularly the radical group known as ISIS or ISIL.

People in English-speaking countries (which are mostly Christian) are getting more and more worried about Islamic extremists. Discussions about ISIS dominate the media in both the US and the UK. Photo.

There are major differences between the responses to this problem in the USA and the UK. In a YouTube video (which has been removed!), Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a British journalist, and Reza Aslan, an American university professor, discuss the British and American responses to religious extremism.

Aslan and Alibhai-Brown both agreed that there is a problem of stereotyping of Islam. As Aslan says, Turkey and Pakistan are both Muslim countries but they are very different countries. Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are both Muslim countries but they are very different countries.

Muslim sailors on their way to Britain in the 1930s. There is a long history of Islamic immigration to the UK.

However, it seems that Americans are getting more upset about the problem than the British. The difference between the responses of American and British people may be traced to the history of immigration from Islamic countries. The first Muslim immigrants to Britain were Indian Muslims in the eighteenth century. About 4.4% of the British population is Muslim and, as a result, just about all British people know at least one Muslim person and many have or have had Muslim friends. Every community has at least one Indian restaurant or corner shop — and these are very, very often run by Muslims.

The Central Mosque in Birmingham. About 15% of the residents of Birmingham in England are Muslim. Photo.

Alibhai-Brown suggests that, in discussing these issues, Americans are angrier and less reasonable than British people. Aslan suggests that this may be because less than 1% of the American population is Muslim; less than 40% of Americans say they have met even one Muslim person. The announcer also suggests that there is not much interest in international news in America. In any case, having ordinary, everyday relationships with people from different cultures is probably very important in working against stereotyping.

The first commercial oil well in Saudi Arabia, 1938. Photo.

Even so, both Aslan and Alibhai-Brown agree that there is a problem with Islamic extremism. Listen to the video. Can you guess where they think the problem originates? I wonder why the video was taken down?


Featured image: Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons