I wrote this rather long response in the comments section in the Darwn Fish post I made over the weekend. I'm modifying it slightly to make it its own post. I got bugged last week when I read an article saying that people who posted Darwin Fish on thier cars were narrowminded, bigoted cowards. The argument ran that we atheist aren't afraid to parody Christians, but we don't dare speak out against Muslims because we'd get our heads chopped off.
The main reason I'm more vocal against Christianity than Islam is simply a matter of personal experience. In my life, I've known hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians. I can count the number of Muslims I personally know on the fingers of one hand. If I scan my AM dial, I find several stations of preaching and gospel music. No hint of the Muslim faith can be found except maybe Cat Stevens playing on an oldies station.
I don't have any actual numbers to back this up, but, world-wide, I'm guessing that if you are the victim of a beheading, you are statistically likely to have been killed by a Muslim. And, world-wide, Muslims do seem responsible for a high percentage of terrorists acts. They aren't exclusively responsible, mind you, but still, if I heard about a bomb going off in a major metropolitan area tomorrow, I'd immediately suspect a Muslim was behind it, unless it turned out to be doctor's office, in which case I'd suspect an anti-abortion wacko, or a medical lab, in which case I'd suspect an animal rights nut. And, when Muslim fundamentalists get thier fingers into the governance of a country, that country is pretty much screwed. Stonings, beheadings, hand-choppings, and the horrible degredation of women become the law of the land... trust me, I don't want fundamentalist Islam holding any power at all in American politics. I'm deeply grateful for a constitution that prevents this.
That said, I just cannot see any plausible way that Muslims are a serious threat to the American way of life. This isn't to say they are NO threat. They simply aren't in the top ten threats to life, maybe not even in the top 100. Chalking up every single American death in the Iraq war to the actions of a Muslim fundie, that means in a 10 year period, Islamic terrorists have managed to kill about 8,000Americans.
In that same time frame, 430,000 American's died in auto accidents. 280,000 were killed by guns. 38,000 American's drowned. The general couch-potato, fast-food lifestyle of American's contributed to about 9 million heart failures in this time span. 650,000 people died of the flu. The flu! The flu is 80 times more likely to kill you than a Muslim terrorist if you're an American. The airwaves are full of people who think it's a good idea to spend a trillion dollars on a war to fight Islamic terrorists. No one is advocating for spending a billion dollars to make certain everyone single American gets a flu shot. (I'm not either, by the way.)
Americans seem to have no capacity at all to weigh risks and design appropriate responses. Large chunks of my fellow citizens are so terrified of the invading Muslim hordes they support torture, indefinite detention without charges, and generally bombing the crap out of people who share the faith of the 50 or so Muslims in America who've ever committed a terrorist act.
There are 8 million Muslims living in America. So far, the known terrorist conversion rate here is roughly 50 to 8,000,000, or about 1 out of every 160,000. Let's assume that there are sleeper cells, though, who are waiting to kill us and quadruple that number, to one out of every 40,000.
Somewhere out in America, 200 Muslims are going to sleep tonight with murder, mayhem, and carnage on thier minds. Frightened? That's 4 per state. Draw a hundred mile circle around you... are there any Islamic terrorists in that radius? Maybe. If you live in certain areas, bump the maybe into probably, even certainly. Scared yet?
Compare this number to the number of all Americans who commit murders each year--roughly 1 person in 20,000 is going to kill somebody. Assuming that murderers as a whole reflect society as a whole, then more than half of US murders are performed by people who self identify as Christian. This means that about 1 in 40,000 Christians are murderers--so, there are quite possibly 3750 Christians among us who are thinking of killing somebody tonight. Your odds of living within 100 miles of one of them is quite good. Just keep watching your local papers.
(If the notion that 50% of murderers would think of themselves as Christian strikes you as absurd, I'll direct you to these 10 year old statistics of religious affiliations of inmates in federal prisons... these number aren't, alas, broken down by crime, so I don't know how many of these are murderers and how many are in for tax evasion, or child porn, or whatever. But, 10 years ago, 84% of prisoners identified themselves as Christian. Read the numbers here. )
Obviously, I'm pushing these numbers to the point of absurdity. But, if you get murdered in the US, you are inarguably more likely to be killed by a person who was raised in the Christian faith than in the Muslim faith. A sense of perspective is required.
I would much rather live in a nation that's 50% Christian than 50% Muslim. I'm not trying to make the argument above that Christian's are dangerous; 39,999 out of 40,000 of them aren't murderers, after all. I work side by side with Christians. My whole family is Christian other than myself. I like Christians! It's just thier beliefs that drive me bonkers. But, the beliefs of many of my fellow atheists drive me bonkers as well. Christopher Hitchens, after all, believes in the Muslim threat and supports the Iraq war. A whole lot of atheists I know are also liberals, and seem to drink the kool-aid on every liberal cause that comes down the pike. I know so many who call themselves "freethinkers" who are anything but.
On the whole, though, I'm not terribly worried about any ideology killing me. I'm much more worried about the flu, and my worry level for that is somewhere down near the bottom of the list of stuff that keeps me awake at night.
I just can't get worked up about this grand muslim assault on our freedoms that the right-wingers keep jabbering about. The terrorist muslim in our midst strikes me as an overhyped hobgoblin, designed to frighten and distract us from the larger problems we could be tackling.