The Vast Majority Myth
by William Kilpatrick
We often hear it said that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and reject violence. That proposition is worth examining because if it’s not true there is cause to worry. Of course, you should be worried already. Even if only a small percentage of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are prepared to use violence, that still works out to a large number. However, if the vast-majority thesis doesn’t hold up, you might want to order a Kevlar vest from Amazon, or, if you’re the accommodating type, you could start practicing the Shahada—the Islamic declaration of faith.
There is a good deal of polling data to suggest that the vast majority of Muslims are not just your standard-issue vast majority. For example, Pew polls of public opinion in Pakistan and Egypt show that the vast majority (about 82 percent) favor stoning for adultery, amputation for theft, and death for apostates. So, even if a majority in these countries are not personally inclined to violence, they have no problem with the violent application of sharia law.
But rather than rely on polling data, let’s look at some other ways of assessing the “vast majority” proposition. For some perspective, here are some other “vast majority” propositions that just popped into my head:
Proposition 1. The vast majority of people are peaceful until they’re not.
Proposition 2. The vast majority of people go with the flow.
Proposition 3. The majority of people in any society are women and children.
With the exception of the third proposition, there is no empirical evidence for these propositions, but they seem just as reasonable as the proposition that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful—a supposition which also has no empirical support. However, Proposition 3 does lend credence to the “vast majority of Muslims” thesis since women and children are, for various reasons, less inclined to violence than adult males. It would therefore be reasonable to say of any society that at least a majority are peaceful.
But people who are peaceful today will not necessarily be peaceful tomorrow.