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Muslim Does Not Mean Arab

Most people assume there is little distinction between Arabs and Muslims. It is the reason educators, politicians, media news people and commentators all repeat ignorant expressions like "Arab Terrorism."

Many terrorists are Arabs--all of the Palestinian terrorists and the perpetrators of 9-11, for example. But many terrorists are not Arabs--Bali for example, as well Thailand, the Philippines, and Pakistan. A handful of terrorists have not been Muslims (Basques and Irish come to mind), but virtually all of today's terrorist are adherents of Islam.

Terrorism is not an ethnic issue, it is an ideological one. There is a great danger in confusing the issue, because it first makes it practically impossible to identify the true source of terrorism and secondly encourages bad policy based on ethnicity, such as banning Arab immigration, including Lebanese Christians, who are no terrorist threat at all, but allowing Southeast Asian, African, and Middle European Muslims, who are very real terrorist threats. (The comment is not about immigration about the absurdity of any policy based on ethnicity.)

In spite of the fact that at least since 9/11, and the Middle East wars, Arabs and Islam are almost daily news items, most people are totally ignorant about both, and have no idea that they are totally different things. The following are some facts that may help dispel some of that ignorance.

Just The Facts

  • There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world.

  • The Organisation of The Islamic Conference lists 57 member countries, but only 14 of them are Arab countries.

  • Only 18 percent of the world's Muslim population lives in the Middle East.

  • Indonesia, with more than 240 million people, is the largest Islamic country in the world. Indonesia's population is very diverse, but does not include any Arabs.

  • Not all Middle East countries are Arab. Iran, for example, is not an Arab country (the people are Persian) and Turkey is not an Arab country, (the people are Turkish), and Afghanistan is also not an Arab country.

  • 63% of American Arabs are Christians. 13% have no religious affiliation. Only 24% are Muslims.

  • Only 26% of American Muslims are Arabs. 74% are non-Arab: (24% are African American, 26% South Asian, and the remainder of other ethnic origins such as middle European and native African.)

  • Oddly, Arabs and Jews are probably closer to each other in ethnic origin than either is to any other people. They are both Semitic. The attempt to explain Islamic animosity toward Jews on the basis of ethnicity is frequent (especially by Christians), but baseless. Islamic hatred of the Jews is purely ideological and religious, not ethnic. Lebanese Christians (Arabs) do not exhibit any such animosity toward Jews, for example.

—(02/11/10)