Peter Frost on Charlie Hebdo: The return of fear

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack—or rather mass execution—the typical reaction seems to be that the killers were “madmen” and “extremists.” The brother of the slain policeman, himself Muslim, protested: “My brother was Muslim. He was shot down by false Muslims. (…) Islam is really a religion of peace, of love. We had nothing to do with that.”

Yes, only a few Muslims took part. But France has witnessed other acts of violence, largely ignored by the media, which have maimed and killed far more people. In most cases, those perpetrators have likewise been young men of Muslim background, although their actions have been driven not by religious fanaticism but by the enjoyment of being with other “youths” and proving their manhood through thefts, assaults, and home invasions.

The facts speak for themselves. In France, Muslims make up 60% of all prison inmates, while being only 12% of the total population (Leclerc, 2014). Similarly, 7 out of 10 burglaries, assaults, and violent thefts are committed by first- or second-generation immigrants (Chevrier and Raufer, 2014). Most of these perps seem to be Muslim, although a third of them may be West Indians, Africans, and Roma of nominally Christian background. Muslims seem to be especially overrepresented in serious violent crimes that lead to prison sentences.

Similar trends are developing elsewhere. Muslims make up 70% all prison inmates in Spain and 45% in Belgium (WikiIslam, 2013;, 2013). In England and Wales, the figure is only 14%, versus 4.7% of the total population, apparently because certain other communities are likewise overrepresented (Morris, 2014, see Note).

There are two ways of explaining why Muslim immigrants are more crime-prone. One is that Islam heightens the sense of difference between the in-group (fellow Muslims) and the out-group (the host society). Non-Muslims are outsiders and thus legitimate targets for acts that would be considered wrong if done against Muslims. This may explain why violent crime by Muslim immigrants correlates so weakly with the murder rate in their home countries. Murder is more serious when committed against a fellow Muslim….

….Most Muslim immigrants come from societies where the State has pacified social relations only in recent times and where men still see violence as a legitimate and even necessary means to advance personal interests, to defend themselves and their families, and to acquire land, goods, and even women. Violence is constrained not by the State but by a balance of terror—the threat of retaliation by the victim or his kinsmen.

Male combativeness is especially strong in highland pastoral societies beyond the reach of State control. It’s not for nothing that they have provided some of the best fighting men, like the Gurkhas in the British army, the Moroccans in the French army, and the Albanians in the Ottoman imperial army, their main drawback being a tendency to treat enemy civilians like enemy combatants…

A reader, “Whyvert” left an interesting comment:

I would explain the violence of North African Muslims by one additional factor: selection within North Africa after the Arab conquest for poor, violent people to convert to Islam, and wealthy less violent ones to remain as Christian or Jewish, because they could afford the tax on non-Muslims.

Then, centuries later, at Algeria’s independence, two populations moved to France. Almost all the Algerian Jews (~130k people) migrated to France and have done fine and are not violent. But the Algerian Muslims who went to France have ended up poor and relatively violent.

Both populations had lived in the same unpacified Ibn Khaldun polity in North Africa. So, I conclude, there must have been some other form of selection at work. The Islamic tax selected for relative poverty and the things that go along with that like being violence-prone, less intelligence, less foresight. That’s a further reason, in addition to those stated in the OP that a connection between Islam and violence now exists.