Nevertheless, this is a serious question. With Israel again under violent assault, with Egypt being torn asunder by ferocious street demonstrations and with Syrians killing tens of thousands of their own, is there something about Islam that encourages this belligerence?
Over a decade ago the late political scientist Samuel Huntington observed that there was a ring of fire surrounding Islamic lands. He noted that almost everywhere Muslim territories abutted non-Muslim ones, there were violent clashes.
Today this remains true. Not just Israel, but places as far removed as West Africa and the Philippines have witnessed Muslims killing non-Muslims in the name of their religion. Indeed, the list is long one.
We can begin with Nigeria, where Muslims have been burning the churches and massacring inhabitants of Christian towns. Then we move north to Egypt, where Coptic Christians are under attack by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
If we travel even further north, we encounter the Chechens engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Russians. Heading east we find the Chinese suppressing the ambitions of Sinkiang Muslims. Turning south, the Pakistanis continue to harbor terrorists who intermittently cross to the border to slaughter hated Indians.
Resuming our journey east, we discover Thai Muslims at violent odds with their central government and Mindanao Muslims defying the Christian rulers of the Philippines. Even the Indonesians have had their quarrels with the Portuguese and Australians. Nor have I yet mentioned the Iranians, who seem eager to destroy the United States, or Osama bin Laden of al-Qaeda, who wanted to re-conquer Spain and the Balkans to restore the Muslim Caliphate to its former glory.
The enemies of Islam include not just Christians and Jews, but also Hindus, Buddhists and atheists. Simply refusing to acknowledge the supremacy of Mohamed seems ample pretext for jihad.
It may, of course, be argued that Christianity too has sponsored violence. And it certainly has. The Catholic Church organized crusades and inquisitions, while Catholics and Protestants butchered each other in holy wars. The difference is that was hundreds of years ago. Modern Christianity has no such impulses.
Many Islamic lands, in contrast, are mired in a medieval mentality. They do not promote religious tolerance, but instead call Jews “monkeys” who must be killed on sight and condemn Muslim apostates to death for the sin of changing religion.
Then there are all of those suicide bombers who cheerfully tear their own bodies to shreds on the promise that they will be rewarded with eternal glory in heaven. Yes, some Buddhists have been known to immolate themselves for religious causes, but they are few and far between.
It must be acknowledged that many Muslims are peace loving. Many of them are not about to become bomb-throwing jihadists. The religion to which they subscribe can be, and for many is, a force for kindness and understanding.
But what is possible is not necessarily customary. Christianity evolved from belligerence to tolerance. So can Islam. But to argue that it has already done so is to ignore the evidence. There have been too many conflicts, in too many places, to conclude that the religion has nothing to do with them.
Islam might yet become a modern tolerant faith, but non-Muslims must stop fooling themselves. Most Muslims are fundamentally decent human beings, but that does not mean their religion advances the same tenets as held by most Westerners. It is especially imperative that modern-minded Muslims participate in encouraging the necessary changes in attitude.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.