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Trump's Muslim Ban

Posted on 21 July, 2016 at 13:15

Trump's Muslim Ban


In December of 2015, after the murder of 14 people in San Bernardino, Donald Trump said he would like there to be a “temporary ban” (1) on foreign Muslims from entering the United States which should last until the US representatives could figure things out. Often the qualifiers “temporary” and “until” get dropped by the media, but he did in fact call for a ban. Trump has stood behind his claim as recently as this month, adding some exceptions (2). It’s not going away. This raises many questions. Who does he mean by “Muslims”? Are there any reasonable grounds for the ban? Why Muslims, specifically? Here we deal with some facts, from the best sources of knowledge that we humans have today, in an attempt to clarify the situation.

Who are the Muslims?

What do we mean when we say the word “Muslims”? Some people think that it is a race, but that is categorically untrue (3). Most reasonable definitions will somehow mention the Koran as a foundation. At its most basic, “Muslim” refers to someone who, to some extent, follows the religion of Islam. But people’s adherence to and interpretation of a religion is endlessly variable, so those definitions tend to have very little meaning. Basically, the only good definition of “Muslim” is “someone who calls themselves Muslim”. We don’t have an empirical test. So let’s take Trump’s words literally and assume he refers to everyone who calls themselves Muslim. This may not have been what he meant, as sometimes the word is used to mean “observing Muslims”, that is, people who demonstrably follow their Koran and popular hadith. That would probably be a bit less outrageous, so let’s make a conservative interpretation and stick with the broader definition so as not to do Trump any favours. We will leave him to qualify his own statements as he sees fit.

Islam is a belief system that people can either choose to follow or to not follow. It is a culture (as is any religion), an ideology, a system of thoughts and choices. One can decide to not be a part of Islam at the snap of a finger, though doing this publicly in some horrible places would be dangerous, as we will discuss. This note is important to include as it would be very different to discriminate on something people cannot change and do not choose, such as skin colour or ancestry.


Join me for a thought experiment. Imagine you were a high ranking leader in a country, and had to deal with a request. One hundred thousand electricians wanted to come into your country. Some wanted to come to work, others to join family, etc. Your first instinct would probably be to let them come freely by following the standard rules that are already in place. No need to think too much about it. But now imagine you find out, from reliable sources, that 10% of the electricians openly support suicide bombing, honour killing of women who have premarital sex, and forcibly veiling all women. They are not just assumed to support these things; they openly admit it (well, perhaps not directly to immigration officials). Imagine further that 10% want these things to be enforced on everyone, not just other electricians, and that they feel it is their moral duty to train others to become electricians to strengthen these ideas in society. Those are the facts you have. Now let’s think about what you’d do. First, you would probably be at least a bit more hesitant after you learned this startling news. This is no longer quite as simple a case. But this is only 10% of the electricians, ten thousand in total. Ten thousand people who support those ideas is a scary thought, but it really is a fairly small proportion. Is it acceptable to punish the 90% who don’t think that way just to try to restrict entry of the 10%? Is having people who support honour killing and suicide bombing in your country really a bad thing? Is one in ten a large enough proportion to be concerned with letting them in? This is something you would have to decide as a leader. At the very least, it’s clear that careful consideration is necessary as this is not a simple decision.

The stats: what Muslims say they believe 

First, to make sure we are firmly centered in reality, let’s acknowledge a benchmark value. There are approximately 1.6 billion people who identify as Muslim in the world. So when we throw around percentages, you can roughly equate 10% to 160 million (about half the US population, or five Canadas). Further, Islam is by a wide margin the fastest growing religion, far ahead of the runner up, Christianity. These data come from the largest research project ever conducted on this topic. Between 2008 and 2012, Pew Research Center conducted 38,000 in-person interviews in every country that had more than 10 million Muslims (39 countries and territories in total) (4). This research is not perfect as polls are only an approximation at best of a population, but it is the best data we have (5). 

Pew Research 2013


  •  Three quarters of Muslims say they agree that suicide bombing and other violence that targets civilians is rarely or never acceptable. So roughly one in four of the world’s Muslims fall into the category who say that suicide bombings and other violence against civilians are acceptable more often than “rarely”.

  • Honour killings of women who shame their family by having premarital sex is reported as acceptable at least sometimes by 40% of Muslims around the world.

  • Globally, 85% of Muslims say that wives should always obey their husbands. Half of Muslims say they think women wearing a veil must be mandatory

  • Most Muslims of the world say they favour making sharia the official law. The percentage of acceptance of this notion varies widely among geographic location, from 8% in Azerbijan to 99% in Afghanistan. The global average is somewhere around 50-60%.

  • Of the above who say they favour sharia law: around 40% say they favour making sharia applicable to everyone; around 48% say they favour corporal punishment for theft; most say stoning should be the punishment for adultery; and over a quarter say that the penalty for apostasy should be death.

  • Of all of the world’s Muslims, over two thirds say that converting people to Islam is their religious duty.


A future of discussion

However you use this information, it should help shape the discussion. The language used to soften these statistics in most media outlets can cloud the issue. These stats speak for themselves quite loudly. Sometimes merely stating them is perceived as an attack. This is an unfortunate state of confusion, but it is a risk worth taking in the name of logical discourse. For example, consider the following two true statements: 1) Most Muslims do not support honour killing. 2) 40% of Muslims support honour killing. These are two ways to deliver the same statistics. Can you guess which the media usually choose? At least next time the topic comes up, you will know the background information.

B. D. Whitlock ([email protected])






5) The poll used to obtain the data discussed here is not perfect. There are many factors to consider, from subject selection bias, to people’s ability to speak freely without fear of punishment. An attack of the poll can be found here: Apologies for linking to Salon. I know their reputation as journalists and as analysts is terrible, but it is a decent article to read, if for no other reason than to be as intellectually honest as possible about the strength of our data. I encourage you to look at the research methods for yourself and decide how much weight you give to the data. Maybe you will generally accept it, or you will make some conservative adjustments to the data, or you will disregard it completely. This choice is yours, but this is the best knowledge we have.

Categories: Whitlock's Logs of the Mundane, General

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Reply JimmyReynolds
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