Essay:The Extremist's Defence

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Unless I can find a better and existing term for it, I feel like coining a new fallacy - or at least giving name to an attitude I've frequently observed. This is the case of "Not all X are Y". Not all Muslims are violent terrorists. Not all Christians are Young Earth Creationists. Not all Tories hate gays. And so on, the list is practically endless.

But what is wrong with this, exactly. The world is made of multiple shades and, indeed, not all X are Y. Show me a violent Muslim terrorist, I'll show you a peace loving one. Show me a moron creationist and I'll show you a fairly spiritual Christian who otherwise blends belief with science quiet happily. Show me a homophobic Tory and... well, the one gay Tory I know has since tore up his membership card and moved to Labour, but for genuine political reasons and not for sexuality ones. Regardless, it is a valid reminder against the use (more specifically, the overuse) of stereotypes and unfair ones at that. If someone comes out with such an undue comment, it is valid and admirable to remind them of precisely how wrong they are. But increasingly, I see it used outside of such context and I have decided to call this The Extremist's Defence.

In short, this "not all X are Y" quote is used frequently whenever the negative and darker sides of a demographic are discussed. Even if the bigoted and wrong generalisations are completely absent. It seems almost a knee-jerk reaction. Discuss terrorists flying planes toward the World Trade Center and you'll be reminded that Islam is a religion of peace before you've even got to the part where they actually hit the building. Now, let's not make a mistake here, there are some subtle and complicated political and psychological motivations behind those attacks and ones carried out in a similar manner, but you would be naive and, frankly, idiotic to believe that the religion of those attacker had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Perhaps this is similar to the old and well established No True Scotsman fallacy - the one that tries to distance individuals and their belief systems from those who abuse it for bad things. Indeed, yes, it seems related. But No True Scotsman is often used by adherents themselves; "not all X are Y" tends to be exhibited by those who aren't adherents, but feel guilt-tripped into defending and absolving them anyway.

But of course not all Muslim's are terrorists. That's demonstrable fact. But it's also beside the point. Increasingly, the "not all X are Y" claim seems to be being used as a defence, a justification, of what extremist individuals have done. It protects the other believers who may be innocent (unnecessarily) and tries to pass off the actions as just those of extremists, and unrepresentative. It absolves the responsibility of the wider belief from its participation in the extremists views. To hammer the point home with a further example, not all Christians are homophobes but the homophobic attitudes expressed by the Religious Right derive directly from religious examples expressed in the Bible. Leviticus 18:22, look it up. The fact that not all Christians ascribe to this specific belief does not absolve either those who do take Leviticus 18:22 to heart nor the Bible itself for expressing it.

The point is, we are discussing extremists after all. To discuss Muslim terrorists is unrepresentative of many Muslims, but it isn't unrepresentative of Muslim terrorists. Discussing Pat Robertson being batshit crazy isn't eased by the fact you might know a nice Christian down the street who isn't. The beliefs of the majority or the non-asshole ones are a complete irrelevance to the discussion. Not that, in some cases, the beliefs are as "extreme" and "fringe" as we'd like; YEC and homophobic beliefs among US Christians are relatively mainstream, and in the case of Muslims even the self-defined moderates will express support for violent reparations against detractors of Islam. The defence of "not all X are Y" is not required and more importantly is a non sequitur. If we were to discuss the effects of a collective belief system (political, religious, social) on certain individuals to do very bad things, then the fact that some people may do good because of it doesn't negate it. It doesn't absolve the belief system itself from its involvement either. And that's the point that people leap to The Extremist's Defence seem to miss.