Al Qaeda : Islam :: KKK to Protestantism?

Bradley Kuhn asks, “When will my fellow USAmericans finally grok this simple analogy?: Al-Qaeda is to Islam as the Ku Klux Klan is to Christian Protestantism.”

Probably, around the same time they start calling themselves USAmericans.

I’m not sure the analogy is perfect — they seldom are — but it’s a pretty good way of conceptualizing the issue.

FILED UNDER: Religion, Terrorism, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Matt Cover says:

    Really? What silliness. First, this comparison fails on theological grounds. Al-Qaeda bases it’s actions on a draconian, but decidedly mainstream, interpretation of Islamic teachings and law. The KKK does no such thing. The inverted pyramid accompanying this piece is a convenient way to mask this very pertinent point. The KKK has no link at all to any aspect of Christianity, protestant or otherwise, while al-Qaeda is quite well founded in mainstream Middle Eastern Islamic theology. Not even the most religiously conservative pastor preaches anything like the garbage pushed by the KKK. This isn’t a comparison; it’s a slander.

  2. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    These attempts at equating Islam to all other religiions are getting more stretched all the time. Yes, every religion has its extremists but just which Christian Protestant religion has the violent elimination of all other religions stipulated in its holy book?

  3. PD Shaw says:

    I wonder how many African-Americans would agree with the analogy?

  4. largebill says:

    Ridiculous analogy. While certainly many in the KKK may have been raised in protestant homes, the organization was formed in the after math of the Civil War to fight against blacks. The KKK couldn’t care less if a black guy was a faithful, weekly church going protestant. Protestant churches did not funnel money to the KKK. Al Qaeda is a group of Islamists who want to kill people for not holding the same religious beliefs that they hold. Various “moderate” muslem churches have been linked to funding of terrorists including AQ. Both groups were/are evil, but the connection with religion is very different between the two groups.

  5. Jay Dubbs says:

    Wow, touched a nerve there, didn’t we?

  6. Alex Knapp says:


    You’re kidding, right? William J. Simmons was a Methodist preacher before he refounded the Klan in 1915, and support for Protestantism against Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism as a matter of religious belief were among the major tenets of the refounded Klan.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    I’d certainly be interested in hearing a more fleshed-out explanation of this. As it is it just sounds puzzling to me.

    For example, Episcopalianism and Lutheranism are both Protestant Christian denominations. Do they have a history of supporting the KKK? KKK among their members? For Episcopalians, membership in the Lions Club—yes. Membership in the KKK? Not so much.

    In many ways different Christian denominations are proxies for class and ethnicity and I think it’s possible that there are cleavages of class and ethnicity that make one more or less inclined to support the KKK.

    Note, however, that the original author doesn’t say “Christianity” but “Protestant Christianity”. That may just betray an ignorance of the distinctions within Protestant Christianity. I usually distinguish between orthodox Christianity (Catholicism, Orthodox, Episcopalianism, Lutheranism) and various sorts of nonconformist Christianity (Methodists, Baptists, etc.).

    That may well be the case of violent Islamist radicalism as well. If variants of Islam are in fact proxies for class and ethnicity, are some classes/ethnicities more inclined to support violent radical Islamism? Beats me but somebody else might have a more informed opinion.

  8. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Knapp, your post just proves your thought processes. William J. Simmons represents who? Methodists or the KKIK? Methodist chruches supported Simmons teachings how? How many of the sects of Christianity came together in support of Simmons? Somehow, I suspect Simmons was subject of criticism far more than Bin Ladin has been by Muslims. Alex, you have a bit in common with the author of the Wizard of Oz. Your writings are fiction and you have no problem creating strawmen.
    After 9/11 there were populations of Muslims around the world who took to the streets and cheered wildly. I wonder if you notice how few air bursts of thermonuclear devises over those areas happened. While many Islamic nations stuggle to enter of 18th century with regard to their own developments, America is a technological leader. We have the power to do what Islam calls on its followers to do. That is to convert by force those who do not beieve the way they do. If we simply adopt part of their thinking onto our psyche, they would soon abandon their beliefs or face elimination, freeing vast areas of land for development by people not seeking to assert their believes onto others.

  9. Wouldn’t the argument be that just as the KKK is a perversion of Christianity that purports to act in it’s name, al Qaeda is a perversion of Islam that purports to act in it’s name

  10. James Joyner says:

    I usually distinguish between orthodox Christianity (Catholicism, Orthodox, Episcopalianism, Lutheranism) and various sorts of nonconformist Christianity (Methodists, Baptists, etc.).

    I make a similar grouping, which I call High Church and Low Church. But, yes, I agree that it’s not Protestantism but certain sects within it, which are so interwoven with class and place as to make sussing out the contribution of each very difficult.

    Is the same true of Islam and propensity to jihadi radicalism?

  11. PD Shaw says:

    Simmons preached in a confessional that was created by the Civil War (Southern Methodist) and then he was kicked out of it.

    Alex, please explain what more Christians, non-Southern Methodists, or perhaps even Southern Methodists have to account for for the creation of the (second) KKK? Are African-American Methodists (AME) responsible for the KKK?

  12. Craig says:

    The responses concerning Islam are pretty bad in this thread

    Check out Scott Atran for an actual informed opinion on terrorism and Islam. All of you are so far off base it’s not even funny, on both sides.

  13. Alex Knapp says:

    @PD –

    I’m just pointing out that there was, in fact, a religious basis for the (second) KKK. Of course, Simmons’ relationship with Methodism is about the same as bin Laden’s relationship with mainstream Islam. That’s the point….

  14. TG Chicago says:

    All the Christians who got offended by this analogy now begin to understand how moderate Muslims feel about being forced to move their mosques based on what happened on 9/11.

    You don’t like being compared to the KKK; they don’t like being compared to al Qaeda. Neither comparison sheds light on a true understanding of the majority of the faith.

    That’s the point.

  15. sam says:


    “The KKK has no link at all to any aspect of Christianity, protestant or otherwise,”

    I dunno know, dude, somebody didn’t get the message:

    Welcome to the Ku Klux Klan!

    The Knights Party, USA

    Bringing a Message of Hope and Deliverance to White Christian America! A Message of Love NOT Hate!

    “There is a race war against whites. But our people – my white brothers and sisters – will stay committed to a non-violent resolution. That resolution must consist of solidarity in white communities around the world. The hatred for our children and their future is growing and is being fueled every single day. Stay firm in your convictions. Keep loving your heritage and keep witnessing to others that there is a better way than a war torn, violent, wicked, socialist, new world order. That way is the Christian way – law and order – love of family – love of nation. These are the principles of western Christian civilization. There is a war to destroy these things. Pray that our people see the error of their ways and regain a sense of loyalty. Repent America! Be faithful my fellow believers. ”

    National Director of The Knights

    Pastor Thomas Robb

  16. sam says:

    But more seriously, connecting the KKK to American Protestantism is not that farfetched. The essential characteristic of American Protestantism, especially in the South, is its inchoateness: it is continually in a state of becoming. All one needs to do to start a church is, well, start a church. I don’t think one can say that there is any firm doctrine, apart from a belief in Jesus as Redeemer, that informs every single Protestant church in the United States. For example, look into the differences between PreTrib and PostTrib theologies. Jesus might be the foundation, but, Lord, there are many, many, many mansions built on that foundation. Probably the best book I ever read on what one might call the Varieties of Protestant Religious Experience in the South (where the Klan was born) is Flannery O’Conner’s Wise Blood. Read it and you can see why the Klan could be connected to some interpretation of Christianity (not that the book is in any way whatsoever about the Klan).