Smearing all Muslims

    The House Republican hearings on the “radicalization” of the Muslim-American community have been heavily pre-spun before they have even begun. Given the fact that Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King won’t bang the opening gavel until tomorrow, the multiplicity of opinions, both pro and con, at first seemed a tad premature.Nevertheless, I do want to offer several facts that might serve to put these impending hearings in their proper perspective:1. Back in the days when Peter King was a rank-and-file Republican congressman, he was a vocal supporter of the Irish Republican Army, which, as we all know, was quite proficient at blowing up buildings and sometimes the people inside those buildings. By any objective measure, the IRA engaged in terrorist acts – although that’s not how King chose to characterize the IRA. At a Long Island rally in 1982, he said: “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.” And in 1985, he said: “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA. for it.” Most importantly, it has long been a fact that the IRA sustained itself with the help of weapons and money from Irish sympathizers in America. In other words, if anyone in Congress back then had proposed conducting hearings on the “radicalization” of the Irish-American community, Peter King would have been the first politician to bewail the unfairness of demonizing an entire ethnicity, and the injustice of smearing all members of that community with guilt by association. But since chairman King’s intended targets are members of a very different community (non-Christian, largely people of color), well, he sees no problem with that. His whole aim, in these hearings, will be to broadly apportion moral blame for the terrorist acts of a very few.2. One of his stated goals is to fault the entire Muslim-American community for its purported refusal to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in terrorism cases. The premise itself is empirically weak. According to a new study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security (a group jointly affiliated with Duke University and the University of North Carolina), roughly 120 terrorist plots involving Muslim-Americans were “thwarted” last year, mostly in the early planning or talking stages – 48 of them because of “tips from the Muslim American community.” In the words of David Schanzer, who directed the Triangle Center report, “Americans should take note that these crimes are being perpetrated by a handful of people whose actions are denounced and rejected by virtually all the Muslims living in the United States.” This morning, Schanzer added: “King’s blanket statements, that the Muslim-American community as a whole is not contributing to counterterrorism, are totally counterproductive.” Indeed, numerous law enforcement officials have already gone on record extolling the community’s willingness to cooperate; in the recent past, King’s own committee has heard such testimony. 3. Since 9/11, a grand total of 11 Muslim-Americans have carried out terrorist attacks on American soil, killing a grand total of 33. Obviously, one death is one too many, and one attack is one too many. But let’s try to put all this in perspective. The average annual death toll (three) seems far less urgent than the average annual murder toll in America (15,000). Or perhaps look at it this way: Jared Lee Loughner, with his easily purchased Arizona gun, killed more people in one morning than Muslim-American terrorists kill on average every two years. By that measure, perhaps King should be conducting homeland security hearings on the alleged epidemic of gun-happy, anti-authority nutjobs in the Caucasian-American community.The bottom line is that these Republican hearings pose the inherent risk of pejoratively stereotyping an entire people – while stoking anti-Muslim sentiment among those who are prone to equate all mosques with extremism, and among those who suspect that all “radical” thoughts (however broadly or erroneously defined) are tantamount to terrorist action. King would have resisted any attempts to apply these yardsticks to his fellow Irish-Americans. His critics will be compelled to remind him that fundamental American fairness needs to be practiced across the board.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal