The claim of a "lack of cooperation" among Muslim Americans in defending the country from terror plots has been exceedingly proven bunk. The man currently alleging it, Congressman Peter King and his “Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response" hearings were lambasted publicly and rightfully so. It’s nonsense and political theater for King to appeal to the lowest denominator of the electorate. It also bares an uncanny resemblance to some of America’s worst acts in time of crisis and confusion. That’s all pretty obvious but what is yet to be determined or even analyzed is what in the American character allows for someone like King to think that proceedings so offensive, so overtly grounded in xenophobia and racism would be tolerated in this day and age?
Let us just establish some things as a truth: Muslim Americans are going above and beyond to defeat domestic terror plots. According to a Duke University study, 40% of all extremist plots in America were thwarted as a result of Muslim American help. We should also know by now that Islam itself does not teach hate and violence any more than let us say…the G-d of the of the Old Testament. So the fact that terrorist acts have been committed by people who just so happen to be Muslim is as secondary as their hair color. The real factor is that terrorists are intolerant, violent extremists. That is what must be rooted out and interrogated in this country.
In scientific terms, there is not a significant correlation between Islam and terrorism and even if there was - and again, there is not - correlation is not causation.
For example, there is a correlation between a rise in ice cream sales and drownings- as ice cream sales go up, so do drownings. One in their right mind would never make a serious claim however that ice cream causes people to drown. Common sense says that the two variables just happen to be moderated by a shared factor: temperature, which also contributes to increased swimming. There are extremists in all of humanity and by focusing on the incidental facets of their identities like religion and ethnicity; we are missing the real impetus for their actions. We’re also leaving ourselves open to terrorism that comes in different shapes and forms subsequently.
I write all of this not because I am some revolutionary thinker with novel data and insight but because the truth bears repeating and when ignorance and misinformation (read: lies) are so prevalent, one must take every possible occasion to combat them.
None of this is new. Japanese Americans know what it’s like to be persecuted as a result of public insecurity and anxiety. Numbers vary but following the devastation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, over 100,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes. None of those relocated by their government was ever charged with a crime.
America was no safer for it. We limped out of WWII having defeated the real enemy of spreading fascism, released those being held in camps, paid around $1.6 billion in redress and hopefully learned our lesson about acting out of fear. But we already knew better. Roosevelt, who authorized the internment policy was also the guy who said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” That was nearly 10 years before he decided the only thing we had to fear was the Japanese. 78 years later, don’t we know better now? We should.
The solution to debates that inevitably rise out of such foolishness is as common as what many of our parents tell us about the dangers of the world. It’s sage advice like, anyone can be a kidnapper and just because they look nice doesn’t mean they’re not a stranger. We learn from childhood to question our assumptions when it comes to maintaining safety so why when confronting the dangers of national security do Americans tolerate people like Congressman Peter King? Why would someone smart enough to navigate electoral politics behave irrationally on the behalf of the people (and with our tax dollars might I add?)
It’s a Orwellian narrative come to life where the public clings tightly to an easily identifiable boogieman rather than deal with the reality of a complex world where the bad guys aren’t always dark and foreign – and where those are sometimes the good guys or the victims. Just as 1984 had Goldstein, in 2011 we have Muslims as the scapegoat and efforts like those of King amount to nothing more than our Two Minutes Hate. This isn’t policy. It’s catharsis for the ignorant.
That is exactly where the rubber meets the road in America, where our reality conflicts with the convenient. It’s easier to deny the existence of global warming than to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels for example so a minority of misguided people reject the very premise as temperatures get more extreme. Similarly, we can’t deal with the fact that violent extremism isn’t as simple as a Saturday morning cartoon where you could identify a bad guy using the simple formula of nice guy plus facial hair equals evil twin.
How lovely our world would be if all of the crazy in it came with a label, if terror had a name and a face. What I hope Peter King and those for whom he has performed come to understand is that a more perfect union is a more complicated one. Getting America to live up to its promises is hard work and as we are challenged by failing economies and international conflicts, it is only going to get harder. As sure as we are cracked vessels, we will always have the urge to pursue the usual and convenient option of clannishness but since there is a real threat in the world, as King suggests, we might be better served fighting it. I am all for combating global terrorism but let us go about it with respect for the truth and honoring lessons of the past.