For those Muslims who wish to be peaceful, productive members of Western culture (and I believe that’s the vast majority of them), we don’t make it easy. As Arun Kundnani details in his new book The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror (available in hardcover and for Kindle) the Muslim community has been systematically stereotyped and demonized by both the mainstream media and government law enforcement agencies.
Before I go any further, I should point out that I fully understand that Islamic terrorism and Islamic extremism are global problems that must be dealt with. I agree that the Muslim community bears some responsibility to combat extremists who claim to speak for Islam. That combat make take the form of physical combat (when necessary), or it could mean engaging in discussion with extremists, educating children, and–yes–cooperating with authorities who may happen to be non-Muslims, all the name of the greater good and long-term goals of peace and prosperity.
That said, it’s important we acknowledge how small the problem of domestic Islamic terrorism has been since 9/11. Â Defining what constitutes a terrorist attack is a bit tricky, but the grand total of Americans killed by ALL TERRORIST ATTACKS SINCE 1970 is on the order of 3,500. Three thousand of those occurred on 9/11 alone. At any rate, that’s something like 75 deaths a year due to terrorism.
To put things into perspective, 10,000 people die in America every year from gun violence; 35,000 die from driving-related accidents. Thirty-five hundred (3,500) die each year in knife attacks alone! That’s right, more people die from knife-related violence in a year than have died from all terrorism (Islamic, Christian, or otherwise) in the last 45 years. I could go on. And yet we have spent trillions in the last 13 years on “terrorist prevention.”
I’m not saying terrorism is not a problem at all. I’m not saying that law enforcement doesn’t need to conduct surveillance and investigate leads in a manner compliant with the Constitution and respectful that the rights of law-abiding citizens may be affected. And that’s not what Kundnani is saying, either. He is pointing out (and I agree with him to a large extent) that our governments have gone completely overboard in their response to the perceived threat of terrorism, and may actually be doing more harm than good by alienating and generally pissing-off communities that might otherwise become part of the solution.
Kundnani’s thesis is that Islamophobia has become an entrenched phenomenon mutually enforced by popular culture and the official policies of the government. What’s worse, when Muslims legitimately speak out against governmental and political overreach and abuse, they are too quickly labelled dissidents and put on watch lists, or worse, accused of supporting terrorism. As Kundnani so succinctly puts it, “reviving the political freedoms that have been lost in recent years is the best approach to reducing jihadist terrorism.”
The vast majority of foiled or intercepted Islamist plots have been by bumblers entrapped by undercover operations, or by semi-competent loners unconnected with any “official” Islamist groups.
Kundnani does make one or two questionable claims; for example, quoting one of the would-be London Underground bombers as saying “Religion had nothing to do with this” but admitting he was motivated by images from the war in Iraq. Would this wannabe jihadist have acted in defense of a Christian nation in similar circumstances? Doubtful.
Still, Kundnani is right that government oversteps its bounds when it tries to define what is and isn’t an acceptable form of religion (or irreligion, for that matter). George W. Bush famously said “Islam is peace,” but it is not his place to say what Islam is or isn’t. Kundnani outlines programs in the United Kingdom that are intended to identify “at risk” Muslim youth and steer them into kinder, gentler forms of Islam. Thankfully, the Constitution shields American youth from such overt intermingling of church and state, although it’s not a perfect shield, if you’ve been reading the news.
The upshot of all this is that America and other Western governments, in order to “win the war on terrorism,” cannot do so by abandoning our ideals of religious freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. The damage done by the prolonged war in Afghanistan and the debacle of Iraq will not be undone for decades. The stains of Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, and drone assassinations will not be erased anytime soon, especially as long as supposed “liberals” like President Obama allow such practices to continue. The Muslims are coming, whether we like it or not, and how we treat them not will dictate how they treat us in the future.