Targeting Muslims in the “Fight” Against Terror

The congressional hearings about radical Islam which were initiated by Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, started yesterday. It’s too soon to tell what effect the hearings will have on relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in America, but I fear it won’t be a good one. King is on record as saying that there are too many mosques in America and that “80-85% of them are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.” Yet he insists that he is not out to “get” Muslims in general.

He may believe that his motives are pure, that he is only interested in making the U.S. safe from terrorist attacks, but he has been criticized by Muslims and non-Muslims alike for targeting a whole community for the actions of a minuscule fraction of it. King has also charged the Muslim community with negligence for not adequately policing its own members. Many Muslims feel that this charge is unfair and that expecting them to be watchdogs for terrorists is unrealistic.

King seems to think that Muslims should be able to recognize terrorists in their midst. He bases this on his assumption that terrorists all act alike and come from similar backgrounds (Islamic ones). Nothing could be further from the truth. They’ve been young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, and converts as well as born Muslims. (They’ve also been male and female.) It’s not that easy to tell what’s in a person’s heart, especially when he’s trying to hide his true intentions from the world.

The fact is, not all terrorists are Muslim. Now, that’s a shocker. An article on Think Progress.org tells us that:

A January 2011 terrorism statistics report — compiled using publicly available data from the FBI and other crime agencies — from the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) shows that terrorism by Muslim Americans has only accounted for a minority of terror plots since 9/11. Since the attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, Muslims have been involved in 45 domestic terrorist plots. Meanwhile, non-Muslims have been involved in 80 terrorist plots.

So why is King targeting Muslims? Could it be, as John Esposito says in the “On Faith” department of The Washington Post, that the hearings are really “Islamophobia draped in the American flag“?

I think that’s pretty obvious. Part of the problem is that when people hear the words “terrorist” or “terrorism” they automatically think of Muslims and Islam. But there are many kinds of terrorism from “eco-terrorism” to “anti-tax terrorism.” (Not to mention the terrorist actions of some anti-abortionists, which include murder.)

This may not be a popular view, but I think another part of the problem is that Americans are paranoid and hysterical when it comes to terrorism. We have turned the term into anything that threatens the American people. The truth is, not all the threats that we face in the U.S. can be considered terrorism. If another country invaded the U.S., that wouldn’t be terrorism, it would be war. (Think of the attack on Pearl Harbor—was that called an act of terrorism? Would it be called that today?)

What about the threat from our own nuclear reactors, or corporately-dumped chemicals that poison our water supplies? Or what we’ve done to various segments of the population? (Blacks: slavery; Native Americans: annihilation.) Oh, that’s right, those actions didn’t threaten all Americans, so they must not have been terrorist. Because as we all know, terrorism comes from outside. If it’s home-grown, it’s not terrorism. No, let me amend that: if it’s not Muslim, it’s not terrorism.

The FBI doesn’t agree. They keep statistics on and investigate any “unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The defacement of a synagogue is terrorism. So is burning a cross in the yard of “unwanted” neighbors. What we did to Native Americans was most certainly terrorism. So was the murder of Dr. George Tiller at the hands of an anti-abortionist (but did you hear his killer being called a terrorist?).

The truth is, there are a lot of different definitions of terrorism. But not one of them says that a terrorist is always a Muslim.

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Ellen

Editor and chief writer at I, Muslimah and Femagination. Ellen also contributes regularly to Elevate Difference. She is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with two cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.