Last week a Texas man was indicted on charges of obstructing religious freedom for threatening to blow up a mosque in Tennessee. The story is important in its own right, but it is also part of a pattern of a misdirected focus on Muslims in a culture of Islamophobia, a culture of hatred that has become so extreme that even conservatives are backing off.
The same week this Texan alleged terrorist is indicted, a homeless man in NYC decided to “fight terrorism” by going into a pizza parlor and slashing people. Nearly two years ago, a man who was distraught over a family custody battle called a neighborhood Muslim man to say he was going to burn a Qur’an to help start a war between Christianity and Islam.
In the latter two instances, there is an indication of mental instability involved. However, the focus on Muslims and Islam is a direct result of a culture that immediately treats another group of people as suspect.
The empirical data shows that the emphasis on Muslims is actually misplaced. A report by Maj. Frederick Wong, found on the Homeland Security Digital Library site, concludes that the overemphasis on Muslims blinds us to other forms of terrorism. Loonwatch uses data from the FBI to reveal that from 1980 to 2005, Muslim extremists committed approximately 5% of terrorist related attacks against America, roughly the same as Jewish extremists (6%). Eli Lake from Think Progress uses a data set from 1995 to 2011 to indicate that Muslim extremists committed 1/3 the number of attacks as right-wing groups in the US. Here at RD, we’ve analyzed data from The Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security (TCTHS) to show that from 2001-2011, the chance of an American being a victim of Muslim extremist attack is the same as his chance of being murdered.
Despite this factual information, the rhetoric of hatred and xenophobia shapes the way in which we react with minority communities in this country. It is no surprise that, as Sarah Posner reports, the man behind anti-shariah legislation in this country also believes that blacks are murderous and women should not be allowed to vote. He has inherited a legacy of exclusion, and is helping to make sure that Muslims are an acceptable target for that exclusion.
While the the Islamophobia industry might find it amusing and profitable to stand opposed to basic American freedoms, including freedom of and from religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech, their rhetoric has real world consequences. Children are threatened when they go to pray, houses of worship are burned and threatened with bombings, people buying pizza in NYC are slashed, and scriptures are burned because of custody battles. And in all of theses instances, we have to ask whether the alleged perpetrators are lone wolves, or live in fear that there is a greater network of individuals ready to attack America’s core freedoms and diversity.