Politicians have latched onto the threat of domestic terror attacks and are exploiting smoldering Islamophobia.
The Norwegian tragedy is resonating in the U.S. in the guise of a strange question: Should America fear domestic right-wing extremism or growing radicalism among American Muslims?
When America looks at Oslo, it recalls memories of 1995, when right-wing anti-government terrorist Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in Oklahoma City. This type of danger is a constant, latent presence in the U.S., in the form of private armed militias, practicing on sealed-off parcels of land in the forests of Michigan or Montana, or as racist, neo-Nazi, supremacist and other “hate groups.”
Or are they also “lone wolves,” who represent a potential threat, one difficult to catch in advance?
A Thousand Leagues of Hate
According to certain analyses — for example, that of the highly respected civic institute, the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama — it is precisely this sort of extremism that is the greatest security problem in the United States. The institute reported that last year there were roughly a thousand of the aforementioned groups and associations.
The societal and political debate in the U.S., however, sounds completely different. It concentrates instead on the second possibility of the introductory question, i.e. on the Muslim minority inside the U.S. In America nowadays, a discussion on the danger of domestic terrorism almost always automatically means Islamic terrorism.
This is currently documented by a series of hearings on the “radicalization of American Muslims” in the House of Representatives, arranged by Republican Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Peter King. Just yesterday it continued with its third session, dedicated to the alleged recruitment of new terrorists among Muslims of Somali origin now living in Minnesota. According to Congressman King, the terrorist organization al-Shabaab (a Somali parallel to al-Qaida) has recruited some 40 people in this community.
It is problematic, however, that this number comes from an investigation carried out by King’s team. It may be true, or it may be a considerably exaggerated figure. And this uncertainty, in which fear has ever-wider reach, creeps into the majority of the general population’s attitude toward American Muslims.
The 0.81 Percent Threat
Immediately following 9/11, President George Bush emphatically distinguished between “peace-loving Islam” and its “perversion” in the terrorists’ interpretation. It appeared that Americans would also make the same distinction, but the attitude of considerable numbers of Americans began to change when an American Army major, Nidal Malik Hasan, who was Muslim, shot 13 people dead at a military base in Fort Hood two years ago.
One can understand the changing mood of society, supported, moreover, by further attacks that are discovered in time and prevented. It is more important to note, however, that many American politicians are deliberately getting on board of this populist wave. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich compares Islam with Nazism and calls for a federal law prohibiting the application of Sharia law in American courts.
And even though nobody knows how that could even theoretically happen, Oklahoma has already passed such a law last autumn, and seven other states are preparing to do so. The absurdity of this smoldering Islamophobia is documented by another statistic: Among the 305 million inhabitants of the U.S. live 2.5 million Muslims, or 0.81 percent of the population.
It is difficult to imagine how this power could “conquer America,” as Republican candidate Rick Santorum warns of Islam. And what about when he says that Islam is a new alien element in the U.S.? The truth is that Islam arrived in America before the Union was ever declared. Among the slaves who arrived there from Africa beginning in 1619, a third were Muslim.