When a Kansas abortionist and a Washington DC security guard at the Holocaust Museum were murdered in recent weeks by right-wing wackos–an ardent anti-abortion Missouri “freeman” and a neo-nazi respectively–the cases rightly received extensive news coverage because they were dramatic, unusual, and involve salient social controversies. There is no doubt that in both cases the perpetrators’ extreme, paranoid, and self-certain worldviews had a lot to do with why they did what they did.
It’s also true that other people that hold those views do not commit murder. This proves exactly nothing. Most of the important information in life is probabalistic in nature. There is no doubt that people with strong, uncompromising views of moral and political injustice–particularly when a certain group is viewed as the absolute enemy or absolutely evil–will be more inclined to dramatic political violence. As a consequence, it’s at least not crazy to say that if the rhetoric is extreme enough the government should keep an eye on public source data and monitor committed members of the extremist group.
But another group we are all familiar with that also employs extreme rhetoric. This group has, in fact, murdered thousands in the name of its belief system. It’s fair to describe the group as akin to certain right-wing movements: anti-modern and anti-liberal, combined with a view of violence as proof of commitment.
But this movement is never considered in such terms. It’s, in fact, treated with the utmost respect by the media and various elites. Any criticism of it qua group is treated as unfair stereotyping. In the case of this group, little effort is made to examine the connections of belief to violent action, connections which are patently obvious in the case of anti-abortion extremists and neo-nazi extremists.
At some point a crime by someone who “happens to be ‘X'” becomes “yet another X-motivated crime” or a characteristic crime of “X group” And while there is no bright line when that happens, if the actions in question follows from uncompromising statements about the need for certain kinds of violence by the group’s founders and leaders, we should not engage in back flips to avoid the obvious.
Earlier this week, a US soldier was murdered in broad daylight by someone who considered himself a sincere believer in Islam, following the religious commandment to avenge insults to Muslims and engage in jihad. But you would hardly know this from the national news. They’ve been busy focusing on the much less common domestic, right-wing extremists. And they’ve been avoiding considering the roots of Muslim violence in a widely held interpretation of Islam itself.
Consider the contrast of this lengthy AP wire report about the Arkansas attacks and the much smaller and more anodyne blurb at the NY Times.
Here’s some of what the Times cut out:
Muhammad, 23, said he wanted revenge for claims that American military personnel had desecrated copies of the Quran and killed or raped Muslims. “For this reason, no Muslim, male or female, sane or insane, little, big, small, old can accept or tolerate,” he said.
He said the U.S. military would never treat Christians and their Scriptures in the same manner.
“U.S. soldiers are killing innocent Muslim men and women. We believe that we have to strike back. We believe in eye for an eye. We don’t believe in turning the other cheek,” he said.
Consider what’s implicit in the NY Times’ editing of this wire report. A bunch of agnostics from DC and NY believe they understand Islam better than a guy who spent time in Yemen and changed his name to Abdulhakim Muhammad. The media and various political and academic elites are doing a disservice to our understanding of Islam, and there are implications of that misunderstanding relevant to the war on Islamic terrorism, our immigration policies, and domestic surveillance that should be undertaken of mosques and other Muslim groupings domestically.
The media and other elites buy into the view that our liberal social structure works well with everyone because “people everywhere want the same things,” thus diversity is basically good, and that the Third World and its people are basically victims of the West historically and victims today of “prejudice.” This view runs into conflicts with reality regularly, especially in the case of Islam, whether it is the text of the Koran, atrocities committed in the past and today by Muslims, the anti-modern and totalitarian viewpoint of the most extreme (sincere?) Muslims, and by the relatively strong connections between the content of Islam and the acts of Islamic terrorists.
Now that we have a President talking about Islam being “revealed” on the Arabian peninsula, I don’t see this sorry state of affairs changing any time soon. Failures of analysis and understanding beget failures of imagination about the threats we face as a people.
It’s sometimes objected that these terrorists are not following true Islam. Perhaps. But someone forgot to tell the perpetrators, their leaders, the thousands who cheered the “19 Lions,” and whoever put all that stuff about killing infidels in the Koran.
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