Monday, June 18, 2007

The American Muslim boogeyman

This letter to the editor in today's Rockford Register Star is representative of the undue alarmism spawned by a recent Pew poll of attitudes among American Muslims.

In this case, the writer not only yearns for national leaders "who can deal with" the Islamic threat in our midst (one can only imagine what he means by "deal with"), but he exagerrates the supposedly evil mindset among the Muslim citizens of our great country.

"Twenty-five percent or more of the Muslim people in the United States believe it is acceptable to act as a suicide bomber, taking tens, or even hundreds, of innocent lives in the process," he writes.

Actually, the Pew poll shows that 13 percent of American Muslims, not 25 percent or higher, say there can ever be justification for suicide bombings "to defend Islam." On the other hand, 78 percent of these people say such actions could "never" be justified.

One wonders how many Americans could find justification for violence against innocent civilians in defense of Christianity. I know of no such poll that poses that question directly, but I've seen survey results on questions that aren't too dissimilar.

For example, another Pew poll asked Americans in general if they think "the use of torture against suspected terrorists" can be justified. Forty-six percent of respondents said such treatment would be acceptable "often" or "sometimes." Another 17 percent would approve of it "rarely," but only 32 percent said "never."

Self-described "white evangelicals" were more inclined than other respondents to approve of the torture. And notice, please, that we're talking about torture of suspected terrorists, not necessarily certifiable bad guys.

Nor should we think of Christian Americans as mostly averse to killing innocent civilians in furtherance of our national interests. To this day, a majority of our citizens support the decision of 62 years ago to drop nuclear bombs on Japanese cities that were of no strategic military importance, killing tens of thousands of civilians. Rightly or wrongly, such bombings were acts of terrorism intended to force Japan into surrender. They were successful in that regard.

Much also has been made of the recent poll finding that 47 percent of American Muslims think of themselves as Muslim first and then American. How unpatriotic of them, right? Well, 42 percent of American Christians consider themselves Christian first and then American. So, on that score, our Christians and Muslims are pretty much the same.

None of my argument here is to suggest that there aren't American Muslims who might do this nation and its people harm in certain circumstances or that we shouldn't take reasonable precautions against such misdeeds. My point is that the vast majority of our Muslims are mainstream Americans except, perhaps, for cultural differences.

One of my concerns is that excessive suspicion of Muslims can be conflated to cover Arab-Americans in general, which is ignorant in the extreme. The facts are that 1) three-fourths of our Muslims are not of Arab descent, and 2) three-fourths of Arab-Americans are Christians, not Muslims.

Let's remember, too, that there are Christian terrorists among us. Does the name Timothy McVeigh ring a bell? Have you heard about the murders of abortion providers? Aren't some of us old enough to recall the lynchings of African-Americans and civil rights activists by God-fearing, church-going Southerners not so long ago?

UPDATE: Speaking of Christian terrorists, check this.

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