The day before the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Obama was asked why there seemed to be a recent uptick in American distress about Islam. “At a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then, you know, fears can surface; suspicions, divisions can surface in a society,” he said. “We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other.”
What is not blamed on George W. Bush is blamed on us all. The Bible-clutching, gun-toting xenophobes Barack Obama referenced during his presidential campaign are now taking out their financial woes on innocent Muslims. Shame on them.
On the same day that the president gave his academic instruction on the roots of religious scapegoating among the American working class, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report titled “Assessing the Terrorist Threat,” which stated, “Last year was a watershed in terrorist attacks and plots in the United States, with a record total of 11 jihadist attacks, jihadist-inspired plots, or efforts by Americans to travel overseas to obtain terrorist training.” Most gruesome among them was the attack at Fort Hood, Texas, which killed 13 people.
The BPC report is an adult answer to the question that was posed to the president. Recently, Americans have witnessed a terrorism parade. For the first time since 9/11, multiple threats and attacks on the homeland came across our TV screens. For our anguish over the loss of American lives, we were told the system worked; admonished not to jump to conclusions about the perpetrators; and, while we absorbed the blows of Islamist terrorism, told there was no such thing.
The crowning surreality was Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s plan to build a community center and mosque blocks from Ground Zero. For our misgivings about that, Americans were labeled bigots.
But according to our president, the problem lies with Americans who, as he once put it, “get bitter [and] cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them,” not with those who get homicidal and fire their guns in the name of religion and hatred of people who are not like them.
The declarations of President Obama and of the Bipartisan Policy Center are the poles between which American national security now vacillates. We go from the real world, where gunmen scream “Allahu Akbar” and kill Americans, to the classroom, where Islamist terrorism does not exist and all conflict can be explained as a function of economic struggle.
The classroom explanation is an insult to public intelligence. So too is the concomitant disclaimer that “the majority of Muslims are peace-loving people.” Not because it is false (it is not), but because no sane person has ever asserted the counterclaim. As a people, this makes us dumber. It makes us dumber to write it and it makes us dumber to read it. It introduces illogic into our reasoning, and once illogic enters, it stays. In public debate, there is always a well-meaning justification for proceeding illogically.
As a country, it makes us vulnerable — never more so than today. The BPC report notes that more American citizens or residents associated with Islamist groups were charged or convicted of terrorism in 2009 than in any year since 9/11. “A key shift in the threat to the homeland since around the time President Barack Obama took office,” says the report, “is the increasing ‘Americanization’ of the leadership of al-Qaeda and aligned groups, and the larger numbers of Americans attaching themselves to these groups.”
The enemy is becoming an intimate part of the American landscape and less easily identifiable as a distinctly foreign phenomenon. This is precisely the time for our leaders to find an intelligent way of discussing the true nature of the fight. Officially denying that there are Muslim terrorists among us will not protect innocent Muslims; it will put them at greater risk, as a potentially traumatized citizenry becomes frustrated with leadership that refuses to take seriously the complicated threats arrayed against it. Yet at no time since 9/11 has our government been this willfully inarticulate — even insulting — about the challenges we face.