Commentary Magazine


Topic: post-9/11 backlash

Defining Islam and the Islamophobia Myth

President Obama was going down a well-worn path last night when in his speech about stopping ISIS, he claimed the terrorist group was “not Islamic.” Like his predecessor George W. Bush, the president feels impelled to define America’s Islamist terrorist foes as somehow unrelated to the Muslim religion. The motives for this effort are utilitarian as well as idealistic but it comes with a cost, both in terms of our ability to wage an effective war against this enemy and the way these statements help fuel myths about American attitudes toward Muslims.

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President Obama was going down a well-worn path last night when in his speech about stopping ISIS, he claimed the terrorist group was “not Islamic.” Like his predecessor George W. Bush, the president feels impelled to define America’s Islamist terrorist foes as somehow unrelated to the Muslim religion. The motives for this effort are utilitarian as well as idealistic but it comes with a cost, both in terms of our ability to wage an effective war against this enemy and the way these statements help fuel myths about American attitudes toward Muslims.

As our Michael Rubin noted earlier today, it is not any president’s job to define who is and who is not affiliated with a particular religion. ISIS may practice a form of Islam that we find repellent but to pretend that it has nothing to do with the Muslim religion or that its roots are not very much part of the Islamic tradition isn’t a serious statement. Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, has many variations. But unfortunately, the violent and intolerant brand of Islamism that is championed by ISIS is not only not as much of an outlier as many Americans would like to pretend; in some ways its views are not dissimilar to other more mainstream sects such as the Wahhabi sect that dominates America’s Saudi Arabian ally. The difference between the two lies mainly in Wahhabi clerics’ loyalty to the House of Saud and the radicals’ belief in overthrowing most Muslim regimes, not in any innate contrasts between their views of the non-Muslim world.

In order to understand the strength of ISIS and its ability to rally the support or at least the sympathy of so many Muslims, it is necessary to understand its ability to appeal to those who believe Islam should dominate the world, just as it tried to in its heyday when Christian Europe was holding on for its life against a resurgent Muslim military tide. The intolerance it foments has its origins in a worldview that holds that the world must bow to Muslim sensibilities, even to the point of censoring Western expression about their faith. If it is to be defeated, it will have to be understood in the context of the history of the region and not by treating it as an alien outburst.

Nevertheless, it is necessary for American leaders to be at pains to demonstrate that the U.S. has never and will never be at war with Islam, a faith that commands the allegiance of a billion people, most of whom are not interested in war with the West. It is also important for Americans not to consider the millions of loyal American Muslims as being somehow responsible for the behavior of ISIS, al-Qaeda, or any other Islamist terror group.

But though both Bush and Obama have bent over backwards to avoid portraying the war against Islamist terror as having anything fundamental to do with Islam, their willingness to do so has given credence to those who have claimed that the opposite is true. The notion of a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in America is a myth that has been repeatedly debunked, yet it continues to thrive and grow.

For example, in today’s Daily Beast, Dean Obeidallah claims “13 years after 9/11, anti-Muslim bigotry is worse than ever.” What proof does he offer for this? Not much. There is a poll sponsored by the Arab-American Institute that shows that less than half of those surveyed have positive views of American Muslims and 42 percent support the use of profiling by law-enforcement agencies that would focus on Arabs and Muslims.

These numbers may seem troubling. But the disconnect here is between what the poll rightly diagnoses as worries about homegrown terrorism committed by Muslims and in some cases supported by radical clerics and any actual evidence of discrimination or hate directed at Arabs or adherents of Islam.

As I have repeatedly noted here, FBI hate-crime statistics for every year since 9/11 have repeatedly demonstrated the emptiness of claims of a backlash against Muslims. In each of the last 12 years, hate crimes against Jews have outnumbered those directed at Muslims. And despite the poll Obeidallah cites, there has never been a single credible study that was able to establish a consistent pattern of discrimination or systematic violence against Muslims.

Even more incredibly, Obeidallah claims American popular culture has furthered the worst image of Muslims and refused to portray them positively. As anyone who has watched television or the movies in the last 13 years can attest, this is nonsense. Hollywood has gone out of its way in much the same way Bush and Obama have done to avoid stereotyping Arabs and Muslims. To the contrary, although some Muslims have been at war against the United States during these years, popular films that portray Arabs and Muslims as typical enemies are few and far between. This avoidance is virtually unprecedented in the history of warfare and culture.

Nor, despite Obeidallah’s attempt to portray a few stray politicians who are worried about the spread of sharia law as mainstream, has there ever been any attempt by the U.S. government to harass Muslims. Though in an era during which al-Qaeda and now ISIS are doing their best to strike Western targets it is simply common sense to pay more attention to Muslims of Middle Eastern origin, police departments around the country have eschewed profiling. The same is true of the Transportation Security Agency, whose airport personnel go out of their way to scrutinize elderly grandmothers so as to avoid the impression that they are keeping an eye on the same group that produced the 9/11 hijackers. In the same spirit, law enforcement personnel have often been more interested in establishing good relations with radical clerics than in monitoring their activities.

Discrimination against Muslims and Arabs is wrong. But those seeking to keep the myth of a backlash against them after 9/11 alive are pursuing an agenda that is not so much anti-bias as it is anti-awareness of the dangers of radical Islam.

Pretending ISIS isn’t Muslim won’t help us defeat them. But by acting as if Americans are barbarians who would resort to violence if they knew the truth about ISIS, the president is playing along with the same false narrative that seeks to establish American Muslims as the true victims of 9/11. That sort of thinking is not only offensive; it breeds a mindset that has often undermined our ability to act decisively against those advocating violent Islam and led some young American Muslims to join ISIS and other terror groups. So long as we keep ourselves in ignorance about both ISIS and its sympathizers we will not only never defeat them, we will also be fomenting a terrible lie about American society.

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The Left’s War on Moderate Muslims

After years of effort to promote the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims, the left is breaking some new ground in the debate about terror. Instead of merely trying to make Americans feel guilty about defending themselves against radical Islamists, they have a new goal: banning the use of the term “moderate Muslim.”

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After years of effort to promote the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims, the left is breaking some new ground in the debate about terror. Instead of merely trying to make Americans feel guilty about defending themselves against radical Islamists, they have a new goal: banning the use of the term “moderate Muslim.”

That’s the conceit of a piece in the New Republic by Georgetown University’s Nathan Lean in which he argues that to attempt to differentiate between Islamists who seek to pursue a war on the West and those Muslims who wish to live in peace with non-Muslims is itself an act of prejudice. For Lean, any effort to ascertain whether Muslims are supportive of the radical ideologues that have supported not only al-Qaeda but also other Islamist terror movements is wrong because it feeds the “Islamophobia” which he believes is at the core of all Western attitudes toward Muslims. In doing so, he is attempting not only to discourage efforts to combat the radicals but to delegitimize those Muslims who choose to speak up against the Islamists.

Lean’s problem with the term stems from the criteria that he thinks are used to ascertain whether a Muslim is one of the many millions who support radical terror groups or subscribe to an ideology of perpetual war on the West whether or not they personally pursue violence. According to Lean, the best way to win the title of “moderate” is:

By supporting Western foreign policies in the Middle East, cheering continued military aid to Israel, and even rejecting certain Islamic tenets.

That definition tells us more about Lean’s belief that the U.S. shouldn’t be waging a pro-active effort to fight Islamist terrorists abroad and his animus for Israel than anything about Muslims. But by seeking to discredit the attempt, as he put it, to divide the Muslim world into “good” and “bad” types, he is attempting to both deny that there is a large segment of that population that support the radicals while simultaneously treating their beliefs as normative and inoffensive.

This is, of course, ludicrous. Violent Islamism is not the figment of a paranoid Western imagination or the preserve of an infinitesimal minority. It is backed, whether actively or passively, by huge segments of the Muslim population in the Middle East and Africa. It is manifest not only in the work of al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers but also in other terror groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban as well as movements that have attempted to straddle the divide between terror and politics such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. It is also the ideology of governments such as that of Iran and Sudan and is supported by huge segments of the population and even ruling elites in nations such as Pakistan. Even in the West, where genuine moderates prevail, the network of Islamist mosques provide a breeding ground for home-grown terrorists as well as those willing to engage in fundraising or moral support for foreign radicals.

In other words, Islamism is a genuine threat and can count on a huge base of support around the globe. Lean’s farcical attempt to argue that just because the tens, if not hundreds of millions of Islamist supporters don’t personally engage in terror attacks on the West means that there is no such thing as a moderate/radical divide is the height of illogic as well as an insult to the intelligence of his readers.

Lean has an uphill battle in his campaign to convince even Americans who are weary of foreign wars that there aren’t a lot of radical Muslims abroad who support violence against the U.S. and its allies. But his goal is to alter the terms of the debate about this threat so as to intellectually disarm Americans to cause them to think there is no real threat.

Integral to this effort is the attempt to label the act of speaking up against Islamists as inherently prejudicial. An example of this kind of argument came earlier this month when the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank embarrassed himself by writing an account of a Heritage Foundation event that made false accusations about the panelists and audience taunting a Muslim woman. As it turned out the tape of the incident showed that while the speakers had some tough words about radical Islamists and those Muslims who don’t actively oppose them, the woman who spoke up in opposition to the prevailing view of the audience was actually treated respectfully. Both liberals and conservatives called out Milbank for this act of journalistic malpractice, with even Politico’s media columnist Dylan Byers describing his article as a “disaster” in which he “misrepresented” the views of the panelists.

But Lean takes Milbank’s false account as the starting point for his piece because it backs up the false narrative that he is promoting about anti-Islamism being a thin cover for anti-Muslim views.

This is, of course, somewhat odd. Since most of those who speak out against the rise of Islamism are always at pains to point out that the majority of Muslims, especially those in the United States, don’t support the radicals, it is curious that Lean is especially offended by the use of the term “moderate.” His argument is not to deny the existence of moderates but rather to pretend that there are no violent radicals, or at least not enough to care about.

Were several major Muslim countries not in the grips of the radicals or if there had been no 9/11, Benghazi, or a campaign of terror waged around the globe in countless places, he might have a point. Were radical mosques not filled with imams and congregants espousing support for these attacks and the movements that spawn them, it would also make sense not to differentiate between moderates and radicals. But, sadly, that is not the case.

To claim, as he does, that we don’t use the terms to describe Jews and Christians actually makes the opposite point from the one he intends to support. Were there a critical mass of violent radicals at war with the West within Christianity or Judaism, it would also be appropriate to split those groups up into radicals and moderates. But, again, that is not a reflection of reality.

But even if we ignore Lean’s more foolish arguments along these lines, the problem with this debate lies in one of the statements made by one of Heritage’s speakers that he found so offensive. At the event author and speaker Brigitte Gabriel said that it didn’t make a difference that the majority of peaceful Muslims were irrelevant to the discussion of 9/11 in the same way that peaceful Germans were irrelevant during the Holocaust.

Holocaust comparisons are almost always a mistake and the analogy probably confuses more than it illuminates. But at the root of this comment is the plain fact that if Muslims are not willing to speak out against those who wage war on the West in the name of their religion, they are allowing the radicals to define their faith. We don’t need “moderate” Muslims because of a compulsion to divide or categorize non-Western faiths or peoples. We need them because in their absence, the Islamists are allowed, as they have been in many places around the world, to define what it is to be a Muslim.

The West doesn’t need to be at war with Islam but it must be aware of the fact that Islamists are at war with the West and that it must, whenever possible, ally itself with moderates who oppose the impulse to legitimize jihad against non-Muslims. Contrary to Lean’s thesis, we aren’t trying to make Muslims fit into our notion of acceptable behavior but to embrace those who reject the seductive call of the Islamists.

Islamist terror is real but so is the existence of a large body of moderate Muslims who are often, even in this country, cowed into silence by the radicals. The real myth here is not the one about moderate Islam but the attempt by many on the left to promote the idea that awareness of the threat from radicals is something they call Islamophobia. Smearing those who attempt to remind us that the Islamists are still at war with the West is the objective of this line of argument. That the New Republic, which was once a bulwark of support for the defense of the West against Islamism, should become the soapbox for such dangerous idiocy as that of Lean is a disgrace.

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Disarming the NYPD Against Terror

In the years after the 9/11 attacks, the New York City Police Department scrambled to do what it could to ensure that the horror of that day wasn’t repeated. To their eternal credit, they succeeded. While the worldwide counteroffensive conducted by U.S. military and intelligence forces helped make it harder for foreign al-Qaeda groups to repeat that atrocity, the NYPD’s intelligence work concentrated on any footholds Islamists might have found in the Greater New York region. The terrorists failed in no small measure due to the excellent intelligence work conducted by the NYPD. But rather than getting credit for their efforts, New York’s finest have been attacked relentlessly for their counter-terrorism operations in recent years. The September 10th mentality of much of the liberal media and the political left has taken its toll on the department. After the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City last year, veteran NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was replaced and the new regime seems more interested in avoiding false charges of Islamophobia than in worrying about the possibility that Islamists were plotting mayhem.

As I noted last month, a long assault on the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that sought to keep tabs on mosques and other places where Islamists were likely to gather was disbanded. Though the intelligence work was both legal and important to protecting the lives of New Yorkers, that effort has been halted after a press campaign that treated surveillance of known hotbeds of Islamism as an unnecessary intrusion on the privacy of American Muslims. But with that source of information gone now the last vestige of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism efforts is under siege. A front-page feature in today’s Sunday New York Times must be seen as the first shot in a new campaign to prevent the police from recruiting Muslims who are in police custody on charges unrelated to terrorism from being asked about their knowledge of Islamist activity. Like the work of the Demographics Unit, this practice is not only legal but also a commonsense police activity. But once again we are being fed the line that it is somehow an act of prejudice for the cops to look for intelligence on possible terror plots. Like the myth that Muslims were subjected to a discriminatory backlash since 2001, the Times article seems rooted in a false narrative that seeks to edit Islam out of the story of 9/11 and the conflict with Muslim terrorists.

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In the years after the 9/11 attacks, the New York City Police Department scrambled to do what it could to ensure that the horror of that day wasn’t repeated. To their eternal credit, they succeeded. While the worldwide counteroffensive conducted by U.S. military and intelligence forces helped make it harder for foreign al-Qaeda groups to repeat that atrocity, the NYPD’s intelligence work concentrated on any footholds Islamists might have found in the Greater New York region. The terrorists failed in no small measure due to the excellent intelligence work conducted by the NYPD. But rather than getting credit for their efforts, New York’s finest have been attacked relentlessly for their counter-terrorism operations in recent years. The September 10th mentality of much of the liberal media and the political left has taken its toll on the department. After the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City last year, veteran NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was replaced and the new regime seems more interested in avoiding false charges of Islamophobia than in worrying about the possibility that Islamists were plotting mayhem.

As I noted last month, a long assault on the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that sought to keep tabs on mosques and other places where Islamists were likely to gather was disbanded. Though the intelligence work was both legal and important to protecting the lives of New Yorkers, that effort has been halted after a press campaign that treated surveillance of known hotbeds of Islamism as an unnecessary intrusion on the privacy of American Muslims. But with that source of information gone now the last vestige of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism efforts is under siege. A front-page feature in today’s Sunday New York Times must be seen as the first shot in a new campaign to prevent the police from recruiting Muslims who are in police custody on charges unrelated to terrorism from being asked about their knowledge of Islamist activity. Like the work of the Demographics Unit, this practice is not only legal but also a commonsense police activity. But once again we are being fed the line that it is somehow an act of prejudice for the cops to look for intelligence on possible terror plots. Like the myth that Muslims were subjected to a discriminatory backlash since 2001, the Times article seems rooted in a false narrative that seeks to edit Islam out of the story of 9/11 and the conflict with Muslim terrorists.

The practice of using those under arrest as a general source of information is as old as police work itself. Those in custody may see it as coercive, but the relationship between cops and their sources is a two-way street in which both sides get something. Yet in the current atmosphere the political left seems to think that it is an offense to the sensibilities of Muslims to recognize that a portion of their community holds extremist views and that some terrorist activity is rooted in a version of their faith. Thus, anything done by the police that would open a window on those who might plot against America, even if it is perfectly legally and eminently reasonable, is now treated as prima facie proof of bias.

One critic of the practice of asking those under arrest to provide information about potential terrorists is Bobby Haddad, a former police sergeant who is Muslim immigrant from Algeria.

“We are detectives of the New York City Police Department Intelligence Division,” he said. “We are there to collect intelligence about criminal activity or terrorism. Why are we asking, ‘Are you Muslim?’ ‘What mosque do you go to?’ What does that have to do with terrorism?”

This is one of those “if you have to ask, you’ll never know” questions. The reason why the NYPD focused its efforts on seeking to know what was happening at mosques where Islamist imams may have preached hatred of the West or sympathy with al-Qaeda and its allies or where Islamists may gather is obvious. They did so because it was terrorists who believed their faith commanded them to slaughter Americans.

To state this does not brand all American Muslims as terrorists. To the contrary, the vast majority are honest, hard-working loyal citizens. But to pretend that Islam had no role in 9/11 or other Islamist terror activity is not merely false, it undermines any effort to combat homegrown terrorism.

The justification for this pushback against scrutiny of potential terror sources is the myth that Americans have been engaging in a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims. But the truth is that nothing of the kind has happened. No proof of any backlash exists and FBI hate crime statistics have shown that attacks on Muslims, while deplorable in any numbers, are nowhere near as prevalent as those on Jews.

The campaign to disarm the NYPD in the war against terror is part and parcel of the attempt to transform the 9/11 narrative from one of Islamists at war with the United States to one in which Muslims are portrayed as the true victims of the attacks. This is not only a libel against America; if it persists it will make it more likely that law enforcement will fail to stop the next 9/11. Those who haven’t succumbed to the siren song of this false approach need to draw the line and insist that the NYPD be allowed to continue seeking intelligence about terrorism in the places where it is most likely to be found.

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Museum is Ground Zero Mosque Rerun

In 2010, a Muslim developer initiated a bitter controversy when he sought to build a Muslim community center and mosque on the site of one of the buildings that had been struck by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Those plans divided New Yorkers and people of faith as those who rightly asserted that this was, at best, an insensitive gesture were assailed as bigots who were part of a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims. As it turned out the entire dustup was all for nothing since the developer, Sharif El-Gamal, was all hot air and construction of the planned $100 million center and mosque at 45-51 Park Place never materialized. But though the money to build the center was a figment of El-Gamal’s imagination, he’s not finished trying to have a say about the Ground Zero area. As the New York Times reported today, he’s back with another, albeit more modest plan to build a Muslim institution at the site:

Sharif El-Gamal, the developer, said through a spokesman that instead of a $100 million, 15-story community center and prayer space, he now planned a smaller, three-story museum “dedicated to exploring the faith of Islam and its arts and culture.” The building would also include a sanctuary for prayer services and community programs.

To make the plan more attractive to neighbors, he said in a statement, he had commissioned a French architect, Jean Nouvel, winner of the 2008 Prizker Prize, to design the building at 45-51 Park Place, about two blocks from the former World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, and had included plans for a public green space.

It is entirely possible that El-Gamal is once again blowing smoke about this scheme since he may not have the funds needed to build this building anymore than he did of the previous plan. No timetable for construction exists and El-Gamal has yet to take down the existing building that was damaged by the debris from the Trade Center attack. But though the Times, which was a major editorial supporter of the center/mosque plan, takes it as a given that there will be less opposition to this plan, it is just as deserving of criticism.

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In 2010, a Muslim developer initiated a bitter controversy when he sought to build a Muslim community center and mosque on the site of one of the buildings that had been struck by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Those plans divided New Yorkers and people of faith as those who rightly asserted that this was, at best, an insensitive gesture were assailed as bigots who were part of a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims. As it turned out the entire dustup was all for nothing since the developer, Sharif El-Gamal, was all hot air and construction of the planned $100 million center and mosque at 45-51 Park Place never materialized. But though the money to build the center was a figment of El-Gamal’s imagination, he’s not finished trying to have a say about the Ground Zero area. As the New York Times reported today, he’s back with another, albeit more modest plan to build a Muslim institution at the site:

Sharif El-Gamal, the developer, said through a spokesman that instead of a $100 million, 15-story community center and prayer space, he now planned a smaller, three-story museum “dedicated to exploring the faith of Islam and its arts and culture.” The building would also include a sanctuary for prayer services and community programs.

To make the plan more attractive to neighbors, he said in a statement, he had commissioned a French architect, Jean Nouvel, winner of the 2008 Prizker Prize, to design the building at 45-51 Park Place, about two blocks from the former World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, and had included plans for a public green space.

It is entirely possible that El-Gamal is once again blowing smoke about this scheme since he may not have the funds needed to build this building anymore than he did of the previous plan. No timetable for construction exists and El-Gamal has yet to take down the existing building that was damaged by the debris from the Trade Center attack. But though the Times, which was a major editorial supporter of the center/mosque plan, takes it as a given that there will be less opposition to this plan, it is just as deserving of criticism.

Let’s specify that, as with the earlier project, there is nothing wrong with building another mosque in Manhattan or in the creation of a museum devoted to Islam. New York City has countless houses of worship and nearly as many institutions devoted to the arts and history and one more would probably be welcome. But the same objections that greeted the Ground Zero mosque plan apply here.

Why, we must ask, is it necessary to build such a museum in the shadow of the footprint of the 9/11 attacks? Is there no other place in New York with a vacant lot to be procured for this project?

The obvious answer to these questions is that the purpose of both projects was to alter the why Americans thought about 9/11. The goal is to shift it from being seen as a murderous attack on America motivated by variant of Islam to one that sought to disassociate the religion from this act of mass murder. In its place would be a different and false narrative that depicted American Muslims as the primary victims of the event because they were subjected to a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims.

As I wrote in the fall of 2010 when the mosque plan was first debated, the notion of a post-9/11 backlash is a myth. No credible study or set of statistics has ever been produced to back up this idea, which was been promoted by extremist Muslim groups and recycled by a credulous mainstream media. Far from victimizing American Muslims, both the U.S. government and the institutions of popular culture have gone out of their way to avoid not only falsely blaming innocent Muslims for 9/11 but have backed up the notion that Islam should not be tied to al-Qaeda. American Muslims were left in peace and spared, as they should have been, from any repercussions from this crime.

While the original mosque was put forward as a monument to tolerance, it was not clear for whom tolerance was being sought. The interfaith group supporting the plan seemed to be telling us that the real point of remembering 9/11 wasn’t so much to memorialize the victims of this act of Islamist terror but to stand as a warning to Americans not to think ill of any Muslims, including the substantial group that cheered the attack abroad.

We heard an echo of that sentiment last week when the group of interfaith clergy that supported the mosque rose up in protest against the soon-to-be opened National September 11 Memorial and Museum because of a film to be shown there about the rise of al-Qaeda that mentioned Islamists and the role of jihad in the attacks. No doubt those same clergy will be heard again praising the new plans for planting a Muslim institution in the Ground Zero neighborhood.

But there should be no mistake about what this is all about. Those seeking to impose a Muslim institution in this specific area are not interested in memorializing 9/11 or even providing New York with one more museum or mosque. They seek to alter the narrative of an unambiguous meaning of an unambiguous event. They wish to paint the United States and the American people as the perpetrators of a great wrong and to cast Muslims as the true victims.

No one should deny the right of Muslims to build a mosque or a museum but the campaign to impose one in the Ground Zero neighborhood is as insensitive as it is motivated by motives that have little to do with the needs of the community or genuine tolerance. Honoring the memory of the victims or business activity that shows that al-Qaeda failed to beat America is the only proper purpose of building in this area. The new plan is just as much of an insult to the families of the 9/11 victims, the people of New York, and the United States as the previous effort.

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Is Terrorist Arrest an Attack on U.S. Arabs?

The narrative is familiar. Since 9/11, we’ve had a steady drumbeat of accusations bolstered by featured stories in the mainstream media claiming that Arabs and Muslims in America have been subjected to a backlash that has amounted to a wave of discrimination. As I have written several times before (here, here, here, and here), the evidence for this charge is purely anecdotal. No credible studies back it up. If anything, statistics like those compiled by the F.B.I. of hate crimes show that assaults and bias crimes aimed at Muslims are disproportionately small and far less than attacks on Jews in every year since 2001, including the time in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks.

But that hasn’t stopped groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations that claim to represent Muslims and Arabs and their cheering sections in the press from continuing to make such charges about Islamophobia. CAIR, which was born as a political front for American supporters of Hamas, has at times advised its supporters not to cooperate with federal investigations of homegrown terrorists. But, as the Associated Press reports, a leader of a similar Chicago-based group has now jumped the rhetorical shark by saying that the arrest of a person convicted of taking part in a terror bombing in Israel is, “an escalation of attacks on our community. … We are very, very angry.”

Like so many other allegations of bias against Muslims and Arabs, this one is unfounded. But it betrays the mindset of groups that think that holding terrorists accountable for their actions is inherently prejudicial.

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The narrative is familiar. Since 9/11, we’ve had a steady drumbeat of accusations bolstered by featured stories in the mainstream media claiming that Arabs and Muslims in America have been subjected to a backlash that has amounted to a wave of discrimination. As I have written several times before (here, here, here, and here), the evidence for this charge is purely anecdotal. No credible studies back it up. If anything, statistics like those compiled by the F.B.I. of hate crimes show that assaults and bias crimes aimed at Muslims are disproportionately small and far less than attacks on Jews in every year since 2001, including the time in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks.

But that hasn’t stopped groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations that claim to represent Muslims and Arabs and their cheering sections in the press from continuing to make such charges about Islamophobia. CAIR, which was born as a political front for American supporters of Hamas, has at times advised its supporters not to cooperate with federal investigations of homegrown terrorists. But, as the Associated Press reports, a leader of a similar Chicago-based group has now jumped the rhetorical shark by saying that the arrest of a person convicted of taking part in a terror bombing in Israel is, “an escalation of attacks on our community. … We are very, very angry.”

Like so many other allegations of bias against Muslims and Arabs, this one is unfounded. But it betrays the mindset of groups that think that holding terrorists accountable for their actions is inherently prejudicial.

The case of Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, a 66-year-old Palestinian immigrant to the United States, is in many ways an unexceptional immigration case. Odeh was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Palestinian Marxist terror group that ordered her to take part in plots to plant bombs in Israel. One of them was exploded at a crowded supermarket, killing two people and wounding several others. She was caught and sentenced to a long prison sentence for her crime. But, like other lucky Palestinian terrorists down through the years, she was released as part of ransom paid by Israel in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier who had been captured in Lebanon.

Press accounts don’t say what she did in the intervening years, but we know that in 1995 she left Jordan for the United States and became a citizen in 2004. She lived in suburban Evergreen Park, where she worked as a lawyer and attained the status of a community leader among Arabs. Whatever good she may or may not have done during the last 18 years, we do know one thing: she lied in order to gain entry to the United States. The law is fairly clear about those with prison records disclosing this fact while applying for a visa of any sort. Those with records of terrorism are not eligible for entry, let alone citizenship. So, like many Nazi war criminals who snuck into the U.S. by leaving out their time serving in the SS or as death camp guards on their resumes, Odeh is a prime candidate to be stripped of her citizenship and deported.

No doubt some will claim that years of alleged good works ought to grant her absolution for her crime. But the idea that helping to plant a bomb in a supermarket in order to kill as many Jews as possible is the sort of thing that should be ignored when assessing Odeh is risible. It is especially outrageous when you consider that there is no record of her apologizing for her crime. No doubt, like the many thousands of other Palestinian terrorists who have been released by Israel in order to gain the freedom of captive Jews, her community treated Odeh as a heroine because of what she did, not in spite of it.

But the decision of Arab-American groups to protest on her behalf and to allege discrimination has nothing to do with pleas for mercy. Rather, it is derived from that same sense that those who murder Israelis are “freedom fighters” and not terrorists.

Government action against Odeh is, at best, merely justice delayed. While the vast majority of Muslim and Arab Americans are loyal, hard-working citizens, those who embrace terrorists like Odeh or who claim prosecution of her is an example of bias are discrediting the cause of an entire community. Not to mention, the claim of a mythical post-9/11 backlash.

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Holder’s Post-9/11 Backlash Myth

Attorney General Eric Holder left out an important detail from his speech today in which he scolded Americans about not repeating their alleged bias toward Muslims after 9/11. He was on firm ground when he rightly denounced any “misguided acts of retaliation” against Muslims after the Boston Marathon bombing. But in resurrecting the myth that Arabs and Muslims suffered a post-9/11 backlash by an America that was driven to prejudice by terrorism, the top law enforcement official in the nation forgot to tell a gathering of the Anti-Defamation League that attacks against Muslims have been statistically insignificant after 2001 and remain far below the level of reported attacks and incidents involving anti-Semitism.

Ironically, the head of his host organization—which is celebrating its centennial—pointed this out in an interview just this past weekend in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. Foxman effectively debunked Holder in advance when he said the following:

“There are ten times as many acts directed against Jews as there are against Muslims,” Foxman says. “That doesn’t mean that there isn’t animosity toward Muslims, but even after Boston, you’re not seeing attacks against mosques, you’re not seeing people demonstrating in the streets. That’s something very unique in this country. It’s almost a miracle. It would never happen in Europe.”

He continues, “When people applauded in Boston that the terrorists were captured, there was no negative [repercussion]. The same thing happened after 9/11 – we were so concerned at the time that we took out an ad in the New York Times: ‘You don’t fight hate with hate.’ But it didn’t happen. And it’s not happening now. And that drives the Islamophobes crazy. It drives them nuts.”

Foxman’s right. It didn’t happen after 9/11 and it’s not happening now, which makes the disapproving tone of Holder’s diatribe somewhat suspicious. As I pointed out in an article in COMMENTARY in 2010 on the impact of the post-9/11 backlash myth on the Ground Zero mosque controversy, though the idea of a wave of discriminatory attacks against Muslims has been mentioned so often in the media that it has become an accepted truth, it isn’t borne out by the record. Every subsequent release of FBI hate crime statistics tells the same story: attacks against Jews far outnumber those against Muslims and Arabs even during the periods when the latter were supposedly under siege.

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Attorney General Eric Holder left out an important detail from his speech today in which he scolded Americans about not repeating their alleged bias toward Muslims after 9/11. He was on firm ground when he rightly denounced any “misguided acts of retaliation” against Muslims after the Boston Marathon bombing. But in resurrecting the myth that Arabs and Muslims suffered a post-9/11 backlash by an America that was driven to prejudice by terrorism, the top law enforcement official in the nation forgot to tell a gathering of the Anti-Defamation League that attacks against Muslims have been statistically insignificant after 2001 and remain far below the level of reported attacks and incidents involving anti-Semitism.

Ironically, the head of his host organization—which is celebrating its centennial—pointed this out in an interview just this past weekend in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. Foxman effectively debunked Holder in advance when he said the following:

“There are ten times as many acts directed against Jews as there are against Muslims,” Foxman says. “That doesn’t mean that there isn’t animosity toward Muslims, but even after Boston, you’re not seeing attacks against mosques, you’re not seeing people demonstrating in the streets. That’s something very unique in this country. It’s almost a miracle. It would never happen in Europe.”

He continues, “When people applauded in Boston that the terrorists were captured, there was no negative [repercussion]. The same thing happened after 9/11 – we were so concerned at the time that we took out an ad in the New York Times: ‘You don’t fight hate with hate.’ But it didn’t happen. And it’s not happening now. And that drives the Islamophobes crazy. It drives them nuts.”

Foxman’s right. It didn’t happen after 9/11 and it’s not happening now, which makes the disapproving tone of Holder’s diatribe somewhat suspicious. As I pointed out in an article in COMMENTARY in 2010 on the impact of the post-9/11 backlash myth on the Ground Zero mosque controversy, though the idea of a wave of discriminatory attacks against Muslims has been mentioned so often in the media that it has become an accepted truth, it isn’t borne out by the record. Every subsequent release of FBI hate crime statistics tells the same story: attacks against Jews far outnumber those against Muslims and Arabs even during the periods when the latter were supposedly under siege.

To note this is not to sanction bias against Muslims. No one should hold any individual responsible for the actions of the ethnic or religious group to which they belong, let alone crimes committed by a small minority, as is the case with American Muslims. Hate crimes of any sort are despicable and deserve severe punishment. But the false narrative of anti-Muslim discrimination fostered by radical groups that purport to speak for that community is intended to do more than squelch bias. The purpose is to forestall any effort to bring those sectors of the Muslim community under scrutiny for their role in the growth of Islamist extremism and homegrown terrorism on our shores.

Holder, who never mentioned that the Tsarnaev brothers were Muslim in his speech, is doing neither the country nor Muslims any favor by playing this card. Falsely labeling all investigations of Islamist groups and mosques in this country as nothing more than prejudice has become a standard trope in the aftermath of every instance of terror conducted by radical Muslims in the United States. In doing so, those promoting this distorted version of history have hampered counter-terror operations and made it more difficult for the responsible and law-abiding Muslim majority to reject the radicals in their midst.

The only way to end this cycle of extremism is for the government and the media to stop being so frightened of being labeled as bigots and to empower American Muslims to cast out the Islamists in their midst. Until that happens, we will continue to rerun the same tired script with the same tragic consequences.

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Maybe Classical Music Made Them Kill

Earlier today I wrote about the need for Americans who wanted to think clearly about the Boston Marathon bombing to make a clear distinction between prudent monitoring of radical Islamists and prejudice against all Muslims. The major obstacle to this is not so much the desire of a small minority of Americans to stigmatize every Muslim as a terrorist as the refusal of some influential figures and institutions to face facts about what appears to be the source of the Tsarnaev brothers’ motivation for their crimes.

An excellent example of this bizarre form of political correctness came from Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. Harris-Perry has attracted attention lately for her promo video in which she says we have to understand that children belong to the community, not their parents. But she has followed up that chilling manifesto of collectivism with her pronouncement, during the course of a dialogue with radical writers Zaheer Ali and Michael Dyson, that any focus on the religious fervor of the Tsarnaev bombers is illegitimate:

Michael Dyson: We fill in the blanks with what makes us feel most comfortable that this is an exceptional, extraordinary case that happened because they are this. 

So you take one part of the element, that he’s Muslim. But he also might have listened to classical music. He might have had some Lil Wayne. He might have also gone to and listened to a lecturer

Harris Perry: I keep wondering is it possible that there would ever be a discussion like, ‘This is because of Ben Affleck and the connection between Boston and movies about violence?’ And of course, the answer is no.

Of course no one will even think this is about those things. But at the same time there’s something, I appreciate the way that you framed that as the one drop. Like, because given that they’re Chechen, given that they are literally Caucasian, our very sense of connection to them is this framed-up notion of, like, Islam making them something that is non-normal. It is not us. The point is that it’s important to say, ‘That’s not us, you know, this is not American. This is not who we are.’ Because we couldn’t potentially do what they did. But if they’re more like us, the point you were making earlier, if they’re just like us, they grew up in the same neighborhoods, they listened to the same kind of music, they talk to the same kind of people.

It is easy to dismiss this sort of talk as just the public mutterings of the radical left, but it would be foolish to ignore it. The efforts of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to muscle the federal government into excising a discussion of militant Islamism from our approach to combating threats is part of a campaign to prevent Americans from connecting the dots between terrorists and the belief systems that motivate them. The effort to make us pretend that the Tsarnaevs’ approach to their faith is as irrelevant to the atrocities they committed as the songs on their iPods is not absurd; it’s dangerous.

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Earlier today I wrote about the need for Americans who wanted to think clearly about the Boston Marathon bombing to make a clear distinction between prudent monitoring of radical Islamists and prejudice against all Muslims. The major obstacle to this is not so much the desire of a small minority of Americans to stigmatize every Muslim as a terrorist as the refusal of some influential figures and institutions to face facts about what appears to be the source of the Tsarnaev brothers’ motivation for their crimes.

An excellent example of this bizarre form of political correctness came from Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. Harris-Perry has attracted attention lately for her promo video in which she says we have to understand that children belong to the community, not their parents. But she has followed up that chilling manifesto of collectivism with her pronouncement, during the course of a dialogue with radical writers Zaheer Ali and Michael Dyson, that any focus on the religious fervor of the Tsarnaev bombers is illegitimate:

Michael Dyson: We fill in the blanks with what makes us feel most comfortable that this is an exceptional, extraordinary case that happened because they are this. 

So you take one part of the element, that he’s Muslim. But he also might have listened to classical music. He might have had some Lil Wayne. He might have also gone to and listened to a lecturer

Harris Perry: I keep wondering is it possible that there would ever be a discussion like, ‘This is because of Ben Affleck and the connection between Boston and movies about violence?’ And of course, the answer is no.

Of course no one will even think this is about those things. But at the same time there’s something, I appreciate the way that you framed that as the one drop. Like, because given that they’re Chechen, given that they are literally Caucasian, our very sense of connection to them is this framed-up notion of, like, Islam making them something that is non-normal. It is not us. The point is that it’s important to say, ‘That’s not us, you know, this is not American. This is not who we are.’ Because we couldn’t potentially do what they did. But if they’re more like us, the point you were making earlier, if they’re just like us, they grew up in the same neighborhoods, they listened to the same kind of music, they talk to the same kind of people.

It is easy to dismiss this sort of talk as just the public mutterings of the radical left, but it would be foolish to ignore it. The efforts of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to muscle the federal government into excising a discussion of militant Islamism from our approach to combating threats is part of a campaign to prevent Americans from connecting the dots between terrorists and the belief systems that motivate them. The effort to make us pretend that the Tsarnaevs’ approach to their faith is as irrelevant to the atrocities they committed as the songs on their iPods is not absurd; it’s dangerous.

Of course, if groups of organized classical music lovers had been carrying out terrorist attacks in the name of their beliefs Harris-Perry’s brand of moral relativism might make sense. But in the real world in which the rest of us live, the source of the terror threat of the last generation has been Islamist.

The desire to deny that Islamism is the driving force behind homegrown terrorists and their crimes is rooted in the myth of a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims. That entirely fictional idea that Muslims were subjected to widespread discrimination has no basis in fact, but it is an article of faith in certain sectors of the left and in the mainstream liberal media. It is one thing to try and delegitimize pro-active vigilance against Islamism by falsely alleging bias in the actions of the government or even the general population. It is quite another to deny, as even leftist comedian Bill Maher pointed out last week, that “There’s only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you renounce the faith.”

The effort to expunge the word “Islamist” from the style guide of news organizations or to educate FBI personnel about the beauty, as opposed to the danger, of jihad is all part of this same campaign of denial. Acknowledging this reality needn’t set off a wave of discrimination, which, contrary to those still decrying the mythical backlash, hasn’t happened and won’t occur in pluralistic America. But the more we try to ignore the reality of Islamism, the easier it will get for killers to escape scrutiny before they strike.

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Backlash Against Muslims? Then Why Are Their Numbers Growing?

Most of the mainstream media still takes it as a given that there is an ongoing and brutal post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in America that fuels discrimination against followers of Islam. The fact that there is virtually no evidence for this assertion and much empirical data to argue for the opposite conclusion has not prevented liberals and radicals masquerading as the representatives of American Muslims to continue to claim the existence of a backlash. As we’ve previously noted, FBI hate crime statistics consistently show attacks on Muslims are rare and constitute a fraction of the far more prevalent bias crimes committed against Jews. Nor has the relative paucity of Muslim villains in popular culture or the reflexive support for Islam on the part of American leaders debunked the backlash myth.

Today, we have yet more evidence that the notion of a persecuted American Muslim community is fiction:

Data released Tuesday from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census shows Islam was the fastest growing religion in America in the last 10 years, with 2.6 million living in the U.S. today, up from 1 million in 2000.

Mormonism too saw remarkable growth, with a 45 percent increase in adherents. It added nearly 2 million members since 2000, bringing their number in the U.S. to 6.1 million.

“Both of these groups entered more than 200 counties that they weren’t in 10 years ago,” said Dale Jones, data analyst and mapping specialist for the Religion Census.

Is it possible or even likely that Islam would be thriving in the United States if it were not a society that is welcoming Muslims with open arms and providing a safe environment for people to openly practice this faith?

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Most of the mainstream media still takes it as a given that there is an ongoing and brutal post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in America that fuels discrimination against followers of Islam. The fact that there is virtually no evidence for this assertion and much empirical data to argue for the opposite conclusion has not prevented liberals and radicals masquerading as the representatives of American Muslims to continue to claim the existence of a backlash. As we’ve previously noted, FBI hate crime statistics consistently show attacks on Muslims are rare and constitute a fraction of the far more prevalent bias crimes committed against Jews. Nor has the relative paucity of Muslim villains in popular culture or the reflexive support for Islam on the part of American leaders debunked the backlash myth.

Today, we have yet more evidence that the notion of a persecuted American Muslim community is fiction:

Data released Tuesday from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census shows Islam was the fastest growing religion in America in the last 10 years, with 2.6 million living in the U.S. today, up from 1 million in 2000.

Mormonism too saw remarkable growth, with a 45 percent increase in adherents. It added nearly 2 million members since 2000, bringing their number in the U.S. to 6.1 million.

“Both of these groups entered more than 200 counties that they weren’t in 10 years ago,” said Dale Jones, data analyst and mapping specialist for the Religion Census.

Is it possible or even likely that Islam would be thriving in the United States if it were not a society that is welcoming Muslims with open arms and providing a safe environment for people to openly practice this faith?

The answer is an obvious “no.”

Those who have promoted this myth have yet to provide any objective analysis outside of their own assertions to back up their claim of a backlash or of any wave of discrimination or bias crimes. To the contrary, every new survey about American society continues to show there are no obstacles to Muslim advancement or systematic ill treatment.

In response, those who make these false claims argue that law enforcement activities seeking to root out Islamist support for terrorism either abroad or at home constitutes a form of discrimination. But such actions, such as the New York Police Department’s surveillance of mosques or community centers where Islamists have congregated, are reasonable reactions to a real threat that deserves the attention of the authorities, not the product of arbitrary bias. Nor do they threaten the vast majority of Muslims who are hard working, law-abiding citizens.

America is not perfect, but it is a far safer place to practice Islam, or any other faith, than almost all Muslim countries, where religious-based discrimination is commonplace and dissent is ruthlessly wiped out. The backlash myth may die hard, but it remains a myth.

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The Never-Dying Post 9-11 Backlash Myth

Those determined to portray the life of American Muslims as a never-ending series of officially inspired torments have always confronted a basic problem: there is no tangible evidence that there is any wave of oppression that has reduced followers of Islam to second-class citizen status. Nor has there ever been. FBI crime statistics continue to show anti-Muslim hate cries dwarfed by those linked to Jew-hatred. Even when the mainstream media takes up the subject and treats the truth of this assertion as self-evident, such as last August’s TIME magazine cover story that asked “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” the authors had to admit that all they can come up with to back their claim were anecdotes.

But that doesn’t stop those determined to force the country to repent of its supposed sins. The latest example is a blog post from New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal that is breathtaking in its lack of intellectual integrity. While readers of his editorial page are accustomed to outrageous hyperbole delivered in the Times’ trademark tone of condescension, Rosenthal appears to have no limits in the depths of absurdity he is willing to plumb on behalf of his cause. Rosenthal not only hypes the post-9/11 myth, but goes so far as to assert that the United States has now established a “separate justice system” for Muslims. His proof: the fact that the New York City Police Department conducted a program of surveillance on mosques and community groups where Islamists were suspected to congregate. Oh and don’t forget Guantanamo Bay, which the Times editor describes as a “special detention center for Muslims.” So intent is Rosenthal on proving that America is hostile to Muslims that it seems to have slipped his mind the only reason the NYPD or the federal government is somewhat concerned about radical Muslims is because Islamist groups attacked the United States.

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Those determined to portray the life of American Muslims as a never-ending series of officially inspired torments have always confronted a basic problem: there is no tangible evidence that there is any wave of oppression that has reduced followers of Islam to second-class citizen status. Nor has there ever been. FBI crime statistics continue to show anti-Muslim hate cries dwarfed by those linked to Jew-hatred. Even when the mainstream media takes up the subject and treats the truth of this assertion as self-evident, such as last August’s TIME magazine cover story that asked “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” the authors had to admit that all they can come up with to back their claim were anecdotes.

But that doesn’t stop those determined to force the country to repent of its supposed sins. The latest example is a blog post from New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal that is breathtaking in its lack of intellectual integrity. While readers of his editorial page are accustomed to outrageous hyperbole delivered in the Times’ trademark tone of condescension, Rosenthal appears to have no limits in the depths of absurdity he is willing to plumb on behalf of his cause. Rosenthal not only hypes the post-9/11 myth, but goes so far as to assert that the United States has now established a “separate justice system” for Muslims. His proof: the fact that the New York City Police Department conducted a program of surveillance on mosques and community groups where Islamists were suspected to congregate. Oh and don’t forget Guantanamo Bay, which the Times editor describes as a “special detention center for Muslims.” So intent is Rosenthal on proving that America is hostile to Muslims that it seems to have slipped his mind the only reason the NYPD or the federal government is somewhat concerned about radical Muslims is because Islamist groups attacked the United States.

Rosenthal also makes a meal out of the revelation that FBI training material at one time contained statements that might have been inflammatory. The “crude stereotypes” that Rosenthal cites have since been rejected. But he leaves it unclear whether this offensive material was referring to all Muslims or just radical Islamists. It is true that the vast majority of American Muslims are not terrorists, but hard-working law-abiding American citizens. But Islamists, including those that work to fundraise for rationalize the efforts of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and other radicals are not figments of the imagination of over-zealous law enforcement personnel. They are real threats and absent the vigilance of organizations like the NYPD, they would have done far more harm than they already have.

Any rational examination of post-9/11 American society would reveal quite the opposite of Rosenthal’s overheated charges. Despite the fact that the 9/11 terrorists and their allies justified their crimes in their faith, the instinctual response of the overwhelming majority of Americans and their government was to make it clear that they didn’t hold their Muslim neighbors responsible for any of it. Muslims were subjected to no official discrimination and there is no evidence that there was much, if any, unofficial prejudice. If anything, the popular culture of post-9/11 America went out of its way to avoid the depiction of Muslim villains or to connect the dots between al-Qaeda, bin Laden and the Islamist interpretation of that faith that is widely supported in the Middle East.

To allude, as Rosenthal does to the mass detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II, actually debunks his own assertion since in the wake of the latter-day Pearl Harbor, not only were Muslims not subjected to anything remotely like the treatment of the Japanese, but were actually actively protected by the government from even the slightest hint of discrimination. Anyone who doubts that should remember how President George W. Bush went weak at the knees at the idea that the U.S. was fighting a war against what he continually described as a “religion of peace.” The notion that Americans have sacrificed their liberties to ensure their security is another myth that was quite popular four years ago when liberals were using the charge to paint the Bush administration as a pseudo-tyranny that needed to be swept away by Barack Obama and the Democrats. But since Obama has largely kept the same policies in place (including keeping Guantanamo open), that is a trope we hear very little of these days.

While many liberals have longed for the world of September 10, 2001 before the attacks uncovered the truth of the Islamist war on the West, Rosenthal goes that mentality one better. He treats every measure taken to defend the country against terror is not merely unnecessary but a deliberate act of bias. By claiming that America only provides “liberty and justice for non-Muslims,” he seems to be trying to pretend the attacks and the hate-filled ideology that brought them about never even happened.

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