Commentary Magazine


Topic: post-9/11 backlash

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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