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Islamophobia? Not really

The supposed anti-Muslim backlash among Americans is mostly a myth.

August 24, 2010|Jonah Goldberg

Here's a thought: The 70% of Americans who oppose what amounts to an Islamic Niketown two blocks from ground zero are the real victims of a climate of hate, and anti-Muslim backlash is mostly a myth.

Let's start with some data.

According to the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims increased by a staggering 1,600% in 2001. That sounds serious! But wait, the increase is a math mirage. There were 28 anti-Islamic incidents in 2000. That number climbed to 481 the year a bunch of Muslim terrorists murdered 3,000 Americans in the name of Islam on Sept. 11.

Now, that was a hate crime.

Regardless, 2001 was the zenith or, looked at through the prism of our national shame, the nadir of the much-discussed anti-Muslim backlash in the United States. The following year, the number of anti-Islamic hate-crime incidents (overwhelmingly, nonviolent vandalism and nasty words) dropped to 155. In 2003, there were 149 such incidents. And the number has hovered around the mid-100s or lower ever since.

Sure, even one hate crime is too many. But does that sound like a anti-Muslim backlash to you?

Let's put this in even sharper focus. America is, outside of Israel ,probably the most receptive and tolerant country in the world to Jews. And yet, in every year since 9/11, more Jews have been hate-crime victims than Muslims. A lot more.

In 2001, there were twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as there were anti-Muslim, again according to the FBI. In 2002 and pretty much every year since, anti-Jewish incidents have outstripped anti-Muslim ones by at least 6 to 1. Why aren't we talking about the anti-Jewish climate in America?

Because there isn't one. And there isn't an anti-Muslim climate either. Yes, there's a lot of heated rhetoric on the Internet. Absolutely, some Americans don't like Muslims. But if you watch TV or movies or read, say, the op-ed page of the New York Times — never mind left-wing blogs — you'll hear much more open bigotry toward evangelical Christians (in blogspeak, the "Taliban wing of the Republican Party") than you will toward Muslims.

No doubt some American Muslims — particularly young Muslim men with ties to the Middle East and South Asia — have been scrutinized at airports more than elderly women of Norwegian extraction, but does that really amount to Islamophobia, given the dangers and complexities of the war on terror?

For 10 years we've been subjected to news stories about the Muslim backlash that's always around the corner. It didn't start with President Obama or with the "ground zero mosque." President George W. Bush was his most condescending when he explained, in the cadences of a guest reader at kindergarten story time, that "Islam is peace."

But he was right to emphasize America's tolerance and to draw a sharp line between Muslim terrorists and their law-abiding co-religionists.

Meanwhile, to listen to Obama — say in his famous Cairo address — you'd think America has been at war with Islam for 30 years and only now, thanks to him, can we heal the rift. It's an odd argument given that Americans have shed a lot of blood for Muslims over the last three decades: to end the slaughter of Muslims in the Balkans, to feed Somalis and to liberate Kuwaitis, Iraqis and Afghans. Millions of Muslims around the world would desperately like to move to the U.S., this supposed land of intolerance.

Conversely, nowhere is there more open, honest and intentional intolerance — in words and deeds — than from certain prominent Muslim leaders around the world. And yet, Americans are the bigots.

And when Muslim fanatics kill Americans — after, say, the Ft. Hood slaughter — a reflexive response from the Obama administration is to fret over an anti-Islamic backlash. It's fine to avoid negative stereotypes of Muslims, but why the rush to embrace them when it comes to Americans?

And now, thanks to the "ground zero mosque" story, we are again discussing America's Islamophobia, which, according to Time magazine, is just another chapter in America's history of intolerance.

When, pray tell, will Time magazine devote an issue to its, and this administration's, intolerance of the American people?

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

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