Inventing Suicidal Jihadists
I turned on the radio the other day and Michael Savage, the right-wing radio host, was thundering about the "Trojan Horse" of Islamic radicalism in America. We are fast approaching the tipping point by allowing Muslim hordes to immigrate to this country, he said. Before you know it, homegrown jihadists will run us over and Islam will become America’s state religion.
What triggered Savage’s outburst was a poll released on May 22 by the Pew Research Center. Any objective reader would be heartened by the findings: a majority of American Muslims are assimilated into the larger society, are law-abiding and moderate in their views, value hard work and love America. This, despite the fact that since the 9/11 attacks, many Muslims (54%) feel that life in America has become more difficult for them and that they are singled out by the government for extra scrutiny.
But the poll also found that 15% young Muslims, between the ages of 18 and 29, consider suicide bombing justified “often” (2%) or “sometimes” (13%). If you add the young Muslims who “rarely” (11%) approve (but approve nonetheless) such bombings, that would be about one-in-four Muslim youth who think that blowing oneself up to kill others can in some ways be rationalized.
It is this single cherry-picked statistic from the 108-page Pew document titled “Muslim Americans, Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream” (PDF) that has caused the hate-mongers to hyperventilate about the supposedly existential threat Muslims pose to America.
Will right-wing zealots like Michelle Malkin, Robert Spencer and Michael Savage, who have made careers out of the Muslim bogeyman, ever change their thinking?
For perspective, I talked with Tahir Anwar, Imam of the South Bay Islamic Center of San Jose.
“No, I don’t think we Muslims can do anything to change their minds,” said Tahir. “They have an agenda and they are sticking with it. They see us as fanatics out to destroy America. We should be happy that the Pew poll has affirmed that we are normal people, with dreams and aspirations like other Americans. I hope most of our fellow Americans will understand that and not be swayed by such people.”
“What about one-in-four Muslim youth voicing varying degrees of support for suicide bombings?" I asked. "How do you explain that?”
“I am not sure how so many young people can be so misguided, if the poll, in fact, reflects reality," he said. "It may have something to do with our Middle East policy, the cruel war in Iraq, the plight of the Palestinians. It may be that they were harassed and intimidated in schools and workplaces. But nothing can justify this mindset. We have an obligation to find the root cause of such thinking and do something about it. I would be concerned if even a single Muslim in America, or, for that matter, anywhere else, thought that suicide bombing could be justified in any way. It is wrong, period.”
“What will you personally do about it?” I asked.
“My next few Friday sermons will be on this topic. I will make it clear to my congregation – and I hope they will spread the message – that suicide bombing has no sanctity whatsoever in Islam. I will also engage the youth of our community in frank discussions.”
Poll results become more meaningful in context. One finding that also got publicity was that while 49% Muslim Americans believed in the separation of mosque and state, 43% believed that mosques should express their views on social and political questions. Yet a Pew survey in 2006 found that while 43% Christians believed in the separation of church and state, a majority of Christians (54%) felt that church and other houses of worship should be open and forceful about their political and social views.
Likewise, while 80% American Muslims oppose attacks on civilians according to the Pew poll, 13% said some circumstances may justify such attacks. Yet, in a poll conducted by the University of Maryland in December 2006, 24% of Americans thought that such attacks were justified “often” or “sometimes,” while another 27% thought they were justified in rare cases.
While many online media commentators focused on the predominantly positive aspects of the Pew poll, virulent talking heads continue to fan the flames of anti-Muslim hysteria. Listening to them uncritically can suggest that young Muslims are lurking on the street corners of America to kill themselves and passers-by with crude contraptions.
For edification, I made a final enquiry. Without informing him of the Pew poll, I asked my 18-year old son about possible justifications for suicide bombings.
“No way,” he said. “Those who do it are brainwashed. I hate what our country is doing in Iraq but I will never support suicide bombing. Never.”