What Needless, Xenophobic Panic Looks Like

Revisiting a particularly irresponsible column published prior to the Iraq invasion now that its wrongheadedness has been proven

malkin fullness full.pngWhile researching another item, I came across a Townhall column written by Michelle Malkin in 2002, a couple years before she published her book, In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror. As you read her argument, imagine how it would have felt to do so as one of the tens of thousands of Iraqi Americans living in the United States.

She began:

How many of Saddam Hussein's sleeper terrorists are waiting dormant in the United States to retaliate against us when the War on Iraq begins? The Bush administration has begun to monitor Iraqis inside our country to identify potential domestic terrorist threats posed by sympathizers of the Baghdad regime, according to The New York Times. But while the new intelligence program is tracking thousands of Iraqi citizens and Iraqi-Americans with dual citizenship who are attending our universities or working at private corporations, there is no indication of what federal authorities are doing to locate the untold numbers of illegal aliens from Iraq who have streamed across our open borders. More than 115,000 people from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries are here illegally. Some 6,000 Middle Eastern men who have defied deportation orders remain on the loose. And an international crime ring, led by Iraqi native George Tajirian, demonstrates the scope of the alarming problem of potential terrorists pressing at our southern gate.

Columns like this are seldom revisited a decade later, given that they are totally devoid of value, but it's clarifying to look back, because there's no need to argue that her fearmongering was wrongheaded -- it can be stated as a fact that no dormant sleeper cells retaliated after the war began; that dual citizens posed virtually no problem, if any; that Iraqi illegal immigrants did not menace the American people; and that their having slipped across the border made virtually no difference.

Malkin just worked herself and who knows how many of her readers up into a pointless, paranoid frenzy about an ethnic minority on the eve of a war against the hated dictator they escaped.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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