Marc Lynch on Security vs. Political Correctness

It's not a choice we have to make

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Since his name was first released, there has been a series of questions underlying commentary on alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan: to what extent did religion influence the shooting? Was Muslim extremism involved? What to make of his exchanges with a radical imam? Should investigators have more aggressively investigated Hasan's rhetoric? Many pundits are debating whether political correctness--fear of looking racist for singling out a Muslim-American--deterred a response that could have stopped the shooting.

But Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy calls out and rejects the emerging narrative. He summarizes the conventional wisdom: "American security... demands dropping the 'political correctness' of avoiding a confrontation with Islamist ideas and asking the 'tough questions' about Islam as a religion and the loyalty of Muslim-Americans." But he argues, "This framing of the issue is almost 100% wrong." Lynch explains:

The grand strategy of al-Qaeda and its affiliated ideologues is, and has always been, to generate a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West which does not currently exist. Their great challenge is that the vast majority of Muslims reject their theology, ideology, strategy and tactics. That's especially true of American Muslims. They therefore feel the need to change the environment in which Muslims live in order to change their calculations about the appropriateness of extremist identities and ideologies and actions. [...]

A lot of people -- some well-meaning, some clowns or worse -- evidently want the American response to the Ft. Hood shootings to revive the post-9/11 "war of ideas" and "clash of civilizations" anti-Islamic discourse. It's a jihad, they shout, demanding careful scrutiny of the loyalty of American Muslims. That's what they seem to mean by the demand to throw away "political correctness" and confront the ideological menace. The overall effect of their recommendations, however,  would be to revive the flagging al-Qaeda brand and to greatly strengthen the appeal of its narrative.  And that's exactly what we should not want.

Lynch teased out what has since become a dominant theme in discussion over Hasan. The idea that America must choose between religious tolerance of Muslims and a security-minded abolition of "political correctness" is flat-out false, he says. As Lynch reminds us, terrorists would like nothing more than for America to get tough on its Muslim population. As Lynch concedes, he could be wrong about Hasan's motives. But the long-term security importance of the freedoms of American Muslims is worth keeping in mind.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.