In a National Review column titled, "Islamophobia Is a Myth," Brendan O'Neill complains that terrorist attacks perpetrated by radical Islamists are routinely followed by liberals urging the masses to refrain from attacking innocent Muslims.
"The blood on the floor of the Charlie Hebdo offices was still wet when brow-furrowed observers started saying: 'Oh no, the Muslims! Will they be attacked?'" he wrote. "It’s the same after every terrorist attack: from 9/11 to 7/7 in London to last year’s Sydney siege to Paris today: Liberals’ instant, almost Pavlovian response to Islamist terror attacks... is to worry about a violent uprising of the ill-educated against Muslims. The uprising never comes, but that doesn’t halt their fantasy fears."
As he sees it,
"the idea of Islamophobia has always been informed more by the swirling fantasies and panics of the political and media elites than by any real, measurable levels of hate or violence against Muslims. Yes, some dud grenades were thrown into the courtyard of a mosque in the French city of Le Mans after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, though mercifully they didn’t explode and no one was around to be injured. That is a foul act and the person or people who did it should be found and punished. But fears about widespread anti-Muslim violence, about the spread of toxic Islamophobic hate through the streets and in workplaces, are unfounded, because their driving force is the anti-natives, anti-pleb prejudices of the elites rather than any hard evidence of extreme hostility to Muslims."
My belief that Muslims are at special risk after a terrorist attack perpetrated by Islamist radicals is grounded in the fact that after the September 11 terrorist attacks, despite a conservative president urging his countrymen to refrain from blaming their Muslim neighbors, hate crimes against Muslim Americans spiked dramatically.
My notion that Islamophobia, or irrational fear of mainstream Muslims, is a recognizable feature of post-9/11 America is informed by the several cities that have attempted to stop the construction of mosques, state attempts to ban sharia law as if we're on the cusp of being ruled by it, fears that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, profiling of Muslim college students for no reason other than their religion, the anti-Muslim training materials that the FBI somehow adopted and used after 9/11, and dozens of Muslims I've interviewed who say that other Americans are more fearful of them than was the case prior to the September 11 attacks.
British people who worried about anti-Muslim hate crimes after the July 7, 2005 London bombings were right to do so, in my view, because there were, in fact, anti-Muslim hate crimes prompted by the attacks, albeit not very many. Perhaps the smallness of the number was due partly to the chorus urging against a backlash.
It's too soon after the Sydney siege for a definitive account of its affect on hate crimes, but police in Australia reported a surge in anti-Muslim sentiment and incidents, just as one would expect from observing the aftermath of other terrorist attacks.
There has not, of course, been a mass violent uprising against Muslim Americans, or British Muslims, or Australian Muslims, or French Muslims. The implication that it's therefore irrational to worry about anti-Muslim bigotry or backlash is bizarre. A spike in hate crimes is enough to justify concern and attempts to preempt—surely it's better to nip the impulse to exact group revenge on Muslims in the bud rather than to act only if a catastrophic backlash has already taken shape!
Says O'Neill, "According to federal crime stats, in 2009 there were 107 anti-Muslim hate crimes; in 2010, there were 160. In a country of 330 million people, this is exceptionally low." But in 2000, there were 28 such incidents. What's wrong with inveighing against anti-Muslim bigotry that's responsible for 100 or so "extra" hate-crimes, or noting that the numbers were much worse immediately after 9/11... and worrying a spike could happen again? Calling for tolerance of a minority group at a moment of plausible peril is costless, prudent and humane, not objectionable. And if relative tolerance then prevails, that's a success, not an occasion to complain that elites weren't trusting enough in the masses.
There's a non-trivial chance that efforts to stigmatize an anti-Muslim backlash are partly responsible for the fact that there haven't been more hate crimes in the United States and that the post-9/11 spike has decreased, albeit not back to pre-9/11 levels.
That's certainly the intention of liberals, as well as many conservatives who followed President Bush's lead. The chance of success strikes me as a good reason to continue the campaign of stigma, even if the sensibilities of some conservatives are offended, as if suffering is a zero-sum game, or zealously guarding against Islamophobia somehow undermines the fight against terrorism. Insofar as mainstream Muslims are instrumental in informing on radicalized co-religionists who turn to violence, efforts to reach out in support of them are investments in counterterrorism in addition to being consistent with basic justice.
"Islamophobia is a code word for mainstream European elites’ fear of their own populations," O'Neil writes, "of their native hordes, whom they imagine to be unenlightened, prejudiced, easily led by the tabloid media, and given to outbursts of spite and violence." As it happens, human beings, in Europe and everywhere else, are often prejudiced, easily led by the media, and given to spite and violence. It is lovely to think that a violent faction on the European right will never again succeed in perpetrating horrific abuses against immigrants or ethnic minorities. To stigmatize those working to prevent such a future is a waste of stigma.
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