The violence that’s struck America this last week should make anyone hesitant to speak out confidently about the broader racial and other implications. It’s a time when we need more reflection and less pontificating. And that’s advice that President Obama should consider taking, too.
Of course it’s the president’s job to address the nation in the wake of tragedies and outrages, especially when at least some of the major causes can be at least ameliorated by policy. Many of his words, moreover, were commendably compassionate, constructive, and uplifting. But in at least one key respect, Mr. Obama’s remarks following the police shootings in New Orleans and Minnesota, and then the deadly attacks on Dallas police on Thursday night, revealed that he’s still wishing away the distinctive threat posed to America at home by radical Islam – and by a Muslim community that remains too ambivalent about its ideology and followers.
“The demented individual who carried out those attacks in Dallas, he’s no more representative of African Americans than the shooter in Charleston was representative of white Americans, or the shooter in Orlando, or San Bernardino, were representative of Muslim Americans,” Obama said. “They don’t speak for us. That’s not who we are.”
The trouble is, as even this statement indicates, compared with the size of America’s African American, white, and Muslim populations, the Orlando and San Bernardino shooters were significantly more representative. Mr. Obama mentioned twice as many acts of violence carried out by Muslim Americans as by the far more numerous members of either of the other groups he specified.
Nor, it seems, is the president familiar with recent data I’ve summarized from the Senate Judiciary Committee and the New America Foundation (no Islamo-phobe group) documenting how native- and foreign-born Muslims numerically dominate the lists of those responsible for terrorism acts or arrested on terrorism charges.
In fact, it’s worth mentioning another indication of special problems in the Muslim-American community that came out in the aftermath of Orlando. In a June 20 Washington Post article, Mohammed A. Malik, a Muslim-American businessman and acquaintance of Orlando killer Omar Mateen challenged claims that his community isn’t helping American authorities fight terrorism. More strikingly, he revealed that he himself had reported Mateen to the FBI – upon learning that the latter had been watching video lectures by a radical Imam accused by the U.S. government of plotting violent attacks against the United States. and killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Malik says it wasn’t the first time he’d provided information to the FBI about suspicious Muslims, and all Americans should be grateful for this and similar examples of patriotism and courage. But as it turns out, this other instance concerned another young Muslim – and from the very same Florida mosque at which he and Mateen worshiped. This co-religionist, Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, had become the first native American to launch a suicide attack in the Middle East.
In other words, a single U.S. congregation has produced two of the most notorious killers in recent American history. Just as important, Malik added, “We have a lot of immigrants in our community. They grew up in other countries, often with different sensibilities. A few don’t understand American culture, and they struggle to connect with their American-born or American-raised kids.”
Does President Obama, or anyone else, seriously believe that this mosque – whose imam, Malik contends, “never taught hate or radicalism” – is completely different from America’s mosques in general? In particular, do they believe that many other first generation immigrants from majority Muslim countries haven’t experienced great difficulty in assimilating into American culture and society, and that many of their children haven’t encountered these problems, too?
Actually, the president doesn’t appear to cling to these positions – at least not all the time. As I’ve documented, he’s admitted that “an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities,” and he’s scolded mainstream Muslims around the world for failing to push back hard enough against the faith’s violently and intolerantly retrograde fundamentalist strain.
But when it comes to turning this insight into policies that can make Americans safer from terrorism – like curbing immigration and refugee admissions from the troubled Muslim world – he not only backs away. He vilifies those who are demanding action. This Islam won’t be easy to address, especially in ways that protect essential American liberties. But there’s no better way to invite more San Bernardinos and Orlandos than to pretend that it doesn’t exist.