Here's a thought: The 70 percent of Americans who oppose what amounts to an Islamic Niketown two blocks from ground zero are the real victims of a climate of hate, and the much-ballyhooed anti-Muslim backlash is mostly a myth.
Let's start with some data.
According to the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims increased by a staggering 1,600 percent in 2001. That sounds serious! But wait, the increase is a math mirage. There were 28 anti-Islamic incidents in 2000. That number climbed to 481 the year a bunch of Muslim terrorists murdered 3,000 Americans in the name of Islam on Sept. 11.
Now, that was a hate crime.
Regardless, 2001 was the zenith or, looked at through the prism of our national shame, the nadir of the much-discussed anti-Muslim backlash in the United States -- and civil libertarians and Muslim activists insisted it was 1930s Germany all over again. The following year, the number of anti-Islamic hate-crime incidents (overwhelmingly, nonviolent vandalism and nasty words) dropped to 155. In 2003, there were 149 such incidents. And the number has hovered around the mid-100s or lower ever since.
Sure, even one hate crime is too many. But does that sound like an anti-Muslim backlash to you?
Let's put this in even sharper focus. America is, outside of Israel, probably the most receptive and tolerant country in the world to Jews. And yet, in every year since 9/11, more Jews have been hate-crime victims than Muslims. A lot more.
In 2001, there were twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as there were anti-Muslim, according to the FBI. In 2002 and pretty much every year since, anti-Jewish incidents have outstripped anti-Muslim incidents by at least 6 to 1. Why aren't we talking about the anti-Jewish climate in America?
Because there isn't one. And there isn't an anti-Muslim climate either. Yes, there's a lot of heated rhetoric on the Internet. Absolutely, some Americans don't like Muslims. But if you watch TV or movies, or read, say, the op-ed page of the New York Times -- never mind left-wing blogs -- you'll hear much more open bigotry toward evangelical Christians (in blogspeak, the "Taliban wing of the Republican Party") than you will toward Muslims.
No doubt some American Muslims -- particularly young Muslim men with ties to the Middle East and South Asia -- have been scrutinized at airports more than elderly women of Norwegian extraction, but does that really amount to Islamophobia, given the dangers and complexities of the war on terror?