"U.S. Homeland Security officials are working with groups around the United States to head off any possible anti-Muslim backlash following the shootings at Fort Hood in Texas."
The Department of Homeland Security is in good company in its confusion. Gen. George Casey, the Army's top general, also worried that "this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers. And I've asked our Army leaders to be on the lookout for that." And President Obama cautioned against "jumping to conclusions."
The backlash trope is trotted out after every episode of terrorist violence. But it is as false as it is dangerous. This image of a nation on a hair trigger for violence against Muslims is a calumny. Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, though millions were inflamed by grief and outrage, there was no broad-based "backlash" against Muslim Americans. There were a handful of crimes including the murder of a Sikh who may have been mistaken for a Muslim, a few broken windows, some insults, and some hurt feelings. But the overwhelming majority of Americans did not seek out scapegoats, nor engage in vigilantism.
The repeated invocation of this libel has had an effect, though. It has succeeded in intimidating many Americans about the proper bounds of discussion. Gen. Casey reinforces this timidity when he frets that "our diversity" may be a casualty of the attack at Fort Hood. He and the Obama administration are obscuring the real challenge Americans face.
Our challenge is not to transcend the demons of vengeance clawing at our souls. Our challenge is to deal intelligently with a threat that arises from religious convictions. Non-bigoted observers can see that while the vast majority of the world's Muslims are not extremists, a significant minority are. And it matters what people believe.
We don't like to pass judgment on others' religious convictions. That's fine. But when a religious belief spurs violence and mass murder, it becomes political, and it becomes a proper concern of the military and security services.
Worldwide, Muslims believing themselves to be advancing the faith have committed more than 14,000 acts of violence just since 9/11. You know the litany: Madrid, London, Bali, Jerusalem, Mumbai, Amman. The list is long and bloody -- and it includes many innocent Muslims.