The blogosphere and cable channels are all atwitter over a discussion Bill Maher had with Sam Harris, Ben Affleck, and Michael Steele last week. The topic? Whether too many Americans are engaged in Islamophobia in their criticism of Islam. At one point, Affleck said, “We've killed more Muslims than they've killed us, by an awful lot.” At another, he called the criticism of Islam “ugly,” “gross,” and “racist.” He compared the criticism of Islam with someone calling a Jew “shifty.” Is he right?
He is not—and neither is the decade-plus shutting down of this important discussion. The shibboleths used to shut down these discussions, the very labels Affleck used, are what cow too many of us into silence and prolong and delay the serious conversation that is long overdue and long misunderstood.
Let us start with the notion that America has a problem with Islamophobia, and that we have killed more Muslims than have killed us. To be sure, we have killed more Muslims. But, then again, we also killed more Germans than killed us in World War II. Why did we kill Germans? The same reason we’ve killed Muslims: when America goes to war, a war that is declared on us and that we rarely have ever initiated against an enemy, we go to liberate, not colonize, torture, or maim. Indeed, as Wolf Blitzer of CNN pointed out about a decade ago, “[A]lmost every time U.S. military forces have been called into action to risk their lives and limbs, it’s been on behalf of Muslims….[T]o assist the Afghan mujahaddin . . . during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, to liberate Kuwait following the Iraqi invasion of 1990, to help Somali Muslims suffering at the hands of a warlord in Mogadishu, to help Muslims first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo who faced a Serb onslaught, and more recently to liberate Afghanistan from its Taliban and al Qaeda rulers.” Since then, one can add the attempted liberation of Iraqis from the thumbscrew of Saddam Hussein, and now Africans facing an Ebola pandemic, and those targeted by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
We do not kill Muslims because of our religious, nationalist, or patriotic motives, we do so to protect civilization and save innocent Muslims—and Christians and Jews and others. And we do so regrettably and with the most precision we can. Let us recall: We did not declare war on Islam; rather, a substantial part of Islam, call it Radical Islam if you like, declared war on us and civilization. And, as no less than President Barack Obama said recently: “Our Armed Forces are unparalleled and unique. And so when we’ve got a big problem somewhere around the world, it falls on our shoulders. And sometimes that’s tough. But that’s what sets us apart. That’s why we’re America. That’s what the stars and stripes are all about.” Who else is going to stop the scourge of civilization abuse Radical Islam has been waging? And how else, other than militarily, do we defeat those who slit throats, use civilian airliners as missiles, stone apostates to death, and have brought back killing fields?
As for Islamophobia and Islam, America has a record of exquisite decency and non-racism that belies everything Mr. Affleck implied. Just how racist are we as a nation? The FBI tracks crimes based on race, religion, and other characteristics, and the numbers it reports are rather striking, even laudatory. Throughout the long war we have been in, the American civilian reaction has been anything but “gross” or “racist.” In 2012 (the latest year statistics are available), there were 1,340 hate crimes based on religion. Too many to be sure. But how many were against Muslims? 11.6 percent. How many, by contrast, were there against Jews? 62.4 percent. These numbers have been fairly consistent since 9/11. In 2002, for example, one year after 9/11, just under 11 percent of the anti-religious bias incidents in America were anti-Muslim, in contrast to the 70 percent of anti-Jewish incidents constituting religious bias reported that year. Yet would anyone today say “America is anti-semitic” or has a Jewish problem? Of course not. Every hate crime is a wrong, but the idea that America has a problem with Muslims is discounted nearly ten-fold by the obviously false statement that America has a problem with Jews.
Which gets us to the absurd comparison Mr. Affleck made about “shifty Jew”s. Do thousands or hundreds of thousands of Jews commit acts of grotesque or any other kind of violence in the name of their God? Of course not. Do Muslims? Of course. And they cite religious tracts and tell us they are doing it in the name of Allah. Burying or ignoring this fact does exactly the wrong thing: it refuses to acknowledge the obvious and lets off the hook the moderate Muslims who have a duty to confront the violent aspects of and within their religion. Is Radical Islam a minority position within Islam? To be sure, but it’s a rather large minority, isn’t it? Estimates of the size of Radical Islam vary from seven to 20-plus percent of the world Muslim population, but even at the low end, that number may constitute over 100 million followers throughout the world. But let’s assume that number is too high by half for just a moment, and the number is 50 million? Say that’s wrong, again by half, 25 million? We can keep downplaying and cutting those numbers, but even if the number is one million, that is an awful lot of people—and we know what 19 can do with less than the annual salary of most college presidents.
Here’s the point: So long as this serious discussion keeps getting shut down, it will be ignored and the radicals as well as the moderates will get a pass in confronting what they must confront among their co-religionists. We would tolerate that pass of no other religion where millions in the name of their God committed truly gross and racist acts. Our local Muslim leader, Zuhdi Jasser, of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, has it right in confronting his religion and its false prophets head on. Perhaps he is also right that discussing “moderate Islam” is folly and we should talk more of a “reformed Islam.” But the point, the point of the sword, is in front of all of our eyes: Islam has a problem and it needs to be confronted—not those of us who point it out.