As Americans view today’s ISIS terrorist attacks in Brussels with horror, they should remember how much more integrated American Muslims are than European Muslims and should avoid choosing leaders and policies that alienate American Muslims. Unlike many of Europe’s disaffected, ghettoized, and discriminated-against Muslims, America’s successful Muslim community is among its greatest assets in the fight against Islamic terrorism.
Ketevan Kardava, via Associated Press
AMMAN — Americans should not judge their own situation in regards to its Muslim population and immigration issues as being in the same vein as Europe’s; Europe has significant and increasing problems when it comes to such issues, but Americans, in comparison, have at most modest problems in regards to these situations. However, unfortunately, terrorism creates a sense of fear unlike any other issue, and rationality often falls by the wayside as emotional responses tend to come to the forefront. Ironically, America overreacting to attacks in Europe and/or at home will only serve to exacerbate otherwise manageable situations; sadly, this reality will likely do little to prevent or mitigate such a predictable overreaction.
The Trials of Terrorism: America vs. Europe
I recently wrote that Western democracy is on trial. There are mixed signs, at best, as to how Western democracy is meeting these testing times. Unfortunately, terrorism is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get Western democracies to compromise their values and engage in self-destructive behavior. In fact, provoking the U.S. to commit self-harm after the 9/11 attacks was one of the main objectives of bin Laden’s and his al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, and they succeeded wildly in this endeavor, playing the George W. Bush Administration like a harp.
Unfortunately, this latest major Islamic extremist attack in Europe since 9/11,following major attacks in Paris in 2015, London in 2005, and Madrid in 2004 (the only non-Islamic terrorist attack in Europe since 2001 of a comparable scale was Anders Brevik’s 2011 Norway rampage), will only likely further empowerright-wing extremists in Europe that are already riding waves of fears of both terrorists and immigrants to increased power.
It is understandable that Americans instinctively look at what’s happening in Europe and become apprehensive about Muslims and immigration in the U.S. But even a brief examination of the data on these issues in relation to America proves such fears unfounded.
Since 9/11, only 45 people have been killed by Islamic extremist attacks in America, including the San Bernardino shooting. The July 7th, 2005 London attacks alone killed 52 people; the attacks in Madrid a year earlier on March 11th killed 191 people, and the November 13th Paris attacks killed 130 people. In just those three largest attacks, the number of people killed by Islamic extremists is over 828% more than total number of people killed in America by Islamic extremists after after 9/11 in 2001, and this does not include smaller attacks in Europe or today’s attacks in Brussels, Belgium, already the fourth deadliest Islamic attack in Europe since 9/11, with dozens dead and many more wounded.
Issues of Immigration: America vs. Europe
As for immigration, Illegal immigration in America is a declining problem, as the overall illegal immigrant population has been declining since 2007, less than 16% of current illegal immigrants have arrived within the last five years, and illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born U.S. population. Hyperbolically inflating this problem on the part of Republican politicians, most notably Donald Trump, might be winning voters’ hearts and mind but such tactics are based on false delusions.
Europe, on the other hand, has a huge problem with immigration. Unlike the United States, which has vast oceans and half the planet separating itself from the world’s biggest refugee-producing hotspots in the Middle East/North Africa, East/Central Africa, and South Asia, all these regions are either close to Europe (Syria, Iraq, Libya) or reachable by land and ferry. Thus, Europe has seen a dramatic increase in people fleeing to it from their homelands and refugee camps. As the world faces the largest refugee crisis since WWII, about 1.8 million people migrated to Europe in 2015 alone, by far the most from Syria, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq; other Muslim countries are also high on the list, and these trends continue in 2016, with over 135,000 migrants arriving in just the first two months of year; the EU response has been haphazard, disorganized, and overall quite lacking.
Muslims Experiences: American vs. European
In addition, American Muslims (a very small but growing minority of about 3.3 million/1% of the U.S. population) are generally well-integrated and assimilated, are highly-educated, are relatively middle-class and successful, and feel life is better in U.S. that where they came from. All total, only ten American-born Muslims have carried out terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11. Europe, on the other hand, with a far larger Muslim population in both absolute and proportional terms and one that is also growing, was having well-documented problems with integration, opportunity, and discrimination in regards to its Muslim population even a decade ago; today, those problems are today only dramatically worse and continuing to get worse.
Europe’s Muslims Immigrant Problems Are Not America’s
Racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia are serious problems in America and also in Europe. If people want more security after terrorist attacks, yes, those factors play into it but others need to respect that fear is a prime motivator and understand that trying to make people look racist after they fear a particular group of people who have extremists within their ranks that is the group most often perpetrating such attacks is myopic and exposes and gross lack of understanding of human nature. Yes, only a tiny fraction—far less than 1% of 1.6 billion—of Muslims carry out terrorist attacks; yes people should of course not overreact by painting all Muslims as terrorists and treating all Muslims differently; but to portray people who are afraid of terrorism emanating from the group most often carrying terrorism against them as primarily motivated by racism and Islamophobia is both unfair and counterproductive: by labeling such people as racist, especially if they are not terribly worldly, well-traveled, well informed, or expressing sophisticated views on such issues, will only serve to increase their hostility, fear, and sense of victimhood themselves.
On the other hand, people must not take their understandable fear to irresponsible heights, abandon reason, and opt for intolerance and phobic paranoia. Understandable if not always rational fear cannot be an excuse for intolerance and bigotry, most of all if coming from political leaders. As Europe continues to counterproductively drift to the far-right, America must avoid the temptation to follow suit or it risks creating fertile ground for homegrown radical Islamic terrorism by provoking the very people whose help it needs the most to combat this global cancer of Islamic extremism.
Little is gained from two groups that each feel they are victims inaccurately generalizing each other in such weighty situations. Whether in Europe or America, there can be a thin line between fear and bigotry, and the line must be drawn wherever possible even as there is tremendous overlap.
Attacks in Europe, like the recent ones in Brussels and Paris, may make voters in both America and Europe seek harsher, more racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic candidates and policies, like Trump and his temporary Muslim ban. The irony that Trump and Republicans are campaigning against the idea that American should avoid becoming more like Europe, and that Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party want to make America more like Europe, is entirely lost on Republicans as they seek to embody and put into practiceEuropean attitudes and approaches that have only succeeded in alienating Muslims in Europe and contributed to their violent radicalization and, therefore, the incidence of terrorist attacks originating with European-based Muslims. Few serious people would suggest that additional caution in such tense and dangerous times is not necessary, but far-right, intolerant, provocative policies that that feed conflict, unfairly target Muslims, and undermine the core Western values of tolerance, diversity, and equality in either America or Europe will only feed and empower extremists terrorist groups like ISIS and play into their narrative.
Sadly, refugee populations and asylum seekers, by definition among the most at-risk of people, will indirectly suffer the most from these terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims, especially Muslim migrants as they will more and more likely be denied entry and asylum the more such attacks happen, and suffer more and more intense scrutiny, discrimination, and even violence even if they are allowed to enter or settle in their hopeful destinations. Americans should take comfort in the fact that from 9/11 on in the United States, none of the Muslims who carried out terrorist attacks were refugees or asylums seekers, including the 9/11 attackers themselves.
As Americans rightly look on with horror today at the carnage in Brussels, they should avoid the temptation to make the same mistakes as Europe has in mistreating and failing its Muslims population. In fact, Americans would do well to understand how much better they have treated their Muslims immigrants and realize that this fact is a big part of the reason why America has suffered so much less Islamic jihadist carnage on its soil over the last fifteen years than Europe has. In order to be safer, Americans should look to politicians to lead them who emphasize that “Love Trumps Hate,” rather than play on fear and division. Playing on fear and division has not worked out well for Europe; playing to diversity and tolerance in America, conversely, has almost always been one of America’s strengths, and is one of the main reasons so many Europeans, from the colonial pilgrims to the Irish to the Jews, have fled Europe to America’s shores; it is the main reason Muslims seek to come to America today.