The allegedly growing domestic Muslim threat

Why, after a decade, would American Muslims suddenly become radicalized?


Glenn Greenwald
December 14, 2009 8:15PM (UTC)

There is clearly a concerted effort by the Government to claim loudly that the threat posed by radicalized American Muslims is increasing.  Last week, The Los Angeles Times published a lengthy, scary story under the headline "U.S. sees homegrown Muslim extremism as rising threat," claiming that "Anti-terrorism officials and experts see signs of accelerated radicalization among American Muslims."  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned this month:  "Home-based terrorism is here."  When justifying his Afghanistan escalation at West Point, Obama warned of "extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror."  And strangely, on Saturday, two articles with virtually identical storylines appeared -- one in The Washington Post and the other in The New York Times -- warning that American Muslims, for the first time, are now becoming a radicalized threat in the way European Muslims are.

At least from all appearances, these claims are being made exclusively on the basis of a handful of recent episodes involving American Muslims accused of having links to Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban.  There is no data whatsoever offered to corroborate the claim of a "trend."  Given the obvious dangers inherent in trumpeting threats from internal sources -- as well as the motives the Government generally has in disseminating such warnings and the motive it specifically has when escalating a war -- far more than a few anecdotes ought to be required before any of this is believed.

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What's most striking about these "warnings" is that they virtually never examine the reasons why this would be happening.  Why, after all this time, would American Muslims suddenly be more willing to engage in violence against the U.S.?  To his credit, Scott Shane devoted several paragraphs of his NYT article to addressing this question, and what he finds is both highly significant and highly unsurprising:

[T]he continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the American operations like drone strikes in Pakistan, are fueling radicalization at home, [terrorism expert Robert Leiken] said. "Just the length of U.S. involvement in these countries is provoking more Muslim Americans to react," Mr. Leiken said . . . .

Like many other specialists, [Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce] Hoffman pointed to the United States' combat in Muslim lands as the only obvious spur to many of the recent cases, especially those with a Pakistani connection. "The longer we’ve been in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said, "the more some susceptible young men are coming to believe that it’s their duty to take up arms to defend their fellow Muslims."

A few analysts, in fact, argue that Mr. Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan -- intended to prevent a terrorist haven there -- could backfire.

Robert A. Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist, contends that suicide attacks are almost always prompted by resentment of foreign troops, and that escalation in Afghanistan will fuel more plots. "This new deployment increases the risk of the next 9/11,” he said. “It will not make this country safer."  

The evidence proving this causation is now so overwhelming as to be undeniable.  Waging wars, occupying, and dropping bombs in Muslim countries is the single most counter-productive step that can be taken to combat Islamic extremism (indefinitely imprisoning them without charges is a close second).  It's akin to advising a lung cancer patient to triple the quantity of cigarettes he smokes each day.  Yet we continue to do it over and over, and then point to the harms we cause as reasons we need to continue doing it.  Our "counter-terrorism" campaign basically consists of three steps repeated endlessly:

(1) Interfere in or otherwise act aggressively in the Muslim world.

(2) Provoke increased anti-American sentiment and fuel terrorism as a result of Step 1.

(3) Point to the increased anti-American sentiment and terrorism as a reason we need to escalate our interference and aggression in the Muslim world.  Return to Step 1.

The coordinated campaign to hype the alleged "growing domestic Muslim threat" at exactly the time we are escalating our conventional war in Afghanistan and our covert Predator war in Pakistan is a perfect illustration of this process.   Basically, what Shane's article reveals is the shocking truth that waging war and otherwise interfering in Muslim countries for more a full decade radicalizes Muslims and drives some of them to want to return the violence.  Who would have guessed?


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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Terrorism Washington, D.c.

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