Don’t overstate anti-Muslim bias

Almost two weeks after the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on radicalization in the Muslim community in America, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has announced he will hold a hearing in the Senate. But, rather than focus on the problem of radicalization in the Muslim community, Durbin’s panel will be directed to another subject: anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.

Senator Durbin has said anti-Islamic sentiment in America is on the rise and that, “It is important for our generation to renew our founding charter’s commitment to religious diversity and to protect the liberties guaranteed by our Bill of Rights.” The hearing, scheduled for next week, follows a CNN special to air this Sunday, “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door.”

While we have not been in contact with Senator Durbin or his staff, we have just published a book on America and its relationship to Islam. And while we have not seen the CNN special just yet, we have seen the trailer Video, which focuses on opposition to a mosque being built in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Despite what may have gone on in Murfreesboro with the mosque its adherents have wanted to build, the larger story of anti-Islamic bias in America does not hold water.

Let’s start with the national numbers: 8.4 percent of religious hate crimes in America were anti-Muslim in 2009 (the most recent date for which statistics are available). By contrast, that same year, nearly 72 percent of religious hate crimes in America were anti-Jewish (Muslims in America faced 107 incidents of bias in 2009; Jews faced 931).

This pattern has remained fairly consistent over the past decade. For example, in 2002, 10.5 percent of the religious bias crimes in America were anti-Muslim while 65% were anti-Jewish; in 2006 (just to pick another post- 9/11/2001 year), 11.9 percent of the religious bias crimes in America were anti-Muslim while 65.4 percent were anti-Jewish. (It is worth noting here that exact statistics on the Muslim population in America are hard to assess — estimates range from 2.6 million to 7 million, a number President Obama cited — the Jewish population is generally agreed upon at about 6.5 million).

Of course each and every hate crime is horrific, and we wish there were zero hate crimes in America, but the larger point is important for context. If a radio host or some cable commentator or U.S. senator said, “The United States discriminates against Jews” or “Jews have a particularly hard time in the United States” or, “There is a lot of anti-Jewish bigotry in America,” it would simply not comport with most people’s — or most Jewish Americans’ — understandings of 21st century America. And yet, we accept at face value the storyline of wholesale anti-Muslim bigotry in America.

Another view: After my mosque was torched

So what is that larger story? Bigotry is, of course, abhorrent. But given that America has been targeted by a great deal of terrorism in the name of Islam over the past decade — targeted by terrorists who say they are acting in the name of Islam — America has not over-reacted in a wave of anti-Muslim bigotry.

Whatever may be the case in Murfreesboro, notice the rest of the story out of Tennessee: Muslim leaders in cities from Chattanooga to Knoxville to Memphis say they have “experienced no hostility.”

Indeed, the Muslim experience in America is an interestingly supportive one, especially in our post-9/11 world. In 2008, Americans elected a president with an Arabic name and whose father had been born a Muslim — and in higher numbers than in several previous presidential elections: Barack Obama received 53 percent of the vote in 2008, George W. Bush received 51 percent of the vote in 2004, and Bill Clinton received 49 percent of the vote in 1996.

Another example of a lack of widespread anti-Muslim bias is the fact that in 2010, a Muslim and Arab woman, Rima Fakih, was chosen as Miss USA. Indeed, it appears more in the Muslim community had a problem with Ms. Fakih’s crowning than did the rest of the American community. And most recently, a CNN poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans said they would be OK with a mosque in their community and that “positive views of Muslim Americans are on the rise.” It is also worth noting that nearly 700 mosques have been built in America over the last decade.

Opinions: Mosques are a positive force in America

Still, an uncomfortable fact remains, but it is not about bigotry. Despite the full and equal rights Muslims are and should be entitled to in America, we face a problem that too few are willing to speak about: Radical Muslims have declared war on America, from within and without, and that threat is on the rise. This uncomfortable fact has put many Americans on the defensive. But most of those on the defensive are those who recite this fact, not those who avoid it.

We predict that when all is said and done by the end of next week, Peter King, who held hearings on radicalization in the Muslim community, will have been subject to far more scrutiny and negative publicity than Dick Durbin.

But King was right to raise his issue; his opponents are the ones grandstanding.

Let us continue this discussion, but let us not allow it to be further weakened by overstated claims of bias. America and Americans are better, and have done better, than the conventional wisdom would lead one to believe.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn.

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