Saturday, December 5, 2015

Editorial: Don’t Let GOP Fearmongers Win

(Editor's Note: This is an expanded version of the editorial that was published in the 12/15/15 issue. It was written before authorities reported that the San Bernardino massacre was carried out by a Muslim couple who may have had terrorist motivations, but we believe the editorial still stands.)

When Americans surrender to fear we betray our founding principles. But the economy under President Barack Obama has pulled out of the nosedive that George W. Bush’s “voodoo economics” put it in 2008, so fear is about all the Republican Party has to sell these days, and their unscrupulous leaders are working overtime to scare us about enemies real and imagined, foreign and domestic.

In the US, crime rates rose from the early ’60s through the early ’90s, but have plunged since the mid-’90s (the good old days for Republican fearmongering). But as of 2013, the rate of violent crime, is down 71% from its peak in 1994, Neil Howe reported at (5/28/15). Over this same period, the rate of violent crime by 12- to 24-year-olds—the age bracket most likely to commit crime—fell 78%. But you can’t convince suburban Republicans of that; in every annual Gallup poll since 2003, a majority of American adults said that the number of gun crimes is higher than it was two decades ago, even though gun violence peaked in 1993, Howe noted.

Lately, Republicans have inflated the threat of the Mideast murder gang that calls itself Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) also known by the Arab acronym “Daesh” (which they apparently don’t like). Their threat is real enough in Iraq and Syria, where they are estimated to have killed more than 100,000 Arabs, mainly Shiite Muslims and Christians, as well as journalists and aid workers, as they have occupied cities and taken over oilfields. But US and allied air forces have reduced IS’s mobility, which has caused them to turn increasingly to remote terrorist attacks in other nations, such as the Nov. 13 attack that killed 130 innocents in Paris and wounded 368 (which overshadowed an attack by suicide bombers in Beirut a day earlier that killed 43 and wounded more than 200).

Republicans responded by mocking President Obama’s handling of IS/Daesh in Iraq and Syria and calling for a blockade of Syrian refugees seeking entry to the US. Obama has wisely resisted Republican calls for large-scale military deployments to Syria and Iraq, but he has proposed accepting 10,000 refugees from Syria. Against that proposal, 31 governors — all Republicans except Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) — said they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) threatened to cut funding and/or sue social agencies such as the International Rescue Committee that cooperate with the federal government in resettling Syrian refugees.

The Republican panic amplifies the propaganda victory for the Islamist terrorists. Make no mistake: the terrorists would love to strike in the United States and they probably will manage to do it, because we are an open society and — face it — anybody with a few hundred dollars (preferably a white man without an accent) can buy an assault weapon and ammunition at a gun show without showing an ID, much less being subjected to a background check. But the chance of terrorists causing more damage than an average weekend’s worth of shooting by garden-variety American gunslingers is beyond remote.

Ian Millhiser noted at ThinkProgress Nov. 30 that terrorism perpetrated by Muslims receives a disproportionate amount of attention from politicians and reporters, but the reality is that right-wing extremists pose a much greater threat to people in the USA than terrorists connected to IS or similar organizations. As University of North Carolina Professor Charles Kurzman and Duke Professor David Schanzer explained last June in the New York Times, Islam-inspired terror attacks “accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.” Meanwhile, “right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”

But all forms of terrorism account for only a tiny proportion of violence in America, as there have been more than 215,000 murders in the US since 9/11. For every person killed by Muslim extremists, there have been 4,300 homicides from other threats. And crime statistics show homicides are down over the past 20 years.

Kurzman, a professor of sociology at UNC-Charlotte and author of The Missing Martyrs: Why There are So Few Muslim Terrorists, noted at (11/30) the Islamic State came to realize that even small-scale, low-tech attacks by Muslim extremists — a knifing in Boston, rifle shots in Chattanooga — could attract massive attention and concern. Few Muslims have taken up the call to mayhem, but a few is enough. “Opportunistic politicians will do the Islamic State’s work for it, warning their constituencies that they face an existential threat from ISIS and its supporters.”

Politicians stoke the sense of vulnerability that the Islamic State aims to instill, Kurzman wrote. The Islamic State gloats about the panicky policies of the West, which it views as signs of weakness.

“A nationwide state of emergency was declared as a result of the actions of eight men armed only with assault rifles and explosive belts,” IS’s Dabiq magazine bragged after the Paris attack. “The Islamic State dispatched its brave knights to wage war in the homelands of the wicked crusaders, leaving Paris and its residents ‘shocked and awed.’”

IS is particularly hopeful that Western countries will retaliate against their own Muslim communities, Kurzman noted. Like al-Qaeda before it, IS believes that Muslims in the West will conclude that their faith and identity are incompatible with obedience to the laws of the United States and Europe.
“Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves driven to abandon their homes for a place to live in the Khilafah [the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State], as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands,” Dabiq predicted earlier this year.

The day after Thanksgiving, one week after Republican elected officials all over the country tried to block Syrian refugees from entering their states, a white man in Colorado Springs committed an apparent act of terrorism at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Though Robert Lewis Dear’s motives for killing three people at the clinic and wounding nine others are still unclear, Millhister noted that Dear reportedly told law enforcement “no more baby parts,” an apparent reference to heavily edited videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress, which numerous politicians have cited to falsely claim that Planned Parenthood sells “aborted baby parts.” Dear’s actions, in other words, appear to be an act of politically motivated terrorism directed against an institution widely reviled by conservatives.

Kurzman and Schanzer’s methodology, moreover, may underestimate the degree to which domestic terrorists in the US are motivated by right-wing views. As they describe the term in their Times piece, the term “right-wing extremist” primarily encompasses anti-government extremists such as members of the sovereign citizen movement, although it also includes racist right-wing groups such as neo-Nazis. Thus, it is not yet clear whether Dear, who made anti-abortion remarks but also reportedly referenced President Obama, was motivated in part by the kind of anti-government views that are the focus of Kurzman and Schanzer’s inquiry.

Kurzman and Schanzer also surveyed hundreds of law enforcement agencies regarding their assessment of various threats. Of the 382 agencies they spoke with, “74% reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction,” while only “39% listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations.”

Meanwhile, the percentage of refugees that are connected to terrorist plots is vanishingly small, they noted. Out of 784,000 refugees resettled in the US since 9/11, a grand total of three refugees have been charged with plotting terrorist acts. Two were jailed for plotting to send weapons to terrorist groups in Iraq and one Uzbek man was convicted of terrorism-related charges for possessing explosives and supporting a terrorist group in Uzbekistan.

Refugees go through a vetting process of 18 months to two years before gaining a visa to the US. We think those who make it through that review will be a foe of the sort of extremism that forced them out of their homeland. It would be a lot easier for IS/Daesh to get one of their confederates in France, Belgium or Saudi Arabia to take a flight to New York or Dallas (as the 9/11 conspirators did), than assign an undercover terrorist to spend two years in a refugee camp, waiting for a visa to the US, with the likelihood that the vetting might trip him up.

Obama also should open the gates to the 50,000 men and women who served as interpreters for American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan at great personal risk. As American forces have withdrawn, locals have been left behind to fend for themselves.

Dane Bowker, who served two tours in Afghanistan working with the Afghan army and police as a Department of Defense civil servant, wrote in the Washington Post (Sept. 17) that he worked with countless interpreters who were essential to his work and served at great personal risk. They are targeted by insurgents precisely because they helped the US but they are expected to remain in Iraq or Afghanistan while their application is processed. Just three special immigrant visas were issued to Afghan translators in 2011; 63 were given in 2012; John Kerry overhauled the system when he took over in 2013 and 3,441 visas were issued in 2014, but thousands of men and women are stranded at various points in the process and trying to stay out of Taliban or ISIL gunsights.

It’s bad enough that Islamist terrorists would like to scare the hell out of us. We shouldn’t cooperate in their plans. But we should help those who risked their lives on behalf of our soldiers in foreign wars. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2015

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