Feature

Homegrown terrorism: How real a threat?

The recent spate of incidents involving American Muslims suggests that the U.S. is not immune to homegrown terrorism after all.

A Chicago businessman is charged with plotting attacks in India and Denmark. A Manhattan coffee vendor allegedly travels to Pakistan for training in making bombs. An Army major in Texas shouts “Allahu akbar!” and guns down 43 people. In the years after Sept. 11, said Scott Shane in The New York Times, counterterrorism experts believed that U.S. Muslims, unlike their poorer, more alienated European brethren, “were not very vulnerable to radicalization.” But the recent spate of incidents involving American Muslims suggests that the U.S. is not immune to homegrown terrorism after all. In 2009, a RAND analyst found, there were 12 instances of American Muslims planning or executing terror strikes, or joining a jihad abroad—the most in any year since Sept. 11. The latest came to light last week, when five men from Alexandria, Va., were detained in Pakistan, suspected of plotting to take up jihad. “Home-based terrorism is here,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano this month. “And like violent extremism abroad, it is now part of the threat picture that we must confront.” Now there’s a very convenient bit of alarmism, said Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com. All we’ve seen recently is a “handful” of isolated incidents, with nothing to suggest an epidemic of homegrown terrorism. Yet “virtually identical story lines” about this bogus trend are popping up in major newspapers across the country—just as we’ve begun “escalating our conventional war in Afghanistan and our covert Predator war in Pakistan.” Could it be that the Obama administration is hyping the alleged Muslim threat to win support for its military policies abroad? The administration would do better to rethink those policies, which are utterly counterproductive. “Waging war, occupying, and dropping bombs in Muslim countries’’ cannot eliminate terrorism; they succeed only in radicalizing Muslims everywhere.

No need for hysteria, said the Chicago Tribune in an editorial. Despite the wars abroad and a few recent incidents, the vast majority of American Muslims remain moderate, assimilated, and satisfied. When the men in the Alexandria case disappeared, it was their concerned families who contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which immediately notified the FBI. To keep that channel of communication open, we can’t give in to paranoia and xenophobia, said Daniel Byman in The Wall Street Journal. Treating American Muslims with respect as fellow citizens, not as suspect Others, is “the best way to make sure the holiday from terrorism does not end.”

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