You know how racism works, right? You hate blacks; you think they are violent. You see a news story about some black guy who killed his girlfriend. That’s more evidence that blacks are violent. You see another news story about some black guy who helps young people start small businesses. Well, that’s the exception; you never said that all blacks were bad (even though you in fact did). It’s all about an inclination. Racism is natural for us as a species. The real question is if you have strong feelings about any group of people, are you going to feed it with biased information or not? You can fight against these irrational feelings or your can use your rational mind to reinforce them. It is up to you.
The same thing goes on with societies at large. The best example of this is how Islam is portrayed. Every time there is a terrorist attack by a Muslim, the whole country emits a huge, “See?!” When a terrorist attack is performed by someone else, the reaction is vague confusion, “Oh, what a surprise!” And it gets filed under, “Sometimes terrorists are not Muslims, but usually they are.” And that’s as far as it goes.
Juan Cole wrote an amazing article over at his blog informed COMMENT, Terrorism and the Other Religions. He looked at political and religious violence over the last century and found that very little of it was done by Muslims. They make up almost one-quarter of the population but only about 2% of the killing. Now most of that killing was in the world wars. But he goes on to note the universality of terrorism. This part particularly struck me:
I remember back to all the trouble in Northern Ireland when the IRA was most clearly a terrorist organization. They killed over 600 civilians in a country of only a million and a half. (That is equivalent to over 100,000 in the United States.) That was political and religious. And yet no one went on TV and attacked the Irish. There was no discussion of radical-Catholicism. And there’s a good reason for that: the Irish and the Catholics by that point were well integrated into our society. Muslims are still thought of as outsiders. I even hear people say the same things people said about the Irish and Catholics earlier in our history, “They stay among themselves; they don’t want to integrate!” It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. There is a process and it takes generations.
Our media really need to take a lot of blame for this. All this emphasis on Muslim terrorism and endless apology for all others just feeds the cultural bigotry against one of our more recent groups of immigrants. You can go back to the beginning of our republic and see the same dynamic again and again. We should learn to put this stuff in perspective. Juan Cole’s article is a small corrective. I recommend reading the whole thing.
Here is a great Bill Moyer interview with Glenn Greenwald on some of these issues: