Wednesday, April 16, 2014

CNN: "U.S. right wing extremists more deadly than jihadists"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In case you missed it, CNN yesterday posted a must-read piece by Peter Bergen and David Sterman on how Islamic jihadism is considered to be so much worse than domestic right-wing extremism -- among the public, in the media -- even though the latter is much more deadly than the former. Here are some highlights, starting with a reference to the Kansas City KKK killer, though you would do well to read it in its entirety:

Now let's do the thought experiment in which instead of shouting "Heil Hitler" after he was arrested, the suspect had shouted "Allahu Akbar." Only two days before the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, this simple switch of words would surely have greatly increased the extent and type of coverage the incident received.

Yet the death toll in the shootings in Kansas is similar to that of last year's Boston Marathon bombings, where three people were killed and the suspects later killed a police officer as they tried to evade capture. (Many more, of course, were also wounded in the Boston attacks; 16 men, women and children lost limbs.)

In fact, since 9/11 extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right wing ideologies, including white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists and anti-government militants, have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda's ideology. According to a count by the New America Foundation, right wing extremists have killed 34 people in the United States for political reasons since 9/11. (The total includes the latest shootings in Kansas, which are being classified as a hate crime).

By contrast, terrorists motivated by al Qaeda's ideology have killed 21 people in the United States since 9/11.


Moreover, since 9/11 none of the more than 200 individuals indicted or convicted in the United States of some act of jihadist terrorism have acquired or used chemical or biological weapons or their precursor materials, while 13 individuals motivated by right wing extremist ideology, one individual motivated by left-wing extremist ideology, and two with idiosyncratic beliefs, used or acquired such weapons or their precursors.

This is to take nothing away from 9/11, which was obviously a horrendous attack, nor to suggest that jihadism is no longer a serious threat. Certainly part of the reason for its decline is that the U.S. has expended vast resources combating it, both overseas and at home, including building up the national security state. And of course America isn't jihadism's only target. Whether al Qaeda or related to al Qaeda or not, it has struck elsewhere, including in Mumbai in 2008.

But Bergen and Sterman are right that jihadism is blown way out of proportion in the U.S. and that the media deserve much of the blame for that. I suppose racial/ethnic/religious/cultural bias is to explain for that. Even a known KKK leader and virulent anti-Semite can be your friendly next-door neighbor in the mostly white and Christian parts of the U.S. He may look like you and act like you, for the most part, and in any event he may not seem all that their weird despite his extremist views, some of which, deep down, you may even share.

But anyone with even slightly brown skin, with an accent, with odd dress, with weird-smelling food, with strange religious or cultural practises, well, even it hardly matters whether that person is Muslim or Buddhist or Sikh or Hindu or whatever -- he or she is somehow the Other, and that frightens you, because difference terrifies you and because, of course, you've been told by the media -- and it's only worse if your media outlets of choice are Fox News or right-wing talk radio -- that the real threats to America, to your way of life, to you personally, are of the non-white, non-Christian, "foreign" variety.

The point, of course, is that while jihadi terrorism is very much a real thing, the more urgent danger within America's borders is right-wing extremism, which while appearing in different forms is very much a significant threat to the country and its inhabitants. Look no further if you're concerned about your way of life, about yourself personally. These are people who blow up government buildings and plant bombs and drive around major cities randomly shooting people or even targeting certain kinds of people -- people just like you in many ways, no matter your race, creed, color, or hue.

It's much easier to vilify the foreign Other, I know, to lump those "different" from you into one big huge threat from which you can cower in fear with those you think are like you. But I would say it's far more advisable to deal with the world as it is and to understand the real threats for what they are.

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