In the wake of Orlando, Americans are feeling helpless against the threat of “lone wolf” Islamic militants like Omar Mateen, and can’t figure out how to stop the next ISIS-inspired loose cannon from going off. It’s a legitimate fear, of course. But it’s way out of proportion to the actual danger.
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Islamic militancy, lone-wolf or organized, is far down on the list of motives that figure in the murders of Americans, and it is in no way a threat to the basic security of American society like it could conceivably become in Western Europe.
Moreover, America is not helpless against global jihad; the U.S. is fighting it very hard – militarily and on the intelligence front – and is hurting ISIS badly, as Obama reminded everyone in his address on Tuesday.
In the 15 years since 9/11, a few brainwashed American Muslims have committed atrocities in the name of their ideology (in Mateen’s case, also in the name of his raging homophobia and penchant for violence). But the American Muslim community, unlike pockets of Europe’s Muslim population, is not a breeding ground for militancy. It is, rather, a success story of American immigration, sort of like the Italians even with their past anarchist bombers and Mafiosi, or the Jews even with their past gangsters, Communists, thrill killers (Leopold and Loeb) and atomic spies (Julius Rosenberg).
America has been doing a very good job against jihadism, especially at home. So instead of Donald Trump's recommended course of action – to panic about every Muslim in their midst or beyond their borders because of the unsolved threat of lone-wolf jihadists, Americans should calm down and let their country go on doing what it’s been doing. As a first step, they should put the threat of jihadist killers in perspective.
If you go down the list of names and photos of America’s worst mass shooters, and even more so of America's serial killers, what you see is almost nothing but Christian white guys. Mateen killed 49 people; Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 people in San Bernardino last December – but in America last year there were 372 mass shootings (those with four or more deaths or injuries), and all told over 13,000 people in the U.S. were killed by guns, not counting suicides. So Americans have many other kinds of murderers to worry about before they get to freelance ISIS disciples.
And for those who have the feeling that America is weak, that it’s given up in the Middle East, that it’s too “politically correct” to fight Muslim radicals, I’ll refer them to Obama’s statement that the U.S. has launched some 13,000 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Let’s not forget U.S. drone warfare in Pakistan and Afghanistan, either.
As for maintaining surveillance on militant Islamists and suspected ones at home and abroad, ask Edward Snowden if America is doing nothing. George W. Bush’s anti-terror Patriot Act is not only still in force, Obama is a real champion of it.
Finally, Americans should learn that the Muslim community in America, which makes up 1 percent of the country’s population, does not have a jihadist infrastructure, a jihadist subculture, like some Western European countries do. As Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer wrote this week, “It lacks neighborhoods like Molenbeek in Brussels and the poor suburbs of Paris, Marseille and Toulouse, where young Muslims grow up, disconnected from the wider society, and radical imams preach without being disturbed.”
America’s 3.3 million Muslims are a well-integrated, successful community. Their average level of education, professional standing and income is equal to and by some measures better than the nationwide average, according to a 2007 Pew Research Center study. Those surveyed say they have about as many non-Muslims among their close friends as they do Muslims. And in their political, religious and social views, including their attitudes toward homosexuality, they have made a striking departure from the Muslim Middle East.
America's Muslims are not the enemy within. The rare jihadists among them are not expressing a significant sentiment in their community, like those in Western Europe do. Omar Mateen was not only a lone wolf, he was also, truly, a “wild weed.”
So this is no time for Americans to succumb to fear, at least not of Islamic militancy. Its mark on the horror in Orlando notwithstanding, there are much greater dangers at home – such as the proliferation of guns, an entrenched habit of violence and the rise of neo-fascism – for Americans to be afraid of.