Thursday, May 12, 2016

Where was the white dude radicalized? Absurdity from Al Jazeera and CAIR

Oftentimes apologia in favor of Islam tends to distance Islamist radicals from Islam - that is, the radicals are not following a "true" Islam. The violence inspired by a distorted view of religion that is created by extremists. They are said to spread their ideology through propaganda, or "radicalization".

Recently this has morphed into an argument that attempts to even undermine this idea, going as far as to deny that radicalization is a reality.

The most abrasive and full-throated argument in favor of this idea was run by AJ+, titled "You know that whole "Muslim radicalization idea"? Yeah, it's a myth". After some snarky comments the "points" are made:
"No one asks "where was he radicalized?" when a white dude goes on a shooting spree in a school or theater. White men have been responsible for 64% of mass shootings in this country since 1982."
"And they get the privilege of being lone wolf shooters or mentally ill shooters or "alienated and adrift" shooters"
"There's not much talk about how the real domestic threat to national security are right-wing anti-government groups. And the President hasn't been telling white people there hasn't been "enough pushback against extremism" in their communities." 
"And there's no set criteria for what the "process of radicalization" looks like, or even what "radical" actually is."
[ some explanation of each recent Islamist attacker being considerably different in behavior] 

"With the Boston bombers, we obsessed over Tamerlan Tsarnaev's YouTube History. With the Paris attackers, we focused on gay bars, alcohol - implied promiscuity. And with San Bernardino's Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik we obsessed over Malik becoming more and more religious."

"So is radicalization being religious or not? Is it having anti-U.S. foreign policy views? Is it being isolated from society?"
"In the U.S., you can't be prosecuted for your speech - even if your views are extreme and really gross - except in very specific, hard to prove cases. So yeah, the Constitution protects your right to be a Nazi, to say anti-black crap, it even protects your right to advocate for consensual love between a grown man and a child."

"Because views aren't actions. Actions can be criminal, but views? Nope."
"And continuing to talk about radicalization without any set criteria, and targeting only Muslims when we talk about radicalization, makes anything and everything Muslims do suspect."

"So you get programs like CVE. You get survelliance in mosques, homes, businesses. You get 15,000 informants nationwide, and you get a community that has some serious trust issues."
"And then we get shocked that we have Presidential candidates openly calling for patrols in "Muslim neighborhoods", for banning Muslims from the country and issuing special IDs to Muslims."
"So maybe it's time to rethink the poorly defined language that we use and how poorly defined language creates programs, policies, and dangerous misunderstandings that have an effect on the lives of millions in this country." 
"How's that for a radical idea?"

There are several sophistries in Sana Saeed's speech here, in defiance of basic math and Saeed's own feelings on "radicalization". Some quotes in the video cite the work of Imraan Siddiqi - a local CAIR director constantly tweeting his perceptions of anti-muslim bias in the media.

Much of the dialogue makes one think of Potter Stewart's "I know it when I see it", as nearly every argument is undermined if one is willing to admit that concepts such as "radicalization" do not need outlined in infinite legalese in order to be useful.

Let's get into some realities:

  • White men accounting for 64% of mass shootings is actually surprisingly low, given that white people account for over 70% of America's population
    • Note: If one is thinking "but white males would be 35% of the population!", one needs to revisit basic math and realize that mass shootings do not have equitable gender balance - by a wide margin.
  • White male non-muslim mass shooters happen to have the "privilege" of being called "lone wolf" by usually not having co-conspirators
    • Where was the Unabomber caliphate?
    • Did Adam Lanza have friends that drove him around post-attack?
  • At no point did the United States government decide that the "real threat" was right-wing militias. Naturally authorities with a entirely domestic mandate in places such as Oklahoma City and Waco are particularly interested in "home grown" threats, but this does not mean that the executive branch of the government has arrived at some secret consensus that Islamism could be described as "overhyped".
These points aside, it turns out the video makes arguments so tenuous that writers at The Intercept, an organization famous for being incredibly critical of the United States government, found the content lacking:

As evidence of The Intercept's standing as one of the "good guys" against "Islamophobia", Saeed felt obligated to engage with Hussain's criticisms:

This is a demonstration of both the comical hyperfocus on statistics concerning the United States - this is a game played by many other people advocating for "understanding" of Islam. More than that, it is incredible laziness as it is not at all difficult to determine just how massively overrepresented the muslim community is within the count of terrorist attacks if one is willing to accept Islamists as muslim instead of using weasel words and moving definitions to suit themselves.

Muslims comprise about 1% of the American population. If one includes 9/11, by death toll this 1% is responsible for nearly all domestic fatalities caused by terrorist attacks.

If one forgets 9/11 - as even the New York Times is eager to forget - the numbers are still absurd. Jihadists are responsible for as many domestic fatalities as all other terrorist attacks combined. If one counts American citizens vacationing or working abroad (as one should), then the picture is even more gloomy as jihadists are then killing twice as many as the "real threats" that the AJ+ video laments.

Indeed, if one adds up all the killings due to klan members, nazis, anti-abortion nutjobs, tax protesters, anarchists, communists and ecoterrorists, the death toll still does not match the impact of jihadists domestically. This is an amazing fact.

1% of the American population is responsible for the same number of killings as the other 99%. The muslim community is then a 1%, except nobody is occupying wall street yet.

"Comparative ratio", indeed.

If Sana Saeed was content enough to ignore the math and disregard simple truths so much as to annoy even liberal writers, that would be bad enough. The worst part is that people like Sana Saeed do not actually believe what they say about "radicalization".

As it stands, this is what Sana Saeed really believes about extremist views:

 Apparently one is supposed to believe that radicalization is a "myth", and CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) programs are nonsense - while simultaneously understanding that the some combination of Trump/Tea Party/islamophobes are extremist groups radicalized by some combination of Fox News / Maajid Nawaz / Richard Dawkins / Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani.

How is this irony and hypocrisy missed?

And as it turns out, people are constantly asking each other "where were these white people radicalized?" and mass marketing the idea that the source of the mass extremism is a relatively small set of pundits and media outlets. (Maybe it's even a Christian Republican Zionist plot! Wake up, America!) This is not much different than saying that Islamism comes from a relatively small number of religious ideologues and schools of thought.

Even the concept of informants has been constantly rubber-stamped, as it's a widespread fantasy that information about vile djinn like Roger Ailes or David Koch would happen to wiki-leak its way into the press.

Imraan Siddiqi and Sana Saeed are seemingly two people that would read headlines about the Panama Papers and still somehow find the time to criticize the use of informants within muslim communities. Informants in banks and governments are automatically regarded as heroes while informants in a religious community - no matter what community - are thought to be capitalist and traitorous narcs. This assessment will be made without much evidence to support it, as the people of this opinion have already picked their team and feel obligated to defend it no matter how many cafes explode.

Maybe instead of reflexively and relentlessly propagandizing against "Islamophobia", one could take the time to do the work. Make the numbers make sense, avoid whataboutery, build sound arguments instead of semantic puzzles, and truly live as one preaches.

How's that for a radical idea?

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the general thrust of your argument, but I have a few nitpicks.

    "White men accounting for 64% of mass shootings is actually surprisingly low, given that white people account for over 70% of America's population"

    On the other hand, it is surprisingly high when you consider that in the US white men only commit 45% of all murders. Though this statistic does depend a lot on how you define "mass shooting." If three drug dealers get shot by members of a rival gang during a drive-by, does that count as a mass shooting?

    "White male non-muslim mass shooters happen to have the 'privilege' of being called 'lone wolf' by usually not having co-conspirators"

    A majority of American Muslim terrorists also didn't have co-conspirators, and most of the ones that did only had one co-conspirator, which isn't unheard of for non-Muslim terrorists (Oklahoma City, the 2014 Las Vegas shootings) or even for non-ideologically motivated mass shooters (Columbine).

    Well, unless you count inspiring by propaganda as conspiracy, but by that standard a large number of non-Muslim mass shooters would also have co-conspirators. Dylan Roof claimed to have been inspired by racist websites, were the people who made those websites his co-conspirators?

    "Muslims comprise about 1% of the American population. If one includes 9/11, by death toll this 1% is responsible for nearly all domestic fatalities caused by terrorist attacks."

    None of the 9/11 hijackers were American citizens or even legal permanent residents. At least 3 of them had overstayed their visas and were technically illegal immigrants. Counting them as "American Muslims" seems like a straining of the definition of "American," to say the least. (Source:

    "If one counts American citizens vacationing or working abroad (as one should), then the picture is even more gloomy as jihadists are then killing twice as many as the "real threats" that the AJ+ video laments."

    For obvious reasons, the vast majority (possibly all, though I haven't checked to be sure) of Islamic terrorists who have killed American citizens outside of the United States were not American, and indeed I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of them never set foot on American soil in their lives. So again, in a discussion of radicalization of "American Muslims" specifically, those people aren't relevant.


    All of that aside, I think that the biggest problem with saying that no one ever asks "Where was the white dude radicalized?" is one you didn't mention: a not-insignificant number of Islamic terrorists are also white men. In addition to converts like Terry Lee Loewen, the Tsarnaev brothers were Caucasians not just in the sense that they belonged to that racial group, but in the sense that they were actually born and raised in the Caucasus mountains. You can't get more white than that.