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The 'Islamophobia' debate: Jeff Jacoby responds to Jesse Singal

Posted by Jesse Singal  December 9, 2010 12:52 PM

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americanmuslims.jpgI agree with Jesse Singal that hate-crime statistics are only one metric in assessing the relative safety of the United States for Muslims (or any other minority group). My column focused on new FBI data showing how rare such anti-Islamic crimes are because the report just came out, making it a timely topic for comment. But those data only confirm, as so much other evidence attests, how secure life in America has become for Muslims.

As even Time noted in its cover story exploring whether America is riddled with anti-Muslim bigotry, Islamophobia in the United States doesn't approach levels seen in other countries where Muslims are a minority:

There's no American equivalent of France's ban on the burqa or Switzerland's new law against building minarets. Polls have shown that most Muslims feel safer and freer in the U.S. than anywhere else in the Western world. Two American Muslims have been elected to Congress, and this year, Rima Fakih became the first Muslim to be named Miss USA. Next month, the country's first Muslim college will formally open its doors in Berkeley, Calif. Zaytuna College's motto: "Where Islam Meets America."

In 2007, the Pew Research Center undertook a comprehensive survey of American Muslims, and released a lengthy report on the results (PDF). Pew’s researchers found that Muslims were assimilating rapidly into US life, that 72 percent rated their community an “excellent” or “good” place to live, and that nearly 8 in 10 said they were happy with their lives in America. Not everything the survey revealed was so sunny, as I wrote at the time. (It found, for example, that 5 percent of US Muslims had a favorable opinion of al-Qaeda, while 27 percent refused to give an opinion.) On the whole, however, it refuted pretty thoroughly any characterization of the United States as a land riddled with “Islamophobia.”

It is true, as Jesse says, that the proposed mosque near Ground Zero generated a furor and triggered a lot of protest, some of it quite rude and over the top. It’s also true that a proposed church or synagogue would not have been nearly so controversial. But how can it possibly be “irrelevant,” as Jesse insists, to point out that thousands of Americans died at Ground Zero in a terror attack committed by fanatic jihadists? You don’t have to argue “that Islam has some sort of monopoly on political or religious violence” to recognize that in the contemporary world, it is only radical Islamists who have declared “holy war” on America and its values. The vast majority of violent attacks carried out in the name of religion today is the work of Muslim extremists — and from Ground Zero to Fort Hood, the victims of those attacks have often been American.

Reasonable people can differ over the wisdom of building an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero. But surely it isn’t reasonable to deny that there are legitimate reasons why such a project would elicit more emotion than plans to construct a church or a synagogue.

Occasional flare-ups like the mosque controversy in New York will come and go. Of far greater significance is that notwithstanding America’s ongoing struggle against Islamic extremism, most American Muslims have found America to be the same embracing nation that it has been to so many other religious minorities as well.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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