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Fact-check: Radicalism in American Mosques, ctd.

February 3, 2011, 7:04 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Last week we tracked down Rep. King’s false claim that 80% of mosques are controlled by “radicals,” exposing it as having originated without evidence from a single, obscure scholar in a 1999 speech.

But our friends at Media Matters, doing what they do best, have released a comprehensive timeline of the appearance and evolution of this “zombie lie” over the last 10 years.

The report is both an impressive display of research and a telling insight into the “echo-chamber” of right-wing media. Having been introduced into the chamber, a falsehood like this finds its way to a broader audience of people inclined to believe and retell it, with each subsequent use only enhancing its perceived credibility.

This is particularly true of statements that speak to people’s deepest anxieties (like terrorism), confirming their existing biases and providing easy support for preferred political positions. Another prominent example is the infamous “death panel” myth that’s proven difficult to dispel since its humble appearance in a Sarah Palin tweet two years ago.

So it’s essential to firmly and consistently correct these statements whenever they appear. Big thanks to Media Matters for doing just that.

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New Report Shows Rep. King Is Still Wrong

February 2, 2011, 7:14 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Peter_king2.jpgYesterday, a coalition of over 50 faith groups and human rights organizations released a letter to Congressional Rep. Peter King asking him to broaden the scope of his hearings on Muslim “radicalization” to include extremist threats from all backgrounds. (Read the full letter here).

King has stated he’s focusing on Muslims because “that’s where the radicalizing threat is coming from.” As we showed earlier this week though, it’s actually non-Muslims who have been involved in the most incidents of violent extremism in the past ten years.

In response to the letter, King put out a statement justifying the hearings with a different argument: that homegrown terrorists are the fastest-growing threat to the United States.

But a new report from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security (a consortium of Duke University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and researchers RTI International) shows that this claim is false as well.

Rather than increasing, the number of Muslims accused of terror attacks actually fell significantly in the last year, going from 47 in 2009 to just 20 in 2010. AP religion writer Rachel Zoll interviewed one of the authors of the report to put this number into context:

Charles Kurzman, a sociologist who wrote the study that was released Wednesday, said that given the widespread terrorist recruitment on the Internet and elsewhere, he considered the number of domestic terror cases relatively small. More than 2 million Muslims live in the U.S.

“Terrorism is a significant problem and Muslim-Americans are more susceptible to terrorist recruitment than other Americans. Fortunately, their level of recruitment is extremely low,” said Kurzman, who teaches at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Ultimately, the report reinforces the argument we highlighted earlier that there is no blueprint for a terrorist:

“There is no single profile or a common warning sign that signifies a “homegrown terrorist.” The diversity of the demographics, ethnicities, and life experiences makes the problem of detecting the homegrown terrorist an extremely difficult one for law enforcement.” (Page 14)

Actions like Rep. King’s hearings that single out any one group only distract us from this important challenge and ultimately make us less safe.

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Nuance in Egypt

February 2, 2011, 10:42 am | By Nick Sementelli

Egypt_protests.jpgThe recent protests in Egypt have provoked some confusion amongst Westerners unfamiliar with Egyptian culture and politics. In particular, misunderstanding of the complicated Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptians diverse views on wanting religious involvement with politics has led to warnings from Religious Right figures like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum that the protests could lead to a “radical Islamist regime.”

Religious scholar Reza Aslan has a great piece up at The Washington Post this week explaining the nuance of the situation and why these fears are unfounded:

The fact is that democracy cannot take root in large parts of the Middle East without the participation of religious factions who are willing to put down their weapons and pick up ballots instead. That is precisely what the Muslim Brotherhood has done over the last few decades, as it has diligently transformed itself into a legitimate political party and a force for democratic change in Egypt. In 2006, when members of the Brotherhood were first given the opportunity to run for elected office, they proved themselves perfectly capable of responsible governance. Far from trying to transform Egypt into a theocracy, as Arab rulers and western ideologues predicted they would, the Brotherhood fully embraced the principles of democracy by creating political alliances with liberal intellectuals and secular democrats in the Egyptian to lobby for greater political freedoms, including freedom of religion, assembly and speech. Their actions convinced even their staunchest critics that, given the opportunity, they could become a legitimate political force in Egyptian politics, which is why Mubarak turned so violently against them, rounding up their democratically elected members, jailing, torturing and murdering them inside his dank, sadistic prison cells.

I encourage you to read the whole piece.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

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No Blueprint for a Terrorist

January 28, 2011, 5:51 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Last week I broke down one of Rep. King’s favorite pieces of evidence for why his hearings on “Muslim radicalization” are necessary, showing how his claim that 80% of mosques are controlled by radicals isn’t backed up by evidence.

But made-up numbers about mosques aren’t the only statistics Rep. King and anti-Islam activists employ. They have also taken to selectively citing poll results to cast the Muslim community as uniquely affected by extremism. King’s op-ed in Newsday last month used a Pew forum poll showing 15% of Muslim-Americans between 18 and 29 (though only 8% of all Muslim-Americans) thought suicide bombing could be justified sometimes or often.

We addressed this claim before when Glenn Beck used these surveys to exaggerate the number of Muslim terrorists. But while an overwhelming majority of those 8% will never actually commit a terrorist act, any support for violence as a political solution is too much.

No one is more concerned about this problem than Muslims themselves, who have watched extremists distort and abuse the tenets of their faith, unfairly casting suspicion on the entire community. Their unequivocal condemnations of terror and strong efforts to root out radicalism are too often ignored in our current political debate.

But more importantly, looking exclusively at examples of Muslim support for violence dangerously distracts us from the reality that extremism comes in all forms. In fact, a recent CBS poll found that 16% of all Americans believe that taking violent action against the government is sometimes justified.

Furthermore, a recent study by the Muslim Public Affairs Council–using data from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the conservative Heritage Foundation–compared the incidents of violent extremism amongst Muslims and non-Muslims since 2001. The report’s findings are telling:

While MPAC’s Database recorded at least 43…incidents/plots by Muslim violent extremists, it also recorded 75 incidents/plots by non-Muslim violent extremists.

The reality is that there is no blueprint for a terrorist. They come from all socio-economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Singling out Muslim-Americans–as Rep. King’s hearings intend to do–not only foments fear and distrust when we need unity and courage, it distracts us from the real threats we face from all forms of extremism and thus makes us less safe.

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Jewish Leaders Standing up to FOX News

January 27, 2011, 2:59 pm | By Nick Sementelli

jewish-funds-for-justice-wall-street-journal-ad.jpgWe’ve blogged before about Glenn Beck’s appalling Holocaust rhetoric and anti-Semitic attacks on Holocaust survivor George Soros. Prominent Jewish leaders voiced their grave concerns about Beck’s hate speech in a meeting with Fox News executives last year, and received false assurances that the network would be sensitive to their concerns in the future.

After hearing Fox News president Roger Ailes recently dismiss them as “left-wing rabbis who basically don’t think that anybody can ever use the word ‘Holocaust’ on the air,” our friends at Jewish Funds for Justice organized a coalition of over 400 rabbis from the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox communities to pen an open letter to Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox’s parent corporation NewsCorp, which appeared as a full-page ad in today’s Wall Street Journal (which is also owned by News Corp) and included this request:

We respectfully request that Glenn Beck be sanctioned by Fox News for his completely unacceptable attacks on a survivor of the Holocaust and that Roger Ailes apologize for his dismissive remarks about rabbis’ sensitivity to how the Holocaust is used on the air.

The incredible number and diversity of the letter’s signers speaks to widespread revulsion in the Jewish community toward Beck’s hateful rhetoric and Ailes’s dismissal of their concerns.

Click the image to see the full ad.

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