America’s Muslim Problem: What To Do.

There are many people in the US who possess normal common sense and who also have a liberal disposition, “liberal” in the old meaning of the word. I mean before the word came to designate a propensity to force others to do what they don’t want to do, accompanied by intellectual hypocrisy. The word used to mean something like: “well disposed toward others;” it used to refer to habits of tolerance, adding up to giving the other guy the benefit of doubt. I think I am one of those. I am lucid; I see what I see and I don’t pretend I don’t see it; I have no trouble finding something to like in others who are unlike myself. Nevertheless, I draw the line at institutionalized brutality (such as the genital mutilation of little girls) and at intentional cannibalism. The latter means that if you eat your dead to survive (as a Uruguayan rugby team plane-wrecked in the high Andes famously did about thirty years ago); it’s acceptable but if you go a-hunting humans explicitly for the table, I think it’s not cool.

Well, people like me have been struggling to hold their tongues since 9/11 in order to avoid stating the obvious about terrorism , and in order to not be forced to draw the policy consequences of what their eyes behold. We are caught between the rock and the proverbial hard place, largely, I speculate because we wish to avoid bad intellectual company. On the one side, we have paralyzing and contagious political correctness, on the other hand, there is the embarrassing torrent of abuse issuing from political allies who are both uninformed and ill-disposed, so ill-disposed that they are unable to see the obvious contributions of Islamic culture. I mean by this that you don’t have to be a Christian, or to love the Inquisition, or to believe that Christ resurrected to recognize that if Christianity had contributed nothing but Gothic cathedrals, that would still be a lot. Similarly, you don’t have to like Islam the religion to appreciate Arabic calligraphy and the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. Anyway, the pseudo-secret we have been unwilling to admit openly is this: We have a Muslim problem in this country.

We have terrorists of all inspirations in America, I know. The white murderer of black church people in Charleston was a terrorist, pure and simple. He was home bred and home grown. However, we have many, many more terrorists of foreign extraction, almost all with ties to Islam.

The man who murdered four Marines in cold blood in Chattanooga and wounded several several others was an immigrant. Somali refugees and their children have often been implicated in attempted terrorist acts in this country. The convicted and jailed underwear bomber is a Nigerian. We may not be able to do much about US-born terrorists such as Major Hassan (in prison) and preacher Al-Awlaki (pulverized by a drone in Yemen), but we can stem the flow of those with the greatest probability of slaughtering us at home. I said “probability.” It’s the concept we use, consciously or not, to approximate rational decisions in our daily lives: Select this birth clinic, rely on this baby food, travel by car, get vaccinated or not, go for this class rather than another. etc.

There is a young Muslim woman I know well and whom I love like a favorite niece. “Uncle,” she says,” Islamist terrorists are not more my problem than yours.” I disagree because I don’t believe that venomous seeds grow into poisonous plants on their own. They need water and they need good soil. No water, no plant; bad soil, no plant. The water for Islamist terrorism is provided by hundreds or thousands of preachers who preach irresponsibly, good Muslims all who don’t believe they have to be bothered about the effect of their equivocal words once they have left their mouth. (Yes, Mohammed did behead every man of a vanquished enemy tribe on the battlefield. Incidentally, they were Jews. The Prophet then “married ” their wives, he raped them, in others words. Bad example? Talk about this genuine part of Muslim tradition?)

The soil of Islamist terrorism is the passivity of otherwise blameless Muslim communities who cannot help but see fanatics grow before their eyes and decide to keep mum and to do nothing. Here is a simple example of what I mean. The killer of four Marines wore a beard, not any kind of beard, not a Hollywood-inspired beard, not a chic beard, not an old man’s beard like mine. His untrimmed, wide beard is worn only by imitators of the Prophet Mohammed. Few Muslims even wear such a beard. Muslims of all stripes know and recognize this. It take a few weeks to grow such a beard. If your son or your neighbor shows up with one, it should give you pause, if you are a Muslim. You should make a mental note that that young man bears watching. Why would anyone want to imitate the seventh century prophet in the 21st century. Who is wearing robes like Jesus? I am guessing (Guessing) that members of the particular terrorist’s community may have whispered some but just let the matter drop.

Some nation-wide reforms are obviously necessary toward domestic Islamist terrorism. Here are three.

Donald Trump is mostly a rich buffoon but once in a while, he forcefully states the obvious. As he proclaimed, it’s wrong that the people charged with our defense are not themselves allowed to be armed for their own defense. This silly policy should be reversed and all qualified military personnel (and I don’t see why a single one would be unqualified) should be allowed and encouraged to carry a personal weapon. If rural sheriffs’ deputies with three weeks training can carry a weapon, I expect members of our military to be qualified to do the same, strictly for self-defense and as a deterrent, of course. This change from current policy could be tried for a given period and its effects studied. If it were found out that members of the military fall into the habit of gunning one another, or civilians down then, the policy of a defenseless military could always be re-instated. Our society is taking worse risks every day. That was my first point.

Second, romantic libertarians (including many of my friends) have to come to terms with the need for widespread domestic electronic surveillance aimed at preventing domestic terrorism. As is usually the case, the assassin of the Marines in Chattanooga had given signals. He had spent months in Jordan and then made ominous noises on the social media. Of course, most of those who talk big on Twitter never take the next step to real mass killing. The minority who do should be discovered by monitoring the lot in a cheap, economical way because there are so many. To oppose this kind of step is like declaring that the protection of our civil liberties is worth a few massacres each year – which could easily turn into many massacres. Yes, there is a slippery slope there. And yes, such surveillance creates a precedent that might lead to the intimidation of legitimate dissent. Two responses. First, a climate of widespread insecurity also undermines our personal liberties. Witness the creation – with hardly a murmur against – of that very intrusive and yet grossly ineffective Homeland Security apparatus in the aftermath of 9/11. Second, attacks on civil liberties take many forms and are not dependent on the particular bugaboo of electronic surveillance. Witness the still unpunished persecution of conservative political organizations by the Internal Revenue Service.

Civil libertarians, including libertarians would do better and they would be more effective in the long run if they insisted on two things: real effective, strict judicial oversight of surveillance; more restrictive aiming than has prevailed in that area. This would require frank profiling. (More on profiling below.)

The third measure needed is to slow down the growth of Muslim immigration into this country. Islamist terrorists come exclusively or almost exclusively from Muslim communities. The larger the Muslim communities, roughly, the greater the number of potential Islamist terrorists on American soil. This is true both directly and demographically. Some Muslim immigrants become terrorists, others raise American children who become terrorists. Muslim communities everywhere turn a blind eye to the the transformation among some of their members in a radical direction that is the prelude to embracing terrorism. Now, we want to do this in a way that avoids stigmatizing a billion people worldwide, many of whom have a view of Islam that makes no room for social aggression, many of whom are lukewarm faithful, an unknown number of whom are frankly indifferent, no more Muslim that I am. I repeat, in passing, that Muslims globally supply most of the victims of Islamist terrorism but this is not my topic here, I am writing about improving Americans’ safety.

Yes, I know, nearly everyone knows by now that not all Muslims are terrorists (exceedingly few are) and not all terrorists are Muslims. Let’s put this behind us for good. My point is that for practical purposes almost all domestic terrorists are Muslims.

We have to develop a selective tool for keeping out of the country the narrower category of Muslims most likely to become terrorists. I am speaking here of profiling before the fact. Although “profiling” has a bad name, rational action requires it. Here is an example. Looking for car thieves in a particular area, the local police will ignore older church-going black ladies while focusing on white males in their twenties who dress in dirty t-shirts. Profiling! It turn out that one way to interpret Islam insists on its literal relevance in today’s society. The highest Muslim theological authorities including the Grand Mufti of Cairo and religious authorities from Al Azar University periodically remind the faithful that Muslim tradition must be interpreted in the context of our times. This modernizing perspective is equally rejected by ISIS, which practices slavery because it’s explicitly allowed in the Koran itself, and by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which pointedly keeps the stoning of adulterous women on its books for the same reason. (In addition, many Muslims are like their Christian counterparts: They don’t know much about their own religion and what they know is disorganized and often incoherent, what I call “religious bric-à-brac” in an article in Liberty Unbound with a title that includes this word. “Religious bric-a-brac and the Tolerance of Violent Jihad,”).

It turns out that Islamists are also all literalists, strict constructionists, when they are not simply hoodlums. If you prevent literalist Muslims from entering the country , you have gone a long way toward reducing the number of potential terrorists in the US. One article of faith among literalist Muslims is that government must come from God. That’s why the Supreme Leader of the Shiite Islamic Republic is explicitly a cleric, couldn’t be an elected civilian or a general. This belief also explains the search for a Caliphate among Sunni jihadists, a polity where administrative and religious powers are one and the same. But, of course, separation between Church and State, between religion and government is central to our constitutional arrangements. And, there is no compelling reason to accept immigrants, or even visitors, who think of a central tenet of our constitution as anathema. We have every moral right to sift them out. This can be done at low cost and with a fair degree of effectiveness.

Few countries accept everyone without condition; the US does not, never has. It would be a simple matter to make all immigrants, all refugees seeking asylum and, I think all visitors sign a document asserting that they support all features of the US Constitution, including specifically everything that has to do with the relationship between religion and government. These comprise the non-establishment of religion (including Christianity they may be reminded) and an absolute right to blasphemy. As I said, all entrants would be asked to sign a statement to this effect, and they would be told that the list of signatories could be published at any time, anywhere and in any language. Latin Americans would sign because their constitutions are copied largely from ours; Europeans would sign because thy are almost all religiously indifferent or lukewarm; the largest immigrant group, the Chinese wouldn’t care. The only group from which you would expect a significant reluctance to sign would be Muslims, not all Muslims, but Muslims with literalist, fundamentalist tendencies that is, precisely the category most worth excluding. Some would simply cheat, of course, and pretend to agree to what is to them anathema but the possibility of seeing their name publicized would act as a partial deterrent. In addition, such perjury would provide easy ground to prosecute those signing under false pretenses.

Some would protest that such exclusion would be “unfair.” I think that the issue of unfairness dos not arise. This immigrant believes that no one has a right to enter the US.

Arm our defenders; ferret out the wild beasts before they can bite; don’t allow the alligator swamp to become larger. It’s all obvious; it’s all doable. It’s much more than we are doing now.

34 thoughts on “America’s Muslim Problem: What To Do.

  1. The soil of Islamist terrorism is the passivity of otherwise blameless Muslim communities who cannot help but see fanatics grow before their eyes and decide to keep mum and to do nothing.


    The “soil of Islamist terrorism” is the support that Western governments give to oppressive regimes in the Muslim world and, of course, the bombing and illegal invasions that Western governments undertake. The fact that you refuse to even consider blowback only highlights how impotent your way of thinking has become.

  2. @Jacques

    “My point is that for practical purposes almost all domestic terrorists are Muslims.”

    If by ‘practical purposes’ you mean the purpose of making shit up, that sentence is true. It’s certainly not true in the sense of being based on facts.

    “So here are some statistics for those interested. Let’s start with Europe. Want to guess what percent of the terrorist attacks there were committed by Muslims over the past five years? Wrong. That is, unless you said less than 2 percent.

    As Europol, the European Union’s law-enforcement agency, noted in its report released last year, the vast majority of terror attacks in Europe were perpetrated by separatist groups. For example, in 2013, there were 152 terror attacks in Europe. Only two of them were “religiously motivated,” while 84 were predicated upon ethno-nationalist or separatist beliefs.”

    “Back in the United States, the percentage of terror attacks committed by Muslims is almost as miniscule as in Europe. An FBI study looking at terrorism committed on U.S. soil between 1980 and 2005 found that 94 percent of the terror attacks were committed by non-Muslims. In actuality, 42 percent of terror attacks were carried out by Latino-related groups, followed by 24 percent perpetrated by extreme left-wing actors.”


    I’ve learned a great deal about different flavors of libertarians by hanging out here. However I’ve got a long way to go. What are ‘romantic libertarians’? Any chance you could convince Barry Stocker to do a piece on the foundations of romantic libertarianism?

  3. Jacques,

    I’m not one of those people to reject all you say here out of hand. But I think you’ve succumbed to a common fallacy that crops up not only with respect to Islamist terrorists but with respect to the mentally ill. The fallacy is the misuse of hindsight. An atrocity takes place; the perpetrator is, say, a Muslim terrorist or someone insane; then the assumption is made that we–or someone–could have or should have seen the whole thing coming. As a counseling psychologist-in-training and a Muslim-out-of-the-fold, my answer to that is: not really. There’s a big and unbridgeable distance between explaining something in retrospect and predicting it in prospect.

    Take the case of James Holmes, the Aurora, Colorado shooter of 2012 (who shot theater-goers during a showing of “Dark Knight Rises”). Immediately after that shooting, the hand-wringing began about how “we” –someone–should have seen this coming. Why didn’t his psychiatrist predict the shooting after Holmes brought it up? What about the friend to whom he mentioned it? Behold the tell-tale signs of a shooting-to-be. The problem is, these signs don’t amount to anything. Crazy people say all kinds of crazy things that don’t necessarily lead to anything. Should we scrutinize what they say? I guess so. But for how long? In what ways? To what degree? There are no ready-made or obvious answers to these questions, and for that reason, crazy people with access to guns will always shoot people. What is never discussed by all these Monday night therapist-quarterbacks is that the rules imposed on therapists for reporting “threats” are already stupidly stringent. Mention the word suicide, and you’re suicidal. Mention rage, and everyone goes on alert for an imminent shooting rampage. Mention a desire to stalk someone, and you are a stalker. No one cares about over-reactions or their adverse effects on normal life. What matters is simply the possibility that some stringent rule or scrutiny will save someone somewhere.

    So now take the Muslim with the beard. Here’s what you say:

    “Few Muslims even wear such a beard. Muslims of all stripes know and recognize this. It take a few weeks to grow such a beard. If your son or your neighbor shows up with one, it should give you pause, if you are a Muslim. You should make a mental note that that young man bears watching. Why would anyone want to imitate the seventh century prophet in the 21st century.”

    Every sentence here is correct, but no sentence and no combination of them leads to any prescription in particular. Let’s say you’re the head of a Muslim American household, and your son shows up with a dumb beard. You ask, “Son, what’s with the beard?” He says, “I’m imitating the Prophet.” You say, “So what’s next, you gonna imitate the Prophet by getting a camel, too? Did the Prophet play video games, by the way? Or receive an allowance from his Dad?” Whereupon your son glowers at you like any teenage idiot would. Now what? I guess if he lives with you, you check his drawers for guns (both sets of drawers). But if not, there’s no such thing as a Parental Search Warrant. So what advice are you offering here? Call the FBI and say, “My son’s growing a really ferocious beard; could you look into it”? Of course, if you have better evidence than beard-craft of your son’s terrorist intent, that’s a separate issue. But who would? You seem to be suggesting that the average Muslim American parent would, if faced with bona fide evidence of terrorist intent, “let the matter drop.” I don’t find that plausible. In general, I don’t find your “venomous seed” metaphor plausible. There’s no real analogue to water, soil, sunlight etc. in the terrorist case. You don’t need a social support network to be a one-off shooter. You just need access to a gun and perhaps the Internet. If you’re deranged enough, that will suffice. No one can predict it, and no one need support it. You pick the day, pick the target, and off you go.

    On immigration, I can’t resist making one comment. Americans love to bring up the Holocaust, and say “Never again.” Consider what this actually means. When the Holocaust was taking place, the US closed its doors to Jewish refugees on grounds quite similar to the ones you’ve invoked here. Not all Central European Jews were communists or socialists, but enough were to imply that if you let a couple million in to the US, you’d get too many communists and socialists. So we decided that the best place for all those Jews was Mandate Palestine.

    So now, millions of Syrian refugees are fleeing ISIS. Obviously, many would like to come to the US. According to your reasoning, and that of many Republican politicians, we need to keep them out. Why? Well, because while not all Muslims are terrorists, enough are to imply that if you let a couple of thousand into the US you’ll get some terrorists. I don’t even dispute that we would. So we’ve decided that the best place for all those Syrian refugees is Jordan.

    If this is the way we want to tally up risks and benefits, fine. But if so, let’s agree to drop the slogan “Never again” in favor of the slogan “Over and over.” Because that’s what our refugee/immigration policy really amounts to. For years, I’ve heard defenders of Israel mount their high horse to complain about what they characterize as Palestinians’ irrationally xenophobic exclusion of Jewish DPs and Holocaust refugees from Mandate Palestine. These same defenders then flourish the slogan “Never again!” Never again, huh? More like “Never again, except for this one time.” Our basic interest is who to bomb in Syria. As for picking up the pieces after the bombing, that’s not our problem. The refugees will find some obscure place to go to, as long as it’s not here. That’s one part of our “Muslim problem” you don’t mention. But it can’t go ignored.

    • Well, Terry. I am educable but I would like a convenient link to the source from which you seem to do your cherry -picking. I will comment then.

    • Holy Shit! Who are you and what have you done with Jacques?! I know you’re an imposter because the real Jacques makes snarky remarks about ‘assigning homework’ when I have links.

  4. Irfan: I need a little more time to digest your interesting comment. Two preliminary points:

    1 I really don’t see the parallel in the after-the-fact guessing between the psychologically disturbed and Islamist fanatics. The first are unpredictable almost be definition; the second often follow a fairly predictable and visible path. And I understand that one does not exclude the other: The Chattanooga shooter with the DUI was probably more mad than Islamist. (I touch on this in my article in Liberty: “Bric-a-brac….”)

    2 I did not (NOT) recommend that the US should close its doors to Muslim immigrants, or to immigrants from Muslim countries, or to immigrants with Muslim-sounding names. I don’t know what Republicans leaders have said on the subject. I have not even noticed anything. In general, I am not aligned with any of them on immigration issues.

    At some point, Irfan, I am going to ask you if, beyond the sophisticated analysis, do you think the US has a Muslim problem. And then, I am going to ask you to guess (GUESS) the following: If the US, had no military presence in any Muslim country, if it did not help any Muslim government militarily, would then any Islamist terrorist threat against the US vanish?

  5. Terry: It’s not homework when I ask for it. The reason I would appreciate a link to the data set you used is that it’s important to avoid a competition on that ground: Who has the better data set. I suspect you are cherry-picking in a way that is sophisticated enough to confuse regular readers. I am wrong, everyone will know and I will be forced to eat crow. And isn’t this a pleasant prospect?

    Of course, the fact that the period of observation you mention ends in 2005, shortly after 9/11, is of interest.

    “Romantic libertarians” are libertarians who would stand firm for principle about surveillance while the institutions most important to the implementation of their ideas crumble around them for lack of obvious protective measures. Now you know. Your willingness to learn honors you.

    • @Jacques

      The various data sets have different observation windows. The global terrorism database goes up to 2014. Another one I didn’t mention comes from the US state department also goes up to 2014 but only starts in 2004……

      The FBI data only goes up to 2008.

      The Europol data goes up to 2014 but only goes back to 2007.

      There are nuances about the various data sets that can make choosing ‘the best’ a bit tricky. For example I believe that the state department reports don’t include attacks on members of the armed forces. Thus the recent shootings in Chattanooga wouldn’t qualify. In my opinion the global database is the best, your mileage may vary.

      “I suspect you are cherry-picking in a way that is sophisticated enough to confuse regular readers.”

      Thank you, I appreciate your recognition of my skills.

  6. Irfan (Second answer): Your statements about the fallacy of insight are persuasive in general . I don’t think they apply strongly to Islamist terrorists in spite of your talented story about the rational Muslim Dad and his stupid teenage son. (Been there, done it.) As I stated earlier, the trajectory of an Islamist terrorist is probably more distinctive than that of your average crazy. I think there is a pattern. As you know I read French and I am in touch with the French media. The stories told about Islamist terrorists’ past in France and in the US are strikingly similar. It’s as if the same flu virus were at work in both countries. In addition, we have information about the French citizens the French police arrest frequently before they go to what they think is jihad, or after they return. They all seem to be social losers, poorly educated who are of Muslim family background but were born again (so to speak) into a particular understanding of Islam recently. I mean that they converted in young adulthood or in their late teenage years.

    Besides external signals such as the broad beard and wearing the hijab, they should be fairly easy to detect because they express freely an understanding of Islam that diverges from that of their community of origin. They do it on-line, of course, but also orally to those close to them. Here again, France is easier to read. French Muslims have a representative organization that is the government’s normal interlocutor. One of the highest leaders in that organization last year, said about this: “Give us a break, our young people don’t spend their time in mosques; they are at school much more of the time. Why doesn’t the educational establishment take over the main part of the task of detecting the would-be jihadists?” Such a statement implies, to my mind, that a senior religious authority agrees with me that detection is possible before the fact.

    There is more to say, of course.

    I wish you would free me for the false accusation of opposing immigration from Muslim countries to the US. In fact, not only do I believe in asylum, I believe there is a moral duty to intervene militarily (as the US did quite successfully in Bosnia and, again, in Kosovo).

    And, by the way, I was born in 1942, in another country (with its own moral burden), I am a registered Republican; I can’t really be blamed for the silly anti-Semitism of the Roosevelt Democratic administration in that same year! I think a historical crime was committed against the Palestinians. I also think reparations can be made in a variety of ways, excluding the method described in the Hamas Charter (for which you are not personally responsible, of course).

    Always a pleasure.

    • Jacques,

      The first point is predictability versus explanation-in-retrospect, and I think you’re proving my point. I agree with your general account of the traits and biographical trajectory of terrorists. They’re often just as you say they are. The problem is, there are lots of non-violent losers with identical traits and trajectories, and no way to sort out the violent from the non-violent before the fact. The explanatory patterns typically emerge after the fact, which is when people tend to jump from explanation-after-the-fact to predictability-ex-ante. I guess I’m just flatly denying that the trajectory of the non-Islamist crazy is–in Western countries–all that different (ex ante) from the Muslim ones. The only “distinguishing” feature is that the latter are Muslim, and alienated from traditional Islam, and born again into something radical. But an enormous number of people have those traits, and simply waste their lives on being born-again Muslims of that sort without ever doing anything violent. My point is, when people–typically young men–start to move in that direction, it usually causes some concern. But “concern” is not the same as alarm at an imminent or even pending attack, and contrary to your suggestion, there is almost no way to predict those unless you’ve been taken into confidence by the would-be perpetrator. And of course, given what he wants to perpetrate, he’d have to be very incompetent to take a would-be snitch into his confidences.

      Proviso: what I’m saying above refers to Muslims in Europe and North America. Things are different elsewhere. In the West Bank, if X’s brother, father, uncle, or cousin has been killed by the IDF, X is likely to commit a terrorist act, and if X becomes very religious, you can infer that he’s a member of Hamas. Similar moves are open to someone living in Pakistan. But those are different contexts than France of the US.

      I’m not dogmatic enough to insist that the French cleric you quoted must absolutely be wrong. Maybe he has some way of detecting jihadists. But I really doubt it. The problem with French clerics of that sort is precisely their proximity to the government. They tend to speak with a view to pleasing this or that constituency, and what your cleric says is what the French government and people want to hear.

      On immigration, granted that you didn’t literally come out and oppose all immigration by Muslims. But that isn’t quite what I accused you of, either. My point is: here we have a humanitarian crisis involving refugees who want asylum in this country. I’m the first to admit that if we admit a large number, some of this number will be terrorists and will perpetrate attacks on us that wouldn’t otherwise have happened (if we hadn’t let them in). My point is: now that we have this crisis, Americans have suddenly decided that a mass influx of refugees has to be constrained by border controls that would ensure that the mass influx remains a trickle. Imagine facing a potential influx of Syrian refugees and applying your stricture that none of them be Muslim literalists. By the time you operationalized that policy, and hired the border control staff to operate it, the year would be 2023, and the refugee crisis would be over. Or to take your other policy: can you really imagine teaching Syrian (or any other) refugees First Amendment law at their point of entry into the US? It can’t be done. It’s just not the way refugee operations work or can work. Imposing strictures like that on refugees is just a way of ensuring that the US never becomes a sanctuary during refugee crises.

      I wouldn’t mind that attitude if only it were accompanied by a little bit of candor about history and politics. The US is committed never to become a large-scale sanctuary for, say, Syrian refugees. But now listen to the way politically conscious Americans talk about refugee crises elsewhere. The Arabs of Mandate Palestine were reluctant to open the borders of Palestine to European Jews? Well, that makes them anti-Semites. Common assertion: “The Palestinians remain in UNRWA camps to this day because the surrounding Arab countries, in their greed, refuse to take them in.” This comes from Americans who would never dream of taking them in. Israel, of course, has a very generous refugee policy (for Jews); that gets praise without any recognition that the refugees then function as demographic chips in the settlement game. West Bank settlements are full of Russian “Jews” who know less about the celebration of shabbos than I do.

      Do I think the US has a Muslim problem? What makes the question difficult to answer is not any reluctance on my part to tackle the issue head-on, but an ambiguity in the phrase “a Muslim problem.” In one sense, it means “any significant problem stemming from Muslims.” In another sense, it means “a high priority issue facing the country as a whole and stemming from Muslims.” My view is that it has the first, not the second. There are several million Muslims in the country, and on the whole they don’t constitute a political problem. There are pockets of fanatics among them that do constitute a political (security) problem. France may well be different, but I think things are essentially in good shape in the US, despite this or that conspicuous Muslim atrocity.

      To come at your question slightly differently: there is a sense in which Islam has a problem, the problem of reconciling itself to modernity. Given that, wherever you have Muslims who haven’t reconciled themselves to modernity, you’re going to get a problem (or problems). So yes, even if we had an isolationist foreign policy, that problem would remain. But that problem is least pronounced in the US, where Muslims basically run the same gamut as Reform to Conservative to Orthodox Jews. Literalist Muslims are no more (or less) a national problem than Orthodox Jews. I don’t mean to deny that they’re both a problem. But I wouldn’t say we have an Orthodox Jew Problem any more than I’d say we have a Muslim or Literalist Muslim Problem. Some places might, but we don’t.

    • Sorry, I said something confusing: “I don’t mean to deny that they’re both a problem.” I meant to say, “I don’t mean to deny that they’re both problematic,” i.e., give rise to problems. What I’m denying is that the problems are the equivalent of a high-level security threat.

  7. I ask again: Where are the original links posted by Terry to sources that demonstrate to me how wrong my ideas are about the prevalence of Islamist terrorism?

    If someone withdrew them, he should identify himself and say why.

    If there are somewhere I can’t reach because I don’t know how, it would be a good action to help me find them.

    • Irwan: Thank you for your latest comments. If my essay had done nothing but to induce you to write what you wrote, that would have been enough to make it worthwhile.

      First things first. I do mean this:

      “..a high priority issue facing the country as a whole and stemming from Muslims.”

      I would not (NOT) think this if I thought Islamist terrorists acting in this country had no connection with the thriving, ballooning, creeping Islamist terrorism abroad. It gives would-be terrorists in America an inexhaustible reservoir of inspiration; it insures an infinite supply of crazies who would do us harm.

      Again, you seem intent in engaging me on Palestinian/Israel issues. I resist because my hands are already full and it’s not my topic right now. I doubt that many readers of Notes know anything I think on this general family of issues in general. I doubt you do. I suspect you of using me as an opportunity to express many things that are in your heart. Why not instead just write an essay for Notes on this matter? You are a rational person, you write well; many would like to read what you have to say and I, first of all. A fresh perspective on that part of the world would be immensely welcome

      Or do you, perhaps suppose I am Jewish? And how could I be with that last name? For the record: I am not Jewish, never have been, never will be. My wife is a free-thinking Hindu ( a Hindu “out of the fold” to use your elegant expression). There are no Jews in my family although there are several Muslims, all of whom I love. I was also influenced for several years by a Palestinian Christian from Ramallah

      The first part of your last comment on logical fallacy is the most interesting to me. Curiously, I don’t disagree with anything you say on this matter. Obviously, I need to think through whether or not I am committing the error you point to. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to think about it right now because I am busy dealing with meaningful grotesqueries that also appeared in the Comment section of this essay. Pedagogically, the absurd should take pride of place.

    • Jacques,

      Thanks for the response.

      On whether the threat from Muslims is a high priority national security issue: I am not disputing that would-be Muslim terrorists in this country get their inspiration from the sources you mention. But one doesn’t get a high priority national security issue out of an “inexhaustible reservoir of inspiration” delivered to a miniscule number of people. I think your inference to “an infinite supply of crazies” is a non-sequitur. After all, the inspiration has been there for a long time, and yet the number of terrorist attacks since 9/11 on US soil has been relatively small. I suspect what you mean is not an “infinite” but an indefinite supply of crazies, i.e., one crazy after another for a long time into the future without our being able to cap how long into the future the problem persists. But at a rate of say 1 or even 2 or 3 successful attacks per year, that’s still not a high level national security issue.

      I wasn’t bringing up the Palestine/Israel conflict for its own sake. I was bringing it up to make a point about American attitudes toward immigration and refugees–that they make no sense.

      And no, I didn’t think you were Jewish; I seem to remember reading an amusing essay of yours that described your erstwhile Catholicism in some detail. But your being or not being Jewish wouldn’t have been the issue in any case.

      On my first point (predictability versus explainability), here’s an interesting passage from a piece in today’s New York Times about the terrorist attack last week in Duma (in the West Bank): “Traditionally, the Shin Bet has typically acted with constraint in dealing with Jewish citizens. In a rare briefing last year, an Israeli security official said that preventing price tag-type attacks entirely was not possible in a democracy because “it really means getting into people’s thoughts.” ”

      Shin Bet’s reasoning is similar to mine: prediction of Jewish terrorism is difficult or impossible because there are no clear predictive indicators of an attack. I think their point is more obviously true of Muslim terrorists in the US than Jewish terrorists in the West Bank, but to some degree it may be true of both.

  8. Irwan: One more important thing that slipped my mind in my last response to your comments: You seem to think that I propose to administer an acceptance of the Constitution test to emigrant from Muslim countries only. Of course, my proposal is to pose the separation of church and state question to all immigrants without distinction. It would be very feasible. When I came to this country, the first, second and third time, I had to fill in a questionnaire that could easily have included a couple of such indiscreet questions. I am making the bet that it would ferret out Muslim literalists and pretty much no one else. Some would lie, of course, but that would become ground for prosecution down the line. In addition, it would saddle them with the burden of blasphemy. This is central to my views: We don’t need such people in this society. Let Saudi Arabia take them.

    • I don’t think a Constitution test is feasible or appropriate for any large-scale set of refugees or asylum-seekers (Muslim or otherwise). These are people fleeing their home countries en masse out of desperation. Many of them don’t even speak English. So it’s both unrealistic and inappropriate to expect them to understand the US Constitution and make acceptance of it a condition of entry into the US.

      Of course, in one sense, they already are required to take your test. A condition of entry into the US is agreeing to obey its laws, and of course, the Constitution is law. But in practice, I think that “test” is simply meant to ensure compliance with the criminal code.

      I have less objection, at least in principle, to a Constitution test as a condition of citizenship. But not for immigration prior to the grant of citizenship.

  9. “I said “probability.” It’s the concept we use, consciously or not, to approximate rational decisions in our daily lives: Select this birth clinic, rely on this baby food, travel by car, get vaccinated or not, go for this class rather than another. etc.”

    I agree with Jacques. I’ll go further, I agree wholeheartedly with Jacques. I don’t subscribe to silly notions of human rationality like some of my colleagues but doing the best we can to make rational decisions is desirable both individually and in matters of public policy. As a consequence it’s useful to consider probabilities in our consideration of Jacques proposals.

    Firstly, how does terrorism stack up against other risks in a probabilistic sense?
    “Indeed – as we’ve previously documented – you’re more likely to die from brain-eating parasites, alcoholism, obesity, medical errors, risky sexual behavior or just about anything other than terrorism.”

    Even if we set aside the consequences of our choices [lifestyle or otherwise] terrorism is dwarfed by other things that kill us. Is it rational to spend more on the military than every other form of discretionary spending combined?

    Secondly, given that terrorism is a risk how do different forms stack up compared to one another.
    According to Jacques…
    “We have terrorists of all inspirations in America, I know. The white murderer of black church people in Charleston was a terrorist, pure and simple. He was home bred and home grown. However, we have many, many more terrorists of foreign extraction, almost all with ties to Islam.”

    This is, to put it politely, a counterfactual statement. The various public datasets have different observation windows and methodologies. Right now I’m going to use the 1980-2005 FBI data simply because there is a handy pie chart that I can copy from. In decreasing order…
    Latino-42%, Extreme left-wing groups-24%, Others-16%, Jewish extremists-7%, Islamic extremists-6%, Communists-5%

    The USA certainly has problems. Does it have a ‘muslim problem’? I’d say the numbers speak for themselves.

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