America Is Holding Itself Hostage to Terrorism

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So far this year, Americans have been more likely to be killed for being Muslim -- than by a Muslim. One in one million Muslim Americans died because of hatred for their faith, compared with one in 17 million other Americans who died at the hands of Muslim militants.

Fortunately, both types of violence are incredibly rare. In a population of approximately three million Muslim Americans, three students in North Carolina were murdered by a neighbor who reportedly couldn't stand women in head scarves. Among 319 million non-Muslim Americans, 19 were killed in Chattanooga and San Bernardino by supporters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

It does no dishonor to the memory of these victims to point out that they are massively outnumbered by the 14,000 Americans who are murdered each year, at a rate of approximately one in 24,000. Of all the threats to public safety in America, ideological violence has accounted for a minute fraction.

So far this year, Americans have been more likely to be killed for being Muslim -- than by a Muslim.

For many Americans, however, statistics don't seem to matter. They are so fixated on one form of violence -- Islamic terrorism -- that they do not notice how rare it is.

ISIS has been recruiting Muslim Americans for almost two years now, and it has managed to inspire several dozen to go fight in Syria and Iraq, according to U.S. officials. Approximately 60 Americans have been arrested trying to get to the region, and more than a dozen have been arrested in connection with plots against domestic targets, the Department of Justice reported this fall. As many as eight have been killed during ISIS-inspired attacks in the U.S., by my count. And ISIS is furious about how small these numbers are -- their online magazine, Dabiq, rails against the "deviant" Muslims of the West who worship "the idol of democracy" and "seek to portray Islam as a religion of peace that teaches Muslims to coexist with all."

Instead of cheering ISIS's failure to mobilize more recruits, many Americans demand that the number be brought down to zero. We consider our policies to have failed every time some unhinged individual expresses support for ISIS and picks up a weapon, no matter how infrequently this happens.

Americans are so fixated on one form of violence -- Islamic terrorism -- that they do not notice how rare it is.

Predictably, the American right wing takes advantage of each incident to paint the Obama administration as soft on terrorism, despite the continuation of the Bush administration's surveillance programs and counterterrorism spending levels. Within the administration, too, there are calls for more state surveillance and harsher penalties. Soon after the San Bernardino murders, for example, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said a "whole new approach" was needed to combat the "entirely new phase" of homegrown terrorism.

Government officials have been citing this same threat since the last years of the Bush era, as terrorist plots scaled down from the coordinated attacks of 9/11, with thousands of casualties, to unsophisticated plots that usually involve shooting as many people as possible before being killed by police. We have adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward Islamic violence, putting ourselves on a permanent war footing.

In effect, America is holding itself hostage to ISIS.

If ISIS doesn't stop its social media campaign, we threaten to do serious damage to our principles of civil liberties and religious freedom. Of course, that is what ISIS wants -- they are hoping that the West will overreact so badly that Muslims will abandon their commitment to coexistence and join the revolution.

Imagine if America adopted a similar stance toward other, more common forms of violence.

Imagine if America adopted a similar stance toward other, more common forms of violence. Each time a man kills his wife or girlfriend or ex -- which happens hundreds of times a year -- a national commission would explore the dangers of male rage. Each time a Christian extremist attacks an abortion clinic or an African-American church, as in Colorado and South Carolina this year, a White House summit would encourage moderate Christian leaders to do more to prevent radicalization. Each time a Muslim is murdered by a bigot, as in Chapel Hill, Congress would hold hearings on the troubling rise in Islamophobia.

If these scenarios sound absurd, that is because we do not have a zero-tolerance attitude toward non-Islamic violence. We treat these incidents as crimes, not as national crises. Only the most egregious perpetrators get broad attention, and they are deplored as fringe individuals who are not representative of their overwhelmingly nonviolent communities.

We might well treat some of these trends more seriously and engage with communities to reduce the frequency of violence. At the same time, we need to stop holding ourselves hostage to rare incidents of Islamic violence. We can only remain the land of the free if we start behaving like the home of the brave.

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