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Islamophobia: Fear in Perspective

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We've heard it everywhere, on every station, every major news outlet, and every talk radio show: Islamophobia is alive and well in the United States. The recent Boston Marathon Bombings have relit the flames, and once again its okay to demonize all Muslims over the actions of a few. FOX News Host Bob Beckel, a Democrat, recently stated the U.S. should stop giving student visas to people from Islamic countries, and Marco Rubio, whom many see as a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016, openly mused on the suggestion. When the Associated Press confirmed the suspects were Islamic, Republicans began using the tragedy as an excuse to attack immigration reform and push for greater infringements on individual privacy, like CISPA. In the spirit of shared human experience I want to shed light on those facts that put our fears in perspective.

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people, there have been just 64 deaths in the U.S. linked to Islamic extremism. It is not my goal to diminish the lives lost in these tragedies, but I would like to put that number in context.

There have been 3,700 gun-related deaths in the U.S. since the shooting in Newtown. By the time this article gets published that number is likely to be outdated. Excluding 9/11, most of the deaths I cite above as linked to Islamic extremism occurred with firearms.

In 2011 alone there were 30 fatally violent hate crimes against LBGT individuals, 87 percent of whom the were people of color, and 40 percent transgender women. That means that in one year white bigots killed roughly half of the number of people Muslim extremists killed in twelve.

It's easy in predominantly Christian America to demonize Muslims because their traditions, holidays, and sometimes their dress is different from ours. There is no doubt they make easy targets. Even left wing comedian/commentator Bill Maher has repeatedly said that Islam is an exceptionally violent religion, a view shared by many conservative Americans.

But we have plenty of homegrown terrorists right here in the U.S. who are more than happy to discredit this myth, albeit unwittingly. When President Obama was elected in 2008, right wing extremist group activities increased dramatically. In 2012 after his reelection, we saw a similar spike. According to the Secret Service, Obama is the most threatened president in history. Our media has done a great job downplaying the dangers of right wing extremism, but there's no question that the right in general is becoming more extreme. Take for example, this quote,"The government is afraid of the guns people have because they have to have control of the people at all times. Once you take away the guns, you can do anything to the people. You give them an inch and they take a mile. I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government." Nowadays you'd think that was just your standard Republican, pumping up a crowd during the recent gun control debate, but you'd be wrong. That quote is from right wing fanatic and Oklahoma City Bomber, Timothy McVeigh expressing his views during the Waco Siege.

A recent article from The Atlantic, citing a report from the New America Foundation on right wing extremist groups states that such organizations are twice as likely to have military training than their Islamic counterparts. Military trained right wing extremists are also more likely to obtain weapons on their own, and are responsible for twice as many violent acts in the U.S. as radical Islamic extremists.

Of course, there's one more killer that our media ignores in order to weight the deaths of those killed by Muslim radicals: laissez-faire. The recent West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14, including 10 firefighters and 4 civilians, was a direct result of loose and confused regulations. The plant itself was storing 270 tons of ammonium nitrate which is 1,350 times the limit that requires disclosure to the federal government. Nobody knew for sure how much was being stored. On top of that, there wasn't enough communication between the various agencies that were supposed to be regulating the plant.

Now, here's where it gets really infuriating: the reason there were so many agencies set to regulate different aspects of plant safety was due to the General Duty Clarification Act, proposed by GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo and backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, who have a substantial investment in fertilizer. What this bill did was weaken the EPA's regulatory role at major chemical sites granted by the Clean Air Act, by leaving security regulations up to the Department of Homeland Security. As Paul Orum, a chemical safety consultant for the Blue Green Chemical Security Coalition explains "Dividing safety and security has been a game that the chemical industry has tried to play for many years... That's the point of the Pompeo bill -- divide safety from security. But they're not separable."

Other noteworthy incidents include the explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City on March 23, 2005 which killed 15 people as well as injured more than 170. The refinery itself was the third largest in the U.S. Behind the explosion was the fact that because of cost-cutting and an exemption under EPA air regulations, BP was using equipment that was described as "1950s-era" and "unsafe" by Carolyn W. Merritt, Chairman and CEO of the Chemical Safety Board. The Deepwater Horizon spill that took 11 lives five years later mirrors this tragedy.

So, when you get right down to the nitty gritty, there's no denying the dangers of radical Islam, but there are more pressing threats at home. What bothers us about the Boston Marathon Bombings is the fact that "they" did it to "us" which is worse than "us" doing it to "ourselves." We need to respond appropriately and responsibly, but to which threat? I think the decision is clear.