August 19, 2011


Where Are All the Islamic Terrorists? (Charles Kurzman, 7/31/11, The Chronicle Review)

In the fields of Middle East and Islamic studies, bad news is good for business. The more that non-Muslims fear Islam, the more security threats are hyped, the more attention my colleagues and I get. Journalists want insights from "Islam experts" and "Middle East specialists," regardless of how remote our area of research is from the day's news. Universities are hiring--there were more than 40 tenure-track jobs last year in Middle East and Islamic studies. Federal research grants are plentiful, especially from the military and the Department of Homeland Security.

It all points to an inescapable conclusion: Martin Kramer was right. A decade ago, just after 9/11, he accused scholars of profiting from the Islamist violence that their political correctness prevented them from taking seriously: "How many resources within the university could they command if their phones stopped ringing and their deans did not see and hear them quoted in the national newspapers and on public radio? And how would enrollments hold up if Muslim movements failed to hit the headlines?"

Scholars are not the only ones to benefit from these headlines. Kramer, a former professor who now holds positions at two think tanks, the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, benefits, too. Just like university deans, think-tank administrators and donors allocate resources based in part on presence in the news media. Kramer exemplifies this arrangement. Every time he sounds an alarm about Islamic radicalism, he helps raise public vigilance, and increase financial support for his institutions.

By contrast, I am in the awkward position of undermining the importance of my own field. My research finds that Islamic terrorism has not posed as large a threat as reporters and the public think--certainly not as large a threat as Al Qaeda and its affiliates intended. They routinely complain about the failure of Muslims to join their movement.

Of the 56 million people who die each year around the world, around two million die from HIV/AIDS. Nearly one million die from malaria. Almost three quarters of a million die from violence. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, terrorism peaked in 2007 with 23,000 fatalities, half of them in Iraq--a terrible toll, but not a leading cause of death.

In the United States, 15,000 people are murdered each year. Islamic terrorism, including the Beltway sniper attacks, has accounted for almost three dozen deaths in America since 9/11--a small fraction of the violence that the country experiences every year.

Islamophobia is a lucrative gig for the scaremongers.

Posted by at August 19, 2011 6:25 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus