Emotions are running high as the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee conducts its hearing on the “radicalization of American Muslims.”
Supporters of the hearings accuse Muslim Americans of “ignoring the allure of groups such as al-Qaida to young Muslims and not cooperating enough with law enforcement to root out terrorism.”
Critics condemn the hearings for “unfairly characterizing the nation’s Muslim community as prone to terrorist indoctrination,” when, they argue, the Muslim community has proven itself to be an ally in combating terrorism.
What the presence of both sides reveals is a nation struggling with how best to combat terrorism nearly a decade since 9-11.
What is clear from the first days of the hearings is the lack of consensus on just how extensive and effective the “terrorist network” is in the United States.
Charles Kurzman provides some answers in “The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists” scheduled to be published in July by Oxford University Press.
Kurzman argues that the threat of Muslim terrorism in the United States – even in most parts of the world – is far less than what is commonly represented in the press and understood by casual observers.
Terrorist groups are thoroughly marginal in the Muslim world and especially in the United States.
Kurzman agrees that young Muslims are angry with what they see as imperialism and Western support for dictatorships in parts of the world with large Muslim populations.
But, he adds, revolutionary Islamists have failed to reach them – something even the terrorists’ own websites and publications acknowledge in their bemoaning the dearth of willing recruits.
Kurzman agrees that it takes only a small cadre of committed terrorists to wreak havoc, but by his accounting, both the number of terrorists and terrorist acts has been contained over the past few years -- less so because of effective policing than because Muslims themselves have rejected the goals and violent ways of the terrorists.
Kurzman offers a bad and good news conclusion to his book. The bad news for Americans is that “Islamist terrorists really are out to get you…. They consider the United States to be their mortal enemy, and they would like to kill as many Americans as possible, in as dramatic a way as possible.”
The good news for Americans is that “there aren’t very many Islamist terrorists, and most of them are incompetent.”
Kurzman makes clear that he has no intention of whitewashing the potential for violence at the hands of Islamist revolutionaries. “There will be more terrorist attacks, and some of them could be successful in killing hundreds of people, perhaps even thousands.”
His goal is to help Americans understand this threat, keep it in perspective, and not overreact so as to alter the way of life we seek to defend and deny the rights and privileges we cherish to those among us we fear without cause. It is a timely message.
Page 2 of 2 - Bryan Le Beau is a historian and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Saint Mary.