At a town hall meeting in suburban Chicago last Wednesday, 8 August, Congressman Joe Walsh warned that “radical Islam” is “a real threat” which is “much more at home now than it was after 9/11.”
That threat is “in Elk Grove, it’s in Addison, it’s in Elgin,” Rep. Walsh said, referring to Chicago suburbs. He added that radical Muslims are “trying to kill Americans every week,” and that “it’s not a matter of ‘if’ — it’s a matter of ‘when’ ” a major terrorist attack will happen again in the US (“Walsh: Muslims ‘trying to kill Americans’,” Salon.com, 9 August 2012).
Rep. Walsh’s Islamophobic tirade came just days after a gunman murdered six persons at a gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship, in suburban Milwaukee, about a 90-minute drive from Chicago.
The suspect, who died of a self-inflicted bullet wound at the scene, was a former US Army psychological operations specialist with longstanding ties to white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. The Department of Homeland Security is treating the shooting as a case of domestic terrorism; Sikh Americans along with other communities have been targeted in anti-Muslim hate violence in the last decade (see this essay by Valarie Kaur, a Sikh American who has documented “the stories of Sikh Americans profiled, beaten, stabbed, shot but persevering in faith and resilience”).
The Electronic Intifada has also reported on Rep. Walsh’s efforts in Congress to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority and to support Israel’s annexing of “Judea and Samaria” (the Biblical terms Israel uses for the occupied West Bank) in the event of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at the United Nations.
Chicago area Islamic centers attacked days after Congressman’s Muslim bashing
Four days after Rep. Walsh’s warning of radical Islam being the enemy within, a man who lives next to a mosque in Morton Grove, a Chicago suburb, shot the building with a high-velocity air rifle while 500 worshippers were inside for evening prayers during Ramadan.
And two days after that, a soda bottle filled with makeshift explosives made from household chemicals was thrown at an Islamic school in Lombard — a town in Rep. Walsh’s district as of the 2011 redistricting which followed the 2010 census (and just next door to the town where this writer was raised).
Cairo-based journalist Ghazala Irshad attended the Morton Grove mosque as a child and published this sobering reflection today: “My baby sister wonders if she will have to wear a bulletproof vest during Eid prayers. If this isn’t terrorism, then I don’t know what is.”
Chicago media omit mention of Rep. Walsh hate speech
Revealingly, the website of Chicago’s most prestigious daily publication, The Chicago Tribune, posted a combined nine stories about the attacks on suburban Islamic centers but only one of these eight reports makes any mention of Rep. Joe Walsh’s statements that the “real threat” of “radical Islam” is “already here” in the suburbs of Chicago. It is worth noting that the one report that gives the context of the congressman’s comments was written by the Reuters news service, rather than a Chicago Tribune contributor.
The Chicago Tribune’s reportage is representative of other local press coverage on the two incidents. Even a report titled “Islamic groups alarmed by suburban incidents” fails to mention Rep. Walsh’s anti-Muslim statements made just days ago in the Chicago suburbs.
This omission is not because area Muslims are unconcerned toward his remarks; to the contrary, the Council on American-Islamic Relations - Chicago along with other groups held a press conference to state that “Such indiscriminate vilification is not unrelated to the rise in hate crimes and acts of vandalism we are seeing today. When elected officials, trusted by many, indicate that the enemy could be any Muslim living in your neighborhood, it gives rise to xenophobic vigilantism where fearful citizens target other Americans for simply looking different.”
The Congressman’s “fear-mongering comments” were also mentioned in a CAIR-Chicago release on the homemade bomb thrown at the Lombard school, as well as the group’s press statement on the Morton Grove mosque shooting.
Walsh contorts Pew poll findings on Muslim Americans
Chicago media’s omission of Rep. Walsh’s anti-Muslim rant, which made national as well as local headlines, in its reportage on actual attacks on area Muslims, including Rep. Walsh’s constituents, is most irresponsible. Critical questions must be posed whether Rep. Walsh’s speech has encouraged such attacks. He must be held accountable for his speech and its consequences.
In case there was any room for interpretation, Rep. Walsh issued a statement the following day reiterating his fear-mongering words:
“The threat that radical Islam poses to American families and our way of life is not anything new. It is a real threat. The Committee on Homeland Security, of which I am a member, has held five hearings that examined the threat of Muslim radicalization, especially radicalization within the Muslim-American community. Members of the Committee are not alone in this — even Attorney General Holder and Janet Napolitano of the Obama Administration have warned about the dangers of radical Islam.”
“We cannot let political correctness blind us to reality. While most Muslims in America and around the world are as peace loving as the rest of us, we would be foolish to ignore the fact that there is a radical minority that simply wants to destroy America and the values that we stand for. A recent Pew Poll said that 15% of Muslim-American men between the age of 18 and 29 could support suicide bombings. How people can dismiss things like that, I don’t understand, but I won’t. It is our responsibility as Members of Congress to protect American families.”
Walsh’s claims that 15 percent of Muslim-American men between the age of 18 and 29 support suicide bombings contradict a comprehensive, 127 page-long survey on Muslim Americans published by the Pew Research Center last year.
The report, subtitled “No signs of growth in alienation of support for extremism,” states quite clearly that 86 percent of US Muslims believe that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians is only rarely or never “justified to defend Islam from its enemies.” (An overwhelming 81 percent say suicide bombing is never justified.) Only one percent replied that such violence is “often” justified, and seven percent replied that it is “sometimes” justified. (Six percent replied that they don’t know whether it is justified.)
As the Pew report states, “Most Muslim Americans continue to reject violence and extremism. As in 2007, very few see suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians as ever justified in the defense of Islam, and al Qaeda is even less popular than it was then.”
If Rep. Walsh was truly concerned about public safety in the United States, he’d be more concerned with these statistics from the Pew report regarding profiling and harassment of Muslim Americans:
Significant numbers report being looked at with suspicion (28%), and being called offensive names (22%). And while 21% report being singled out by airport security, 13% say they have been singled out by other law enforcement. Overall, a 52% majority says that government anti-terrorism policies single out Muslims in the U.S. for increased surveillance and monitoring.
The report adds:
Negative views about Muslims, discrimination and ignorance about Islam top the list of the problems Muslim Americans say they face. The most frequently mentioned problem is people’s negative views about Muslims (29%), including stereotyping, being viewed as terrorists and distrust. One-in-five (20%) cite discrimination, prejudice and unfair treatment as the biggest problem facing Muslims in this country. Another 15% mention ignorance or misconceptions about Islam.
And rather than casting suspicion on young Muslims in the US and contributing to the widespread ignorance cited in the Pew report, Rep. Walsh should be more concerned about how more than half (56 percent) “of Muslims under the age of 30 say they have been treated with suspicion, called offensive names, singled out by law enforcement of some kind or have been physically threatened in the past year.”
Muslim Americans are not the threat in America. Racism and bigotry are, especially when promoted by public figures like Rep. Joe Walsh.
The mass shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin earlier this month is a reminder of what is inevitable when hate is allowed to flourish without challenge.