Giving a Demagogue a Scapegoat to Stand On

Last Thursday morning the US House Committee on Homeland Security opened hearings scrutinizing America’s Muslim community. The hearings, led by Representative Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, mark a bold step in official institutionalization of bigotry.

King says that moderate leadership must emerge from the Muslim community. Yet no leaders of American Muslim organizations were invited to the hearings to speak for themselves. If actual Muslim civil society leaders were included, it might be harder to frame them all as secret terrorists. Yet prejudice does have a powerful ability to negate reason: The belief that certain people are secret murderers is often difficult to discard even with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

But moderation in the defense of liberty and pursuit of justice is no virtue. The use of a word like “moderate” to contrast with “radical” is another language trick employed by those invested in the status quo. A radical is by definition someone who wants to make major change. If the advocates of religiously-motivated murder were instead labeled “intolerant,” “theocrat,” or “fundamentalist” in contrast to “tolerant” or “peaceable” Muslims, that would suggest a different type of conflict.

But this government show is not really about the safety of the entire public. It’s about finding an “other” to point to for derision.

King says that backing down would mean giving in to that nebulous boogeyman called “political correctness.” In 2004, King said that 85% of American mosques are controlled by “extremists” who constitute “an enemy living amongst us.” Yet he has continued to hold political office, suggesting that he is doing something correct. What would be politically incorrect in the sense of “something we’re not supposed to talk about” would be to examine the contribution that bigotry made to the two major wars the US is currently stuck in, wars that were apparently the “correct” political thing to do.

People who seriously look for the motivations of terrorists are accused by the post-9/11 politically correct of making excuses for terrorism. Does the alienation and vulnerability to recruiters that terrorists suffer from reveal a problem with Islam or a problem with broader society? Does rage against the United States reveal issues with Islam or issues with foreign policy and prejudice? An honest look at these questions will do more to protect life and liberty than any accusations against the scapegoat of the hour.

Of course, “terrorism” is itself a loaded term that tends to emphasize the tyranny of non-state actors and ignore the terror and tyranny inflicted by states.

In light of the citizen’s subordinate position to the state which seeks to expand its power, cooperation with authorities should never be unconditional. If sharing information will likely save an innocent life, then it is prudent to share information.

But if government agents are snooping around to flex their muscles and scope out their opposition, safeguarding a hold on power while pretending to safeguard the lives that power threatens, there is no reason to cooperate or pretend that they’re acting in the interests of public safety. Their statements should also never be taken at face value. This is especially relevant when one considers the frequent law enforcement misdeeds highlighted by websites like Gangsters in Blue and CopBlock.

A free society, unladen with paranoia about harmless differences, allows individuals to safeguard themselves and their communities in ways that authoritarian interference can only disrupt. A country that does not attack and occupy lands to project power and control resources will motivate fewer potential terrorists. The solution is liberty, which will not be granted by congressional committees.

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