Dec 24th 2009

We Are Not Europe

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

In the wake of the Ft. Hood massacre and recent arrests involving some young men seeking association with dangerous international terrorist activity and others who appeared to be on the verge of carrying out terrorist actions in the U.S., questions have been raised by politicians and the media. "Do we have a homegrown terrorist problem?" "Are we becoming like Europe?"

It was in this context that I accepted an invitation, last week, to testify before a Congressional committee. I was pleased that the committee wasn't buying into the media frenzy, but was seeking, instead, a sober discussion, because I believe that this entire matter is critical not only to our national security, it also represents a test of our national character.

I began by noting that we are not Europe because our situation, in the U.S., is fundamentally different. I've spoken with 3rd generation Kurds in Germany, Algerians in France, or Pakistanis in England who continue to remain on the margins of their societies. They're "Turk," "A-yrab" or "Paki" they do not become British, or German or French.

On the other hand, no single ethnic community defines what it means to be American. Within generations diverse communities and people of different religious backgrounds from every corner of the globe have become American. And not only do they become American, but America becomes changed as well. Because of this rich history of integration and assimilation, recent immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries come to this country, in effect, with the table set for them and they find it to be a fertile ground for the ever broadening definition of being American.

Another important difference between our situation and Europe's is that people here do not stay on the margins. Because of the extraordinary social and economic mobility available to immigrants, they move into enterprise. The Yemeni community in California, which I first met about 30 years ago when they were farm workers, are now business owners throughout the country and their children are in colleges-becoming quite successful.

This is not to say that we do not have a problem, rather it is to note that the problem we do have should be seen in context and not blown out of proportion.

Another issue to consider is that because we are in engaged in a number of international conflicts, which have repercussions here at home either because they involve countries which are the lands of origin of individuals living here in the U.S., or because there are those, on both sides of these conflicts, who have sought to exploit them as a "clash of civilizations."

All of this exacerbates tensions, promotes fear on all sides, and makes reasoned discussion more difficult. Despite all this, the vast majority of Arab Americans and American Muslims have rejected this fomenting clash. They have worked within the political process available to them. They have fought discrimination, combated hate crimes and voiced their policy differences as citizens, not as aliens. Nevertheless, some alienated young men from those communities have become susceptible to anti-social radicalization and forms of extremism. But it is critical to note that their behavior is atypical and they remain on the margins of their communities. In fact, in the two most recent cases, it was the parents of the young men and members of their mosques who first reported them and worked closely with law enforcement authorities.

This form of radicalization leading to antisocial behavior has long been a problem in our country. We've seen it before. In recent decades we've witnessed recruitment into white supremacist and "Christian Nation" and militia organizations, the Black Panthers, the Jewish Defense League, the I.R.A, etc. The fact is that the allure of absolutist ideology and romanticized machismo, complete with weapons, training and acts of bravado does provide, for some of these men, a dangerous cure for the alienation and feeling of powerlessness they've experienced.

And we are seeing it again, now with a different group of people.

I've reviewed dozens of these cases involving young Muslim men, and while there are many differences we should take note of so that we do not lump them into one group, the pattern of alienation that leads to violent action as the cure to that alienation seems to run through them all. This is what must be addressed. But, I believe we must address it with a scalpel and not with a sledgehammer, because If we fail to recognize that we are dealing with marginal behavior and instead take a swipe at the whole community we run the risk of increasing alienation, making it more difficult for us to deal with the problem.

At the same time, we have to understand what we're doing right, not only what is wrong. Today leading Muslim American organizations are actively responding to efforts to deal with the problem reaching out to law enforcement and working with their communities to create political alternatives-so that young people can voice their differences with policies in politically productive ways. Law enforcement is also working with these communities, and doing so quite effectively. And finally, we have a President who is opening space for discourse with the Muslim world in an effort to create a more positive atmosphere-this should be built on in order to address the alienation and potential for radicalization.

The answers to this problem are, therefore: to keep it in context, to provide young people with alternatives to alienation, and to continue to develop close ties between affected communities and law enforcement to address problems as they occur. It is most certainly not, as some would suggest, to change who we are or how we react, but to be more of who we are and to continue to do what we do best.

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More Current Affairs

Sep 24th 2021
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Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
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Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
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Aug 21st 2021
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Aug 17th 2021
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Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
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Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
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Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "