Jan 11th 2010

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 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.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "