Friday, May 25, 2007

The "alarming" or "hair-raising" statistic, reported in these papers, that 1 in 4 Muslim- Americans feel suicide bombings can be justified in defense of Islam, is usually delivered as if this were still, after all, a rather high number. (Actually, the statistic is more like 13%, with 5% saying "rarely," but we can't expect journalists to do basic arithmetic: you can read the actual report here). But is it really, comparatively? Or rather, what about it strikes journalists as abnormal?

Given that the "Islam" to be defended in this instance probably means a territory--i.e, the Occupied Territories--more than a set of cultural practices, it's fair, I think, to ask how many Americans, for instance, would support suicide bombings in defense of the U.S.? One would imagine that this number is equal to the number of Americans who support, for instance, "staying the course" in Iraq, provided that 1) the respondents acknowledge American soldiers will die and 2) that so, too, will Iraqi civilians die. Acknowledging these two conditions, of course, is not a matter for opinion or discussion; it's a fact that anybody who can think one-third of a thought would arrive at. So what's the number of war supporters at now? %30? %40? Should we add those whose moral casuistry supports a "slow" withdrawal, meaning one with bombing from above replacing troops on the ground?

One might be tempted to interpret these statistics, and their reporting by journalists, as meaning that it's the suicide, more than the bombing, that is alarming.

Yes, yes, there are perhaps some readers out there who will no doubt have legal-ethical thoughts about "intention" and "premeditation" and other cognitive phantoms. OK, even though I basically reject these ideas, I don't need to here. The first time you massacre a family while "staying the course," fine. We can call that unpremeditated. After that, no.

So, the conclusion of the Pew Report should really come as a surprise: Muslim-Americans are by far a more peaceable, ethical and conscientious group than the mainstream against which they are being measured. But no cause for alarm, people: the poll also shows that Muslim-Americans are better integrated, and more "middle-class" and "mainstream" than Muslims in other countries. In no time, they should be as bloodthirsty, pliant, and incapable of thinking through the consequences of their political choices as the rest of the country.

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