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Obama Used To Insist That Right Wing Extremism Was More Dangerous Than Islamism - Not Anymore
by Johanna Markind
Last year, prominent media outlets – including the New York Times, Time Magazine, and NPR – reported that "right-wing" radicalism had caused nearly twice as many American deaths as Islamist extremism since 9/11.
The story was sparked by a New America Foundation (NAF) report, claiming that "right-wing" casualties outnumbered Islamist ones 48 to 26. This dovetailed with a message the Obama Administration had pushed since 2009, when Secretary Janet Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security published a report warning against the threat posed by right-wing extremism.
In a January 2016 article, "Islamist Violence Is Responsible For More Murders In the U.S. Than 'Right Wing Extremism,'" this author noted the Administration's previous efforts to shift attention away from Islamist violence by concentrating on right-wing violence and gun control.
Where does this message stand today?
To a greater or lesser extent, it appears that the Obama Administration has now accepted that Islamism today poses the greatest danger of violence to Americans.
The Administration, as well as non-profits and media who readily accepted its message downplaying the risk of violence from Islamist extremism while playing up violence from "right-wing" extremism, have stopped pushing the line that the latter poses a far greater danger.
NAF deserves credit for updating its numbers promptly after the Orlando shootings: now 94 deaths resulting from Islamist or jihadi violence and 48 attributed to "right-wing" violence.
The Obama administration, via its Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, has grudgingly acknowledged that ISIS "has become the preeminent terrorist threat." The president also belatedly labeled Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan a terrorist – although not an Islamist. Despite this small progress, the administration, which previously scrubbed references to Islam from FBI training manuals, has continued trying to conceal the connection between violence and Islamism. For example, it tried censoring French President Francois Hollande's reference to Islamist terrorism and initially released an edited transcript of Orlando shooter Omar Mateen's calls that redacted his pledge of allegiance to ISIS.
On the rare occasions when President Obama is willing to suggest Islam has any connection to violence, he insists radical Islam is a problem internal to the Muslim community. "[I]t is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization," he said after Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik massacred fourteen people in the San Bernardino.
By contrast, following the Charleston massacre of nine black church members by a fan of Confederate and apartheid regimes, the president said "we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer." In other words, perceived racism is a problem everyone must address, but Islamism (real and perceived) is an issue only for Muslims.
American media that last year downplayed the threat of radical Islam now devote much more time to it.
A May 2016 New York Times article described how charity funds from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries radicalized the previously-tolerant Muslim community in Kosovo. Last March, the Washington Post reported that Saudi funds helped to radicalize the Muslim community in Belgium by funding many Belgian clerics who spread an extreme Saudi religious dogma.
Neither paper seems inclined to devote the same level of investigative energies to studying whether there is a systemic radicalization problem affecting the American Muslim community.
Unfortunately, meek and reluctant acceptance is inadequate. To quote President Obama, "Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they're defeated by better ideas – a more attractive and compelling vision."
The President has allowed law enforcement and has grudgingly authorized small-scale military forces to fight against Islamism. But, when it comes to admitting the power that Islamist ideology has for many people, and offering a "more attractive and compelling" ideological vision, he has been missing in action.