What America Should Learn from the Attack in Brussels

For now, we live in a nation with a well-assimilated, diverse and patriotic Muslim population, but the situation could always change. Like Europe, we could embrace immigrants from places teeming with radicalism. We could disincentivize assimilation. We could dismiss anyone who has legitimate concerns about these threats as bigots.


After every terrorist attack, much of the media predictably cautions Americans about the impending wave of Islamophobia — one of the most vacuous and misleading terms in political discourse. Even before the bodies had been cleared off the streets in Brussels, where attacks claimed at least 34 lives with scores of others wounded, the usual suspects were warning about hurt feelings and the big backlash that never comes.

Nothing wrong with being vigilant, I suppose.

But by blaming Islam, we are doing just what the terrorists want. That familiar refrain, however, is problematic. The left regularly offers laughable moral equivalences, reaching back — centuries, if needed — to deflect a simple reality: In the contemporary world, political terrorism almost exclusively involves followers of Islam. Exempting Islamic beliefs for any culpability for that terror is as ludicrous as blaming all Muslims for it.

Now, there’s virtually nothing that progressives can’t turn into an ethnocentric grievance, but there are real-life consequences to this kind of intellectual dishonesty.

These days, rather than exerting societal pressure on immigrants to assimilate and embrace Western cultural norms, we’re the ones being pressured to accept that all ideologies are equally worthwhile and moral. Anything less is a form of intolerance or racism. And, with the explosion of Muslim immigration to the West, including the United States, the pressure to engage in this kind of bogus compassion will only grow.

Writing after the November 2015 Paris attacks, Ian Tuttle at the National Review Online crunched the immigration numbers:

“In 1992, 41 percent of new permanent residents in the United States — green-card holders — hailed from the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and North Africa or sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Pew Research Center. A decade later, the percentage was 53 percent. Over that same period, predictably, the number of Muslim immigrants coming to the United States annually has doubled, from 50,000 to approximately 100,000 each year. In 1992, only 5 percent of Muslim immigrants came from sub-Saharan Africa; 20 years later, it was 16 percent. Of the 2.75 million Muslims in the United States in 2011, 1.7 million were legal permanent residents.”

In Europe, assimilation has been a disaster. With large isolated pockets of Muslims, there is not only economic discontent, but a place for radicalism to percolate. Now, many European nations have added massive numbers of potentially disaffected Muslims into this combustible mix.

In Germany, one of the most world’s most advanced (and generous) nations, the families of Turkish immigrants who came in 1950s still can’t find their way in mainstream society. Much the same can be said of Algerians in France. Terrorists can come from all kinds of backgrounds, but shiftlessness and poverty probably makes young people susceptible to this kind of radicalism. Importing large numbers of new refugees without any realistic plan to help them avoid a similar fate is cultural self-immolation.

Not all, but much of that Islamophobia is aimed at chilling criticism of illiberalism. The problem, even in Europe, we’re often told, is that Muslims are too constricted by the customs and rules of Western society. Take a piece written in Al Jazeera America, which reflects a position intimated by many others on the left: “Why should American Muslims have to assimilate? Some cultures in the U.S. have been allowed to remain distinct, so why the double standard?”

Even we concede that a double standard exists (which it does, but not in the sense the author imagines). It is hard to argue that some cultures have a propensity to embrace illiberalism and some do not. And the Islamic problem goes well beyond any person who chooses to blow up an airport terminal or shoot down concert-goers or engage in genocide or stab mothers in front of their children. Aside from secularized communities, there is an institutionalized illiberalism — brimming with misogyny, anti-Christian sentiment and Jewish bigotry, constraints on free expression, the kind of homophobia that ends with people swinging from the gallows, etc. — throughout the Islamic world. Pointing this out is not racism — theology is not a skin color. And the United States will not be given immunity from dealing with this reality.

This dynamic feeds the xenophobic case of the nationalists. These growing nationalistic movements — and Trumpism can be thrown in with them — offer a dangerous counterbalance to the left’s phony empathy. When politicians (people like the president) condemned Americans for harboring legitimate fears about immigration or violence, they will soon look elsewhere for allies. They will embrace bad ideas. And both groups will be responsible for the slow-motion cratering of liberal values at home.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of “The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy.”

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