Archive for March, 2011

The US House of Representatives has just conducted hearings on “The Extent of Radicalization in the Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.” The overall premise of the hearings is directly relevant to the subject matter of this blog: local risks posed by the globalization of trends, or in this case, the globalization of extremist concepts.

The hearings were criticized on many levels, including racial profiling, persecution and vilification. The credentials of the chairman, Peter King, have also come under fierce criticism, including his well-known knee-jerk aversion to Muslims. (I call it “knee-jerk” because it is not based on evidence and analysis, but simple assumptions .) 

But my topic of interest here is risk analysis. Radicalization of Muslims was assumed to pose threat to society, and I hoped that the hearings might shed light on that. But after having followed the hearings, I shudder to say: if this represents the standard of risk assessment by the vaunted Committee on Homeland Security, then we have a lot to feel insecure about.

They hearings were one-sided; no “expert” respected by both aisles was invited. They dealt with loose anecdotes. They did not provide, nor methodically analyze, actual data and overall trends, from which one can make an informed and intelligent assessment and forecast. In the end, they were, as James Zogby noted, a “shameful” waste of public resources.

But, the hearings got wide support from the political right. Why? Over the last decade, low-quality media commentary, violent images, and existing prejudices have together created an environment where the word “Islam” automatically connotes high risk to many. No analysis needs to be done; it’s a foregone conclusion that Muslims pose political and security risks.

I’m not just claiming that. There’s ample poll data to show how attitudes toward Muslims have evolved, especially on the political right. But instead of becoming better informed about the true risks, the political right has become ill-informed about the supposed risks, and prone to replace analysis with reactionary judgements. My recent article in The Huffington Post, “The Congressional Hearings That Are Really Needed,” talks about this problem.

The article argues, in sum, that a divergence has happened in America. On one hand, Muslims in America have become more integrated, both in terms of wealth and attitudes, into the mainstream than Muslims in other Western countries. On the other hand, the deteriorating quality of US media has made the majority believe that the opposite is true. What’s really needed are Congressional investigations of these two trends, because that, not wholesale radicalization, is what’s happening in reality. And you can’t do risk analysis without first basing it on real-world trends.

Read the full article here. Comments, feedback, sharing, as always, are welcome.

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