When leaders, let’s say in the Muslim world, talk a lot of violent talk and encourage their supporters to be willing to commit violence, including on their own bodies, in order to win against whoever they decide is the enemy, we in the U.S. media describe that as, ‘They are radicalizing those people,’ particularly when they’re radicalizing young people. That’s how we talk about the way Muslims act. When you see what Donald Trump is doing, is that any different from what we describe as radicalizing people?
Jamali spoke at length about the double standard in American thought that smears Muslims and coddles white extremists. “You hear that outsiders are coming into a city and causing mayhem. What they don’t tell you, what the Trump campaign doesn’t tell you, is that the outsiders, in this case, are … Trumpists.”
The imperative of denouncing Trump’s promotion of violence and division that helped make him president is a strong one, and Reid does that part well. Yet Omar and others on social media were correct to criticize her benighted attempt at describing Islamic radicalization. (This isn’t the first scandal Reid has faced, having weathered one in 2018 over long-ago blog posts containing homophobic comments.)
To hear Reid tell the story, Muslim “leaders” exhort their “supporters” to commit acts of violence, and “radicalization” is the upshot. But radicalization of all sorts has received a mountain of scholarly attention over the years, and it tells a story at odds with Reid’s clumsy abridgment. In a paper titled “Rethinking Radicalization,” Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at the Brennan Center for Justice, notes that radicalization is a complex and idiosyncratic process that resists generalizations of any sort. “Despite the impetus to find a terrorist profile or hallmarks of radicalization to hone in on incipient terrorists, empirical research has emphatically and repeatedly concluded that there is no such profile and no such easily identifiable hallmarks,” writes Patel.
In an email to the Erik Wemple Blog, Patel cites the tendency of U.S. media to seek an explanation for the “radicalization” of those who commit acts of terrorism. “This is hardly surprising because our counterterrorism policy is built around the notion that there is a traceable trajectory of violence that leads individuals to violence and that there are signs along the way that law enforcement can spot,” she writes, even though this is all “junk science.”
As to the activities of Muslim “leaders,” as Reid put it, such a formulation advances the bigotry that often follows acts of Islamic terrorism. Following the Charlie Hebdo attack of January 2015, for example, commentators on Fox News charged that prominent Muslims had failed to condemn the atrocity. In fact, they had. Here’s a corrective from Patel: “In fact, the heads of Muslim countries and major religious institutions have uniformly condemned terrorism and have taken severe, often draconian, counterterrorism measures. The leaders of terrorist groups like ISIS have sought to incite violence, but calling them leaders of the Muslim world is factually incorrect and amplifies the stereotype of violent Muslims.”
The cartoon version of “radicalization” articulated on “The ReidOut” doesn’t correspond with the actual world. Marc Sageman, a scholar famous for getting “inside heads, analyzing the terrorist mind-set,” tells the Erik Wemple Blog that radicals who resort to violence are “extremely committed to a group of people, an imagined community.” These folks “volunteer to be soldiers to defend this imagined community,” he says. That description, he notes, helps to understand the work of Islamic extremists as well as other violent actors. Referring to Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged in the killing of two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., last week, Sageman says he doesn’t “follow his ideas or the orders of somebody. It’s more the feeling that ‘I’m threatened, I’m going to defend myself.’” Which is to say, the parallel that Reid and Jamali identified is real.
As to whether Reid’s remarks were Islamophobic, Sageman replied, “I don’t think it’s an Islamophobic viewpoint. I think it’s an ignorant viewpoint.” Jamali defends the host: “I find it tone-deaf that people who are criticizing this are doing so without even acknowledging that there is a double standard with how law enforcement and media approach Muslim extremism and someone like the ‘boogaloo boys.’” When asked for comment, MSNBC pointed the Erik Wemple Blog to a tweet from Reid herself pledging to discuss the matter on her Wednesday show.
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