The Pie Strategy

You bastards already hate me. Probably.

As the war in Iraq grinds into its fourth year, a growing proportion of Americans are expressing unfavorable views of Islam, and a majority now say that Muslims are disproportionately prone to violence, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

This is not only depressing, it’s boring. We’re playing out everyone’s favorite dynamic of suspicion vs. grievance. Right-wingers like to pretend that they’re the only ones who dare say that we were attacked by MUSLIMS! In their narrative, the media, in thrall to various lefty taboos, goes out of its way to avoid showing the essential link between Islam and anti-American terrorism.

Meanwhile, on the left we have people telling us that the London bombers were British, damn it, and that we shouldn’t forget Timothy McVeigh, the white terrorist.

Please. The fact is that most of the recent terrorist attacks that you might care to name–9-11, the London bombings, the Cole, the African embassies–were carried out by Muslims, and Muslims who look pretty much like you expect Muslims to look, at that. Yes, Timothy McVeigh was a regular American white boy, but even those of you who are so far left that your right ventricles don’t even beat will admit that in your heart of hearts, whatever vanishingly small worries you have about terrorism involve a guy on a bus who doesn’t look like Tim McVeigh.

We lose credibility when we don’t admit what’s obvious to everyone: insofar as we’re worried, it’s about Muslims (note to those who don’t know me and didn’t get the opening joke: I’m a (non-practicing) Muslim, born in Iran; no, I’m not pulling a Michelle Malkin on you). We get into these bizarre dynamics because we don’t want to give any ground. We worry that if we give ground, unscrupulous people on the other side will take advantage and say things like, “even the liberal Washington Monthly admits Muslims are crazy.” But our denial of the obvious is the only thing that gives right-wing complaints any credibility. We make it possible for them to cast their bigotry as truth-telling.

The way to approach the debate is to start from the fact that we’re worried about Islamic terrorism, and make it clear that the right-wing approach of suspicion and division never ever works, because–as long as we’re facing facts–any Muslim, however much he loves America, hip-hop, and the NBA, is going to hesitate to drop the dime on someone planning an attack if he thinks that the FBI agent picking up the phone hates him, or that the neighbor he’ll be saving hates him. My conception of the ideal response is this: go to your local mosque, find the imam, or just some of the people gathered there, and say “I have to admit I’m scared of you, but I don’t know anything about you. Let’s have some of this pie I baked, and let’s talk.” Americans are totally down with baking some pie and sizing up the neighbors. Instead of the “vast majority of Muslims are law-abiding…” crap that we hear from liberals, let’s hear “We’re all scared of each other, let’s have pie!” I’m totally serious about this. That’s the kind of thing that people respond to, and the kind of thing that might actually make a difference.

Meanwhile, since you’re still sitting at your computer, click over to this rare and fantastic three-part series by Andrea Elliott in the NY Times. She spent several months with the imam of a bustling Brooklyn mosque as he dealt with the FBI, his own move from Egypt, and all the young people he’s trying to set up in marriage. Great, well-written stuff if you want a clue about what life is like for a practicing Muslim in America. The interactive features are good too.

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