– Overhyping the Threat of “Islamic” Terrorism in the US.


(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Islamophobes are obsessed with exaggerating the “Islamic” threat.

In an April 2013 article in MotherJones, David Gilson says,

“While America has been fixated on the threat of Islamic terrorism for more than a decade, all but a few domestic terror plots have failed. Between September 11, 2001, and the end of 2012, there were no successful bomb plots by jihadist terrorists in the United States. Jihadists killed 17 people in the United States in four separate incidents during this time, according to data collected by journalist Peter Bergen and the New America Foundation. All four of these incidents involved guns, including Nidal Hassan’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood, which killed 13 people. In contrast, right-wing extremists killed 29 people during those 11 years.”[[i]]

Of the Boston Marathon attackers, Gilson says they are

“not evidence of the power of Islamist terrorism in post-9/11 America so much as a painful exception to its ineffectiveness.”[[ii]]

Islamophobes overhype the threat of terrorism by “Muslims” and represent the “painful exception” as the norm.

In another report published in 2010, Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Institute, said,

“There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United States, and few more than 100 have joined jihad – about one out of every 30,000 – suggesting an American Muslim population that remains hostile to jihadist ideology and its exhortations to violence. A mistrust of American Muslims by other Americans seems misplaced.”[[iii]]

Explaining the conclusions of a January 2010 study by researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CNN states,
“The terrorist threat posed by radicalized Muslim- Americans has been exaggerated…”
A TIME article illustrated highlights of the 2010 study:

• Of the 139 individuals linked to terrorist acts, only 40 successfully executed their plots, and most of those were overseas. In 70% of instances, law enforcement agencies were able to foil the plots before they even matured to a dangerous stage.

• Last year accounted for a high 41 cases, but the researchers note that it’s too early to say if the spike represents a trend.

• Seventy-eight of the American Muslims arrested were members of small groups that either traveled abroad for training or planned attacks in the U.S. This confirms the view of some terrorism experts that the radicalization process relies on a group dynamic.

• Sixty-three of the 139 were U.S.-born, 22 were naturalized citizens and 25 legal residents.

•There is no single hotbed of radicalization: 43 “offenders” were from the South, 38 from the Northeast, 30 from the Midwest, 23 from the West and three from the Southwest.

• Although the 139 were predominantly young men, with 90 being under the age of 30, they hailed from diverse ethnicities: 32 were Arabs, 24 African-Americans, 24 South Asians, 20 Somalis and 20 whites. The authors say there is no “single profile or a common warning sign that signifies a homegrown terrorist.”

Exaggerating claims of “Muslim” home-grown terrorism has negative implications at the policy level and in counter-terrorism efforts. In a June 2012 article in Cato Unbound, Risa Brooks explains some of these negative implications:

…overstating this threat could lead to the misallocation of increasingly scarce federal, state, and local law enforcement resources. As the United States enters an era of fiscal austerity, officials must evaluate the opportunity costs of investing in domestic counterterrorism versus other priorities.

…overstating the threat of Muslim homegrown terrorism could lead to the adoption of counterproductive counterterrorism methods. Methods commonly employed by law enforcement in Muslim communities, such as extensive surveillance and cultivation of informants, are inherently challenging for any segment of society to endure, even when agents treat them with care. And a careful approach is rarely encouraged by an atmosphere of suspicion.

Brooks then says,

“Controversies of this kind undermine the relationships of trust that form the basis for cooperation between Muslim communities and public officials. Yet these communities have demonstrated a willingness and a capacity to report signs of terrorist activity in their midst, and their help is both the most efficient and least invasive method of exposing aspiring militants. Alienating those who would provide such information will carry a heavy cost.”

She ends by saying,

“Finally, exaggerating the threat posed by homegrown Muslim terrorists leads to a distorted image of the nature of domestic terrorism in the United States that is harmful to the social fabric of the country. While small in number, acts of domestic terrorism in the United States involve individuals of diverse ideological extremes. Domestic terrorism may encompass violent splinters from the Occupy Movement, anti-government militants like the “Sovereign Citizens,” or Islamist jihadis—among others. Exaggerating threats from Islamist militancy at the expense of a more comprehensive discussion of domestic terrorism not only contributes to mistrust between Muslim Americans and other Americans, it is counter to the country’s long heritage of respecting people of diverse religions and backgrounds.”

Since 9/11, and especially since Obama became President, homegrown US right-wing terrorism has exceeded “Islamic” terrorism incidents. Yet, many national security experts are blind to the growing threat, and see the “Islamic threat” through tunnel lens vision as the only threat. It is best that they become realistic about terrorism trends, acknowledge that members among non-Muslims can also commit terrorism, and face this growing threat with the seriousness and importance it deserves.

[[i]] David, Gilson, “Charts: How Much Danger Do We Face From Homegrown Jihadist Terrorists?” MotherJones, April 24, 2013, accessed May 12, 2013,

[[ii]] David, Gilson, “Charts: How Much Danger Do We Face From Homegrown Jihadist Terrorists?” MotherJones, April 24, 2013, accessed May 12, 2013,

[[iii]] Brian, Jenkins, “Would-Be Warriors: Incidents of Jihadist Terrorist Radicalization in the United States Since September 11, 2001,” 2010, accessed June 1, 2013,