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Fearful Americans: Keeping the homeland security complex happy

$40bn spent on homeland security targeting largely imaginary Muslim terrorism is blinding Americans to things they should really be afraid of

There’s a reason America spends more on military and homeland security procurement than the next 10 countries combined: Americans are afraid of everything and everyone like no other nation on earth.

Hyperbole? No. In 2003, the US was the only country to be afraid of Iraq. Not even Iraq’s neighbours and historical foes  - Kuwait and Iran - were afraid of Saddam’s military capabilities when the Bush Administration was making its absurd case for invasion.

History is replete with examples of America being terrified of non-existing threats. In 1959-60, when the US was carrying out terrorist activities in Cuba, and Cuba responded by seeking protection from a rival superpower - the Soviet Union. President Kennedy made the case to its allies that Cuba was an existential threat.

Mexico scoffed at the absurdity of the suggestion. “If we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, 40 million Mexicans will die laughing,” the Mexican ambassador to the US told Kennedy.

In a 2014 interview, Noam Chomsky remarked: “The United States is a frightened country. And the reasons for this - frankly, I don’t understand them - probably go way back in American history….It probably has to do with conquest of the continent, when you had to exterminate the native population, and slavery, when you had to control a population that was regarded as dangerous because you never knew when the slaves might turn on you.”

The US is more secure than any imperial power in history - the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean serves as a barrier to potential foes from the West, and the Atlantic Ocean offers the same protection on its Eastern border, while Canada and Mexico act as enormous natural buffer zones - protecting against those who might attack from the North or South. “No other power on earth is blessed with this security,” observes Stephen Kinzer in an op-ed for The Boston Globe.

Despite being blessed with this unparalleled security, Americans, it seems, live in fear that ISIS-owned Toyota pick-ups will somehow make their way across two oceans and will be seen driving down through the main street of Dallas, Texas. Every time Fox News says the word “Muslim,” 40 million Americans in the South lock their front door.

The focus on Islamic-inspired terrorism above all other kinds of terrorism and violent crime, including police brutality against unarmed blacks, is blinding Americans to things Americans should really be afraid of.

When a right wing, anti-government extremist walked into a cinema in Lafayette, Louisiana, and shot 11 movie goers - killing two - it set a record no pro-gun American wants to talk about: 204 mass shootings in the first 204 days of 2015.

Of these 204 mass shootings, what percentage would you guess were carried out by Muslims?

  1. 50%
  2. 75%
  3. 90%
  4. 0.0049%

If you answered C, please turn off Fox News and unfollow Richard Dawkins on Twitter.

If you answered D, you’d be right. Of 204 mass shootings in 2015 thus far, a Muslim carried out only one - Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez aka the Chattanooga gunman who killed four US Marines at a recruitment office. Given Muslims represent 1 percent of the US population, Muslims under-represent mass shooters by a factor of 50 percent. So much for Muslims being a prime threat.

Ok, so that’s mass shootings in America. What about terrorist attacks - bearing in mind the FBI did not deem Craig Hicks, an anti-theist who murdered three Muslim students, a terrorist?

The think tank New America has chronicled all lethal terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11. The findings? In the last 14 years, 48 Americans have been killed in “deadly right-wing attacks” inside America, which is more than double the number of those killed by “deadly jihadist attacks”.

The New York Times responded to New America’s findings in an article that included Terrorism Professor John Horgan declaring: “There’s an acceptance now of the idea that the threat from jihadi terrorism in the United States has been overblown.”

Horgan nails it, but I would ask the professor, “Accepted where?”

“The idea the threat of jihadi terrorism in the United States has been overblown” has certainly not been accepted in the mainstream media. CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC barely go two consecutive hours without speculating the next ISIS terrorist attack. When the FBI issues an imminent terror threat warning, the cable and mainstream television networks run nearly 24/7 coverage of said warning - with no shortage of “terrorism experts,” aka paid lobbyists of the homeland-security-industrial complex, eager to fill airtime with speculation of where and when the next jihadist attack will occur.

So what of these FBI warnings?

There have been a total of 42 imminent jihadi terror threat warnings issued by the FBI. Of these 42 imminent jihadi terror threat warnings, how many did the FBI forecast correctly?

(a)   21

(b)  10

(c)   5

(d)  0

If you answered A, then you really should see a psychologist, for it’s unhealthy to live in that kind of perpetual delusional paranoia.

If you answered D, you win a prize. Your prize is you get to read the rest of this column.

The homeland-security-industrial complex has certainly not accepted the idea the threat of jihadi terrorism in the United States is “overblown,” either. “The new homeland-security-industrial complex...is largely made up of a web of intelligence agencies and their contractors, companies that mostly provide secret services rather than large weapons systems and equipment,” notes investigative journalist James Risen in Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War. “These contractors are hired to help Washington determine the scale and scope of the terrorist threat; they make no money if they determine that the threat is overblown or, God forbid, if the war on terror ever comes to an end.”

In other words, the reality of jihadi terrorism is clouded by opportunists who have enriched themselves courtesy of America’s fixation on Muslims as the prime source of terrorism or violence. “An ideologically driven focus on Muslim Americans as the prime threat of violence goes hand in hand with a normalisation of the fact that in the US 15,000 people are murdered each year,” notes Arun Kundnani in The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism and the Domestic War on Terror.

White supremacist groups are on the rise. From 2008 to 2014, the number of white supremacist groups grew from 149 to more than 1,000 according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Racially inspired murders are acts of terrorism “because the perpetrators are trying to send a political message to minority communities (i.e. intimidate them into a subordinate status). Like the violent acts we normally think of as terrorism, racist violence not only takes the lives of its immediate victims, but also sends a larger message of fear to the wider population. Yet terrorism and racist violence are not considered equally significant threats by governments and the establishment media echo chamber,” asserts Kundnani.

The data demonstrates that right-wing and white supremacist groups remain the biggest terror threat to Americans. Both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have warned the threat of right-wing terror to be a greater threat to Americans than jihadi groups, but where are the imminent terror warnings? Not once has the FBI issued a warning that a right-wing terror attack is imminent? Not once has CNN warned that a right-wing terror attack is likely on Martin Luther King Day or Black History Month. But every Easter, Christmas, New Year and 4 July, Americans are subjected to round-the-clock warnings of jihadi violence.

Muslim Americans are now subjected to apartheid level surveillance and harassment by US law enforcement. The FBI entraps and radicalises drug dependent and mentally unstable Muslims into planning terrorist activities, while many others are put on government no-fly lists without any reasons given. Meanwhile right-wing Americans, who make up the overwhelming bulk of terrorist activities in the US, are spared such ignominy.

This year, $40 billion will be dedicated to homeland security, most of the resources dedicated to combating jihadi terrorism. “In dedicating tens of billions of dollars a year to fighting a domestic terrorist threat that is largely imagined, the US government has neglected the challenge of creating a genuinely peaceful society,” writes Kundnani.

America, as Chomsky observes, is a “frightened country,” but those with vested interests, like those attached to the homeland-security-industrial complex and the mainstream media, know it’s a hard task to make Americans fearful of other Americans - and that’s where Muslims come in handy - a ready-made external enemy of the US state.

CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, God Hates You. Hate Him Back, Koran Curious, and is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Archive picture of an Islamic State fighter in Iraq - not in the United States (AFP)