Analysts both in the Muslim and the Western world by and large agree that “fear” and lack of objective dialogue are the root cause of Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism. And while the debate on which one of the two ignited the other is still ongoing, one fact remains irrefutable: more people were victimized as a result of Islamophobia than the other way around.   

A recent public opinion survey conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) indicates that Muslims are still viewed negatively in the U.S. There are estimated 7 million Muslims in America and over 50 thousand in Central Ohio alone- the majority being Somalis.

Among a number of questions raised in the survey, the open-end question “When you hear the word ‘Muslim,’ what is the first thought that comes to your mind?” had the revealed the most daunting reality that Muslims still carry the 9/11 burden. Six percent of those surveyed indicated positive perception as they offered response such “good religion,” “good people,” “faithful,” “devout,” “misunderstood.” On the other hand, twenty-six percent of them indicated to espouse negative perceptions about Muslims as they offered answers such as “violence,” “hatred,” “terrorists,” “war,” “guns,” “towel-heads” and “rag-heads.”

The irony is that this came at a time when Muslims in the U.S. and in the West were doing more outreach than ever before. Are the powerful engines that propel the “war on terror” blowing smoke of fear and distrust that ultimately hindered efforts toward building bridges of understanding?

I recently had an opportunity to interview Professor John Mueller, the author of bestselling book Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them. Professor Mueller is a national security expert. He holds the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies at the Mershon Center.

In that interview arranged by SomaliLink Journal, Professor Mueller reiterated the premise of his book that America is frightened senseless…and that there are some “well-meaning” special interest groups   “who grossly exaggerated the threat of terrorism” and as a result created “terrorism industry” that in due course became an economic abyss.

The national treasury is being drained as the U.S. tries to build a bulwark against a mirage of fear and dashes to every corner of the world where “al-Qaida flag is waved.”

“If there were any sleeper cells or al-Qaida operatives who are as determined, as inventive and as demonically competent as assumed, why have they not done it yet, especially when carrying a terrorist act does not require flying planes into buildings? Could it be because they are not yet here? If not, they must not been trying hard enough or perhaps they are far less dedicated, diabolical, and competent than we are being told.” said Professor Mueller. “Apparently, there are no terrorists under the bed or hiding in mosques- the very lamppost that they should be avoiding in the first place” he added.

And while Professor Mueller acknowledged the need and the importance of enhancing the security of the United States, he repeatedly pointed out the sheer absurdity that justifies the post 9/11 fear-driven policies and initiatives. He said the FBI embraces a spooky line of reasoning that he refers to as “I-think-therefore-they-are”. He quoted the FBI Director Robert Mueller who said “…the greatest threat is from al-Qaida cells in the U.S. that we have not yet identified," who substantiates his claim by repeating “his alarmist mantra” and telling the public “I remain very concerned about what we are not seeing."

According to Professor Mueller, it is this kind of mindset combined with the rhetoric of fear-mongering politicians whose aim often is to frighten voters to their side; lazy journalism and the media’s desire to sensationalize the news; and those in the security business who are motivated to seize this golden opportunity to push their profits and services and maximize their profits that perpetuate the terrorism industry, keep Muslims demonized, and the anti-terrorism laws irrationally rigid.

Even a well-meaning innocent person could be held as an “enemy combatant”.

“When a judge raised a hypothetical question on who might be detained as an enemy combatant and asked ‘what about an old lady in Switzerland who donates money to an orphanage in Afghanistan who, unbeknown to her, finances al-Qaida? Could she be detained as an enemy combatant? The answer provided by the Justice Department representative was simply “Yes”.

The rationale of course is that ‘we live in age of terror’- a notion that Professor Mueller outright rejects as “hyperbolic”. He said “the probability of an American being killed by an act of terrorism is 1 in 80,000, which is more or less the same probability of being hit by an asteroid.” But, no one is frightening people with the latter.  

“Including 9/11 in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism in the last three decades is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts.” Yet, the message often repeated is that the sky is about to fall….which makes diplomacy seem irrelevant. Despite all this, Professor Mueller still maintains a rare sense of optimism. He believes an introspective government working with people of goodwill can change the course of history.

And, in order to reverse the current trend, two main things must happen: first, the gross inflation of the threat of terrorism that implicitly portrays Muslims as ticking bombs must be appropriately calibrated. Second, diplomacy and constructive dialogue must be revived, and moderate Muslims must be engaged.

Abukar Arman is a freelance writer who lives in Ohio.