Wait . . . What?

by Jonah Goldberg

Via Pete Wehner, I see that my friend Peter Beinart has said something very . . . odd.

[Rep. Peter King] . . . will hold hearings this week on terrorism by American Muslims. Think about that for a second. King isn’t holding hearings on domestic terrorism; he’s holding hearings on domestic terrorism by one religious group. Is most American terrorism Muslim terrorism? Actually, no. Over the last decade or so, there’s been at least as much domestic terrorism by folks like Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph (who bombed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics), Bruce Edwards Ivins (the main suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks), and most recently, Jared Lee Loughner. But even if American Muslims are statistically more likely to commit terrorism than non-Muslims, it is still wrong to define the problem in religious terms. I’m pretty sure that in the 1950s, Jews — given their overrepresentation in the American Communist Party — were overrepresented as Soviet spies. Italians may have been overrepresented in organized crime. Yet for a member of Congress to define either Soviet subversion or organized crime as the province of a particular religious or ethnic group would still have been wrong.

But wait, you say, there’s a difference: It wasn’t their Jewishness that made Jews disproportionately join the Communist Party or their Italianness that made Italians disproportionately join the Mafia. Well, in a sense, it was. At a certain moment in time, certain aspects of Jewish-American or Italian-American sociology disproportionately predisposed Jews and Italians to certain problematic behavior. That may be true for Muslims today, but what the government should be targeting is the behavior, not the religious or ethnic group.

This is just weird. Peter wrote a whole book on the need to fight Islamic terrorism. Not the behavior “terrorism,” but the phenomenon recognizable as Islamic terrorism. He even argued that only liberals could fight that fight. I know he’s run away from that book. But you would think there would be enough vestigial wisdom left over that he could understand that while Islamic terrorists make up only a subset of American terrorists (a large subset), Muslims make up pretty darn close to 100 percent of all Islamic terrorists. By no means do I think that we should be stigmatizing or condemning the larger Muslim community. And I haven’t heard Peter King do that. But to listen to folks like Peter, the only way to do these hearings responsibly would be to hand over a big chunk of them to the Southern Poverty Law Center, with some digressions into environmental extremists and the mentally ill. That way all practitioners of the “behavior” of terrorism would be treated equally. This is what counts for liberal realism these days?

His argument about there being something about being Jewish or Italian that led them to be overrepresented among Communists and Mobsters is an okay debating point, I guess. But as Wehner discusses, it simply waves away a vast swath of reality, the nature of political Islam, etc.

Honest question: Has there never been a hearing on the black community’s handling of black crime? Wouldn’t that have been racist according to Peter’s reasoning? Or would it have been a logical, even humane, attempt by government to address a serious issue?