The Corner

Politics & Policy

Why the Facts of American Muslims and 9/11 Matter

Can you endure more discussion of Donald Trump, Jersey City, and 9/11? From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

As discussed Sunday night, there is no television footage of “thousands and thousands” “cheering as the World Trade Center came down,” and it certainly was not “well-covered at the time.” There was footage of Palestinians and Arabs celebrating in East Jerusalem on September 11. (You would be amazed how many Trump fans sent me that video, without bothering to check where the footage was recorded.) It is likely that Trump is mixing up the East Jerusalem footage with rumors of celebrating Arabs in New Jersey.

Many Trump fans pointed to this video from 2009 of two Muslim radicals who were celebrating outside the New York City mosque. Abominable, but the Anderson Cooper report is eight years later, and essentially profiles two guys.

Many Trump fans pointed to the fifteenth paragraph of a Washington Post story from September 18, 2001, claiming it validated Trump’s claim:

In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.

Except… police questioning “a number of people” after reports of celebrations is not the same as “thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down”, an event that Trump contended was televised and was “well-covered at the time.”

The idea that some people celebrated the devastation is quite possible, even probable, but not in the numbers or openness that Trump describes. This September 23, 2001 story in the Newark Star-Ledger discusses rumors of Palestinian-Americans celebrating in the streets of Paterson, New Jersey, reports that the local police could never corroborate upon arrival. Of course, this doesn’t rule out any Arab-Americans in the area ever saying anything celebratory:

Abdallah, the Clifton electrician who grew up in Paterson, said there may have been a small handful of teenagers who shouted “revenge” the night of the bombing. That account is corroborated by WABC radio host Curtis Sliwa, one of those criticized by city officials for acknowledging accounts of celebrations on the air. But Sliwa says no neighborhood should be judged by the behavior of its rowdy teens on the street corner.

“They got put in their place by the elders – they were clobbered,” Sliwa said. “The reaction of the community as a whole, that’s really the story they should tell instead of this complete denial. There are a lot of American flags flying down there now.”

Let’s turn to a glaring piece of counter-evidence to Trump’s Jersey City tale: In the 2000 Census, Jersey City had 6,755 Arab-Americans. That sounds like a lot, but the population of the city was 240,000. So Arab-Americans made up roughly 2 percent of the city’s population. Jersey City is not Little Fallujah. In the 2000 Census the city was 34 percent white, 28 percent African-American, 16 percent Asian, 15 percent “other,” 5 percent more than one race. The city is currently 10 percent Indian-American; many Indians are Hindu and Sikh and would not be cheering Islamist terror attacks.

Think back to September 11. Do you really think that “thousands and thousands” of people could celebrate the attacks – from a spot you could see the towers collapse — and not generate a violent reaction from other people in the neighborhood? The 9/11 attacks killed thirty-seven Jersey City residents. You think the residents of that city just ignored the “thousands and thousands” of people celebrating the attacks in their midst?

Do you think this footage was broadcast once, was seen by Donald Trump, and then authorities suppressed it out of political correctness or fear of a violent anti-Muslim backlash? And no one else in the New York City area remembers it? You think not a single person who had access to the footage would have resisted this theorized police-state censorship? If so, we’re deep in the realm of conspiracy theories here. If Trump saw it on 9/11 or the day after, doesn’t it seem odd that he never mentioned it during any of his media appearances in the intervening years? Doesn’t it seem unusual that he didn’t mention it during an interview at Ground Zero two days later?

Yesterday I did my first Twitter poll. It’s unscientific; the respondent pool is limited to A) people on Twitter B) people following me on Twitter and C) people who feel like responding. My question came from Trump’s words: “Do you believe that on 9/11 in Jersey City “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” the carnage?” The only options were “yes” or “no.”

Still, as of this writing, 332 people responded, and the split was 82 percent “no” to 18 percent “yes.” That’s about what I expected, and strangely reassuring. But it tells us that something in the neighborhood of 10, 15, 20, 25 percent of conservative news junkies on Twitter will believe anything Donald Trump says, in the absence of any supporting evidence, and in the face of common sense, logic, and contrary evidence. I suspect this blind faith is stronger if the assertion is in line with their suspicions, such as the idea that large numbers of Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans hate this country and support al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups.

Some will say, “Does it really matter if it was a dozen teenagers or ‘thousands and thousands’ as Trump says?” The answer is, “hell yes, it does.”

Donald Trump is presumably telling this mis-remembered story in support of a larger point, which is that there are radical Muslims on American soil – some immigrants, some native-born and radicalized.

One poll in May of 600 self-identified Muslim-Americans found 51 percent agreed that agreed that “Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to shariah” and the same percentage “believe either that they should have the choice of American or shariah courts.” The same survey also found 25 percent agreeing fully or in part that “violence against Americans here in the United States can be justified as part of the global jihad.” There may be some quibbles with the poll sample – for example, it’s 55 percent men, 45 percent women – but even if the numbers are half what the survey found, a portion of this community is in direct conflict with American liberty and rule of law.

It’s in this context that Hillary Clinton’s statement, “Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism,” is so maddening. The number of Muslims in the United States ranges from 2.6 million to 8 million, depending upon who you ask. If just one percent is extremist or supports Islamist terrorism, we’re talking about 26,000 to 80,000 people – not a group small enough to ignore. The Fort Hood shooter, one man, killed 13 and injured 30 people.

“Jim, why are you writing about Donald Trump again?”

Because this stuff matters, and we have an obligation to get our facts right. A lot of people won’t want to think about any percentage of American Muslims supporting violence against Americans. They’ll want to tune it out as hatred and xenophobia. If you get this stuff wildly wrong, as Trump just did, and then refuse to acknowledge any error, people dismiss you as a crazy lunatic. The people who insisted Trump was right kept sending me videos from the wrong place or the wrong time period.

Not long ago, a figure familiar in these parts posted pictures, contending that “every Friday afternoon in several locations throughout New York City where there are mosques with a large number of Muslims that cannot fit into the mosque. They fill the surrounding streets, facing east for a couple of hours between about 2 & 4 p.m.” That figure could not be stirred to do the minimum Googling to determine that the pictures of Muslims praying in the streets were not from weekly prayers, but from the Muslim Day Parade, an annual event.

We cannot be a party or a movement that gets its understanding of the world from chain-e-mails from Uncle Leo. 

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