Posted David A. Lehrer and Joe R. Hicks
This past week, three of Robin Abcarian's Perspective columns in the Los Angeles Times concerned the "new worries" of some American Muslims that the "torrent of post-9/11 harassment and hysteria will be repeated." Abcarian started writing about these "worries" even before the suspected Boston Marathon bombers were identified as, in fact, Muslim Americans.
The not-too-subtle subtext of Abcarian's pieces is that Americans harbor hostility toward Muslims that will well to the surface again in the wake of the Boston bombings. After all, as she pointed out, hate crimes against Muslim Americans spiked 1,600% in the months after 9/11 (from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001). In her piece on Friday, Abcarian basically hinges her analysis on an isolated anecdote in Ohio that suggests that some Americans are so mean-spirited and vengeful toward Muslims that they took out their "hysteria" on a 10-year-old kid.
It is a dangerous strategy to extrapolate from an anomalous incident to reach grandiose conclusions, especially in an era of polling and focus groups. There are far more reliable sources -- namely, survey data -- than a mother describing her kid in rural Ohio.
In fact, the evidence shows that American attitudes toward Muslims are the polar opposite of what Abcarian would have you believe. Between 100 and 200 anti-Muslim hate crimes have been committed against Muslims per year since 2002, according to the FBI -- this, in a nation of about 315 million people and thousands upon thousands of crimes. Those crimes occurred over a period in which there was the Times Square bomber, the attempted "underwear bombing" of a passenger place, the Ft. Hood massacre and numerous other dreadful acts and planned acts linked in some way to radical Islam. Just this week Canadian authorities announced they had stopped a planned terrorist attack on a busy passenger train.
This isn't to minimize violence committed against Muslims, but as a point of reference, FBI statistics show that anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2011 numbered 771; that same year, hate crimes against Muslims totaled 157 incidents. (There are between 5 million and 6 million Muslims in the U.S., according to various estimates, and there are about 6.5 million Jews.) Anti-Jewish crimes outnumbered those committed against Muslims by nearly a 5-to-1 margin, yet no rational person would imply that there is a wave of anti-Semitic harassment and hysteria in America. There were more than 2,000 incidents directed at blacks in 2011 (there are about 39 million African Americans in the U.S.). There would have to be nearly seven times as many incidents against Muslim Americans for the hate crimes to equal, on a per-capita basis, the rate of hate crimes against African Americans. So much for our anti-Muslim hysteria.
In August 2011, the Pew Center published a study that belies the notion that Muslims in America are, as Abcarian quoted one person, "treated like crap." The study revealed:
At a personal level, most [Muslims] think that ordinary Americans are friendly (48%) or neutral (32%) toward Muslim Americans; relatively few (16%) believe the general public is unfriendly toward Muslim Americans. About two-thirds (66%) say that the quality of life for Muslims in the U.S. is better than in most Muslim countries.
Strikingly, Muslim Americans are far more satisfied with the way things are going in the country (56%) than is the general public (23%). Four years ago, Muslim Americans and the public rendered fairly similar judgments about the state of the nation (38% of Muslims vs. 32% of the general public were satisfied).
To be absolutely clear, a majority of Muslim Americans evidence greater satisfaction at the way things are going in the United States than the general public by more than a 2-to-1 margin -- hardly an attitude that would survive pervasive harassment.
Americans should be applauded for their continuing resistance to stereotyping and Islamophobia. We get that it is wrong to generalize from an individual to the group. Religious leaders and civil rights activists have successfully imparted that message to several generations of Americans, and it seems to have stuck.
Our broadcast and print media over the last week have made discernible efforts (even in the now-infamous CNN gaffe about an arrest of a "dark-skinned" man) to avoid inflammatory rhetoric or generalizing from individuals to a broader group. Most mainstream reporters seem to be aware of the sensitive work they are involved in and that emotions can run high. Commentators appear to balance the transparently obvious fact of repeated incidents carried out by adherents of militant Islam with not indicting an entire religious group for the sins of the few.
Rather than citing "bad memories and new worries," we should recognize and praise the tolerance that Americans have continued to demonstrate in the face of repeated outrages.*
* A version of this article appeared on the Los Angeles Times Blowback page.
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April 12, 2013 | 3:16 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
As residents of Los Angeles many of us are inundated with invitations for events with all sorts of intriguing topics, alluring speakers, and entertaining extravaganzas. On any given evening we can hear a United States Senator or see a Cirque du Soleil performance in a private home or be awed by a 3-D spectacular about our favorite non-profit organization.
It’s fairly unusual though, for an event to offer substance and interesting speakers across a wide array of provocative and timely topics. That’s why an upcoming conference warrants your attention and attendance, the Annual Leadership Education Forum ("ALEF") sponsored by the American Friends of the Hebrew University (“AFHU”). Full disclosure, I happen to be chairing the day-long conference.
At 9:00 on Sunday, April 28th at the Skirball Cultural Center ALEF will have an array of panelists and keynote speakers that are dazzling.
The aim is to pair local experts with those coming from the Hebrew University to discuss and explore important current topics. The speakers include the former head of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, in dialogue with the former head of the Israeli Shin Bet, Ambassador Carmi Gillon, and their moderator will be Nicholas Goldberg the Editor of the Editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times. Another panel will have Jewish Journal editor, Rob Eshman, in a colloquy with Professor Reuven Hazan, chair of the political science department at the Hebrew University and Professor Steven Spiegel, Professor of Political Science at UCLA and director of its Center for Middle East Development. A third panel will explore advances in neuroscience (“Cracking the Brain’s Code”) with a panel moderated by USC’s Executive Vice-Provost, Professor Michael Quick, in dialogue with two Hebrew University professors, Eilon Vaadia and Ehud Zohary, both prominent neuroscientists.
To top off the afternoon, the luncheon speaker will be Patrick Soon-Shiong, one of the pre-eminent scientific and medical minds in the world today. His cutting edge discoveries and patents have altered the approach to both diabetes and cancer. He also happens to be among Los Angeles' most generous philanthropists.
For a program of this heft, the price tag is a relatively modest $125 (including lunch). Space is available and reservations can be made by clicking here.
I hope you will join us.
April 10, 2013 | 11:15 am
Posted David A. Lehrer and Joe R. Hicks
The Los Angeles mayoralty race seems to have devolved into a contest to see which of the candidates can rack up more endorsements.
Specifically, endorsements aimed at relevant constituencies that might be swayed by the endorser’s identity, reputation, or cache. From Magic Johnson to Richard Riordan from Jan Perry to Kevin James-- every day brings a new revelation.
But over the past few days there was an endorsement by a group of politicos that was a bit troubling and seemed like a time warp.
On Thursday, several female politicians---including Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Janice Hahn and Senator Barbara Boxer---held a press conference with Controller Wendy Greuel to endorse her for mayor. They staged the conference in front of a display of suffragettes and other historic figures in the women’s movement.
In their remarks (at least as reported in the press) both former Speaker Pelosi and Senator Boxer urged voters to support Greuel, essentially, because she is a woman.
Pelosi noted that Greuel’s election will “lift up people across the country.” The LA Times reported that Boxer urged support for Greuel because if she isn’t elected “we could see a government without one female in leadership…that is totally unacceptable….I've never claimed women are better than men, some women are, some aren't [but without adequate numbers of women and minorities holding elective office] you're not a representative democracy, and democracy is threatened."
Senator Boxer’s take seems to be that in an era when increasing numbers of Americans have evidenced a willingness to elect individuals independent of considerations of race or ethnicity or gender---we ought to turn back the clock—or else.
The reality is that we have an African American president (in a country that is still majority white), that the numbers of women in the Congress of the United States have reached record levels (a 600% increase over the past 34 years) and that this state in particular has had two female senators (both Jewish, to boot) for over twenty years. It is hard to imagine that “democracy is threatened” if a particular female candidate isn’t elected. Across the country, over 17% of the mayors of cities with populations over 100,000 are women---the results in Los Angeles aren’t going to alter that trend.
The Senator then proceeded to offer some crude stereotypes to justify her assessment of why Angelenos have to elect a woman as mayor, “women tend to be more collaborative…women tend to be less interested in being something more interested in doing something.”
Twenty years ago this kind of vulgar appeal to identity politics might have been more understandable---at least to those who saw race/ethnicity/gender as relevant criteria for electoral decisions---they arguably had a point to make that touched upon reality. But today urging that race/ethnicity/gender criteria should be determinative is insulting, inaccurate and dangerous.
Candidates need to be evaluated because of their positions on vital issues, because of their track records as elected officials and because of their plans for the future---- not because their gender tends to be “more collaborative” or because there aren’t more of “their kind” in office.
If the words of Boxer, Pelosi et al. were offered by a white candidate or a male candidate their offensive nature would be transparently clear---that is hardly a reason to vote for someone. Blatant appeals to “tribal” voting of any sort are, hopefully, an anachronism that we have begun to transcend. Issues, character, platforms, plans----not happenstances of birth---- ought to dominate our political dialogues.
Earlier this decade in an LA Times' op/ed, State Senator Gloria Romero (both a female and a Latina who might have benefited from “tribal” voting) sagely perceived a trend that she hoped would continue:
But ultimately, we trust the voters. Most citizens cast their votes the American way -- they vote for the most qualified candidate, regardless of race or gender. All we have to do is compete for votes the old fashioned way: by earning them.
Hopefully, the “American way” of assessing candidates will prevail and appeals to other, irrelevant, criteria won’t.