Our Worst Enemy

coexistenceAfter the recent shooting at a Muhammad cartoon contest near Dallas, in which the only deaths were the attackers, there has been a flood of discussion about the threat of ISIS, and violent Muslims in general. An anti-Islamic article by Gary Cass came to my attention again, and I was struck by the blatant irony in calling for genocide to deal with a supposed threat of genocide. The original article can be read here.

In recent years I’ve noticed more and more that very conservative Christians often sound exactly like the Islamic extremists they condemn. Perhaps they don’t commit as many acts of violence overall, but a major part of their fear of Islam concerns the ideology. The fact that their own ideology argues for the same sort of violence as radical Islam does–fighting against a religion they consider evil–seems to be lost on them.

What I find most interesting is the extremely disproportionate attention given to Islamic violence compared to other threats. To put it into perspective, let’s look at the death toll from radical Islamic terrorist attacks in America. I got my statistics from an anti-Islamic website, so if there’s any dispute at all regarding the numbers, this data is more likely to be on the high end. They report that between 1972 and 2014, 3,103 people have been killed by Muslims in America, in 75 separate attacks.

This violence perpetrated by religious extremists is called “horrific”, “deadly”, and a number of other sensational adjectives. I wonder, then, how the numbers hold up against other causes of death.

According to the CDC, excessive use of alcohol is responsible for roughly 88,000 deaths in America per year. This works out to 241 deaths per day, which means that every thirteen days, as many Americans die from alcohol as have died from Islamic terrorism over the past 42 years.

FBI data shows that in 1991, there were 24,700 murders committed in America, and over 106,000 forcible rapes. Thankfully our crime rates have dropped significantly, but it means that in the year I was born, about 3,103 Americans were raped every ten days, and the same number were murdered about every 46 days.

Even the recent focus on police-caused deaths is more reasonable. The number of murders committed by police officers is difficult to quantify since the data isn’t really there, but the FBI seems to think it’s at least a few hundred every year, which is still four times the number of American deaths caused by Muslim terrorists. The same people who think all Muslims are evil seem to often defend the police by pointing out how few people are murdered by them, which I think is particularly significant in this context.

There are plenty of other threats to American lives–cars alone are involved in nearly as many deaths each month as radical Islam has claimed in 42 years. Where is the logic in focusing on terrorism as fuel for fear-mongering articles? Why aren’t car companies, breweries, and distilleries accused of murderous conspiracy?

The answer, I am guessing, lies in the difficulty of confronting personal problems. For the same reason that we always tend to blame others for our problems, our country in general looks outside of itself for something other to focus on, a threat that comes from outside. It makes ignoring our own problems easier.

2,996 of those terrorism-caused deaths happened in three attacks on one day: September 11th, 2001. The horror of that day is real. That number is almost half the number of Americans who already die every day from other causes. Increasing the daily death toll by almost 50% is a major event, and the impact it has made is understandable.

However, it was a single day, and only leaves 107 other deaths to be spread out over the rest of those 42 years. The death toll from violent crime, car accidents, alcohol, and other self-inflicted causes continues on, day after day.

Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to ignore; it’s always been happening. It shouldn’t be ignored, though, and I find it highly illogical to focus so much on Islamic terrorism when alcohol abuse and non-Islamic murderers right here at home have killed millions.

The downfall of America will not be Islam. Our worst enemy is not a religion barely represented in our country, or the people who practice it. Our worst enemy is ourselves. It’s easier to take attacks performed by outsiders and sensationalize them; it’s a whole lot harder to face down the things that are tearing us apart from the inside.

It isn’t just physical violence, either. As a wise man once said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. The polarization of politics and religion, and just about anything else we have opinions on, that is the real problem with America. No solutions are reached when the people split themselves into two halves and each side spends most of their time arguing about how their opinions are better and the other side is evil and stupid and worthless.

So hey, let’s stop.

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