It All Adds Up

It all comes down to the numbers - at least it does according to Dr. Ric Crossman. You’d be amazed at what can be explained by fractions, decimals, percentages and statistics; let Dr. Ric guide you…

Previously on It All Adds Up, I was very rude about Jonah Goldberg’s incompetent attempt to argue that 9/11 was so horribly bad that no one who shares a religion with the perpetrators should ever be allowed to claim they are disproportionately victims of hate crimes. In his desperate, flailing attempts to prove this most unlikely (not to mention distasteful) of hypotheses, he brought up the fact that the FBI has been recording something like 112 anti-Muslim hate crimes a year since 9/11, four times more than pre-attack levels. Apparently, he mused, a four-fold increase in vicious and bigoted invective, vandalism and violence isn’t worth worrying ourselves about.

Of course, in a country with an estimated Muslim population of almost two million, one could at least consider the possibility that 112 hate crimes a year really isn’t that big of a deal in comparison to other crimes – certainly it’s a much smaller number than I would have expected. Naturally, though, it isn’t as simple as that. The number of crimes reported is not the same as the number of those committed. Moreover, there have been many hateful acts committed since 9/11 that were directed at Sikhs and Hindus, because the sort of people who believe that the only way to deal with brown people attacking them is to revenge themselves on other brown people tend not to be particularly choosy when it comes to target selection. Goldberg’s assumed equivalence between an anti-Muslim crime and a hate crime listed as anti-Muslim simply doesn’t exist. Other data also offer substantially higher figures; South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) recorded more instances of bias against Muslims in the week after 9/11 than Goldberg recognises in four months.

Bias is not the same of crime, of course, but it doesn’t seem outrageous to speculate that there might be a correlation between the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment and a reduction in the proportion of hate crimes being reported. Persecution and mistrust of authority often go hand in hand. In any event, the fact Goldberg can argue that anti-Muslim bias is exceptionally rare within a fortnight of an entire angry mob harassing a guy for the crime of looking like a Muslim (he was actually Puerto Rican) rather brings this point home. Does a furious press of people telling a Hispanic man that only the nearby police officers are keeping him safe from being beaten to a pulp constitute an anti-Muslim hate crime? If it does, Goldberg’s figures are impossibly low. If it doesn’t, then his figures are useless for the purpose he puts them to.

Still, perhaps American Muslims take comfort in knowing that in any given year, they have on average a mere 0.0064% chance of ending up having to report a hate crime. On the other hand, the rest of the American population – all 298 million or so of them, could by the same logic work on the principle that they have a mere 0.0001% average chance each year* of being blown away in another major terrorist strike. Now, maybe exchanging that possibility for the 64 times more likely event of being called names or getting your house smashed in sounds like a good deal – certainly Goldberg wants you to think so, with his tiresome “Who are the real victims here?” shtick. But it’s an entirely false choice because - wait for it – Muslims die in terrorist actions too. The destruction wrought on the American citizenry that day was indiscriminate. At worst, Goldberg is trying to insinuate that by definition the Muslim victims of 9/11 weren’t really Americans in the first place. At best, he’s arguing that because terrorism is a hideous affront against human decency, we shouldn’t take any other hate crime seriously. You know, like how you shouldn’t worry about a thousand black people being robbed if a white guy got stabbed in the same town.

Goldberg then compounds his error:

“In 2001, there were twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as there were anti-Muslim, again according to the FBI. In 2002 and pretty much every year since, anti-Jewish incidents have outstripped anti-Muslim ones by at least 6 to 1. Why aren't we talking about the anti-Jewish climate in America?”

The objection that arises here is so embarrassingly obvious I’d almost feel bad for Goldberg, if I believed for a second that the omission wasn’t deliberate. You can’t compare the actual number of instances across two populations unless those populations are of the same size. Jews outnumber Muslims by almost three to one in America. If Goldberg’s data is accurate, a Jewish person is not six times more likely to be a victim of a hate crime; they are twice as likely to report being a victim. Obviously, that’s still not great, but there are a whole host of issues to consider – trust in authority, geographical location, integration of communities – before you’d feel comfortable saying 112 instances in 1.8 million is radically smaller than 672 instances in 5.1 million.

Goldberg’s comparison of Jewish treatment with that of Muslims is far more instructive than he realises. First, because it reminds you that you’ll never see a prominent US newspaper giving space to a Muslim arguing Jews need to suck it up and show some gratitude. Goldberg asks why we’re not talking about an anti-Jewish climate. I’m going to guess it’s because there are hundreds of prominent Jewish figures in politics, the media, and the public consciousness in general who can push back against the anti-Semitism whenever it raises its ugly head. The precariousness of a people’s position is not measured only by how often they are attacked, but how capable they are of defending themselves. Goldberg would find that out spectacularly quickly if he were to try writing this crap about Jews or Christians, but he’s too busy helping out those arguing that the only way Muslims will ever be truly American is to do exactly what those two groups are telling them to. And fuck off with their mosques, obviously.

Indeed, it is frequently the very same people who argue that Muslims have never had it so good that are screaming about rampant anti-Semitism every time a public figure criticises Israel. At that point, they’re only too happy to argue that one does not need to have committed a hate crime in order to have demonstrated something vile and disturbing, or to have insulted or even harmed a minority group. My point is not that I agree that criticism of Israel is tantamount to hating Jews, and it certainly isn’t that we shouldn’t be concerned about anti-Semitism. It’s that pretending that the only bigotry, bias and commentary we need to worry about is of the criminal kind is an act of spectacular deception, a call for wilful blindness over how low-level persecution works.

This, in the final analysis, is the true point. It goes beyond statistics. Anti-Islamic feeling is unquestionably on the rise in America. Each new poll shows Muslims are less welcome, and less trusted. People are screamed at and threatened in the street for having a skin colour faintly similar to that of a terrorist. Some of the most respected conservative voices in America are arguing that the best way for Muslims and Christians to get along is for Muslims to do exactly what the mob tells them to do, because the only co-operation is capitulation. And through it all, there are people like Goldberg, who know that the best way to ensure a backlash will occur is to pre-emptively deny it could ever be possible. To twist the facts to suit the theory. Sherlock Holmes would be spinning in his grave, had he been real.

Of course, if he were real, the cemetery where he lay would surely be an important cultural site. Best not let any Muslims in there, huh?

* That’s working on the principle of one 9/11-size strike every nine years. Which I admit up front is just one approach. I would argue though that the true probability is more likely to be lower than 0.0001% than it is to be higher, since Islamic terrorists had been trying for at least a decade to inflict such horrible damage on the States before 2001, with far less success.