Guilt peddler and emotional trainwreck David Sirota took to the pages of Salon on Tuesday to write about the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing through the lens of "white male privilege," the only such device he is apparently able to wield. His is an outlook born of conspiracy theory, the fantasy of class collusion and secret alliances.
So it is unsurprising that most people think his ideas are stupid. Twitter users pilloried Sirota mercilessly for saying without a trace of irony, "Let's Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber is a White American."
The reflexive use of racism has achieved such a level of bemused contempt for everyone to the right of Think Progress that Sirota's silliness even rated a Drudge link this morning.
Sirota doesn't rate a full fisking, but a few truly awful statements deserve note.
Because of these undeniable and pervasive double standards, the specific identity of the Boston Marathon bomber (or bombers) is not some minor detail — it will almost certainly dictate what kind of governmental, political and societal response we see in the coming weeks.
The reason we don't see links between "acts of terror" by random white people is that, contrary to Sirota's clear unstated premise, skin color doesn't by itself create a link between people. If a domestic terrorist in Cleveland wishes to communicate with one in New York, they have to use some other means besides believing in their hearts the importance of their own skin tone.
If two people share a religion, sects of which have a known doctrine of evangelism through violence, that's an actual linkage. If they adhere to the same political ideology, that's another kind of link. In the case of Islam, there is both a political and a religious linkage.
That means regardless of your particular party affiliation, if you care about everything from stopping war to reducing the defense budget to protecting civil liberties to passing immigration reform, you should hope the bomber was a white domestic terrorist. Why? Because only in that case will privilege work to prevent the Boston attack from potentially undermining progress on those other issues.
To know that’s true is to simply consider how America reacts to different kinds of terrorism.
Sirota tries to dance around his own party affiliation, listing instead the full gamut of political causes from leftist to far leftist. The phrasing is awkward. From one writer to another, David, simply omit the clause about party affiliation altogether.
More substantively, Sirota doesn't explain why privilege will prevent progress on his favorite policy fronts. Let me try.
Rep Steve King (R-IA) linked the Boston Massacre to immigration reform, noting, perhaps implicitly, that the bombing had all the hallmarks of having been executed by foreign terror organizations. Whether a foreign terrorist tries to come to the US posing as a business traveler or simply walks across one of our unguarded borders, it would be nice to stop them, and our immigration laws should reflect that.
But if the Boston bomber is not a "White American," but a foreigner of whatever color, it is not a lack of privilege that would cause us to realize that our border security is lacking, but the fact that a foreign national blew up two bombs at a major American cultural event. And if a "White American" is found to be the bomber, it will not be privilege that separates his crime from our immigration laws but people like Sirota insisting that a domestic terror attack should have nothing to do with border security.
The cries to separate border security from domestic terrorism will be all the stronger from Sirota if an American of color is the bomber, whatever the motive for the attack.
Privilege, even assuming for the sake of argument that it exists, has nothing to do with the matter.
Though FBI data show fewer terrorist plots involving Muslims than terrorist plots involving non-Muslims, that's a very low bar to get over.
Of the 228,182.000 American adults in 2008, about 173,402,000 or 76% called themselves Christian and 1,349,000 or 0.6% of the American adult population (pdf) identifies itself as Muslim. . So we would expect, as a matter of simple statistics, to see something like two orders of magnitude more acts of terrorism to be committed by Christians than by Muslims. That is, for every act of terror committed by an American Muslim, we would expect to see about 100 committed by Christians.
That it is even a matter of comparison is absurd. Establishing that the 99.4% of Americans who are not Muslims commit more terror than the 0.6% who are ought not be so difficult.
Sirota appears to rely heavily on a report from a shadowy group called the Muslim Public Affairs Council, MPAC. The report, the group's "Post-9/11 Database," contends that there are more non-Muslim incidents of terrorism than ones committed by Muslims.
While that fact is not really in dispute, the way the group gets there is by counting every casual threat and act of stupidity by some weird douchebag as an act of terrorism. Jared Lee Loughner, for instance, helps pad the group's numbers on terrorist acts committed by "anti-government" terrorists. Loughner, you'll recall, was a leftist who killed six people and very nearly killed Rep Gabby Giffords in an attempt to stop the tyranny of grammar. He was a nutcase, that is, whose stalking target happened to be in Congress.
These terror plots are counted the same whether they resulted in the deaths of innocents or were discovered by FBI sting operations that may have instigated the plots in the first place. The database specifically excludes eco-terrorism, perhaps the largest single segment of terrorism, even bigger than the jihadist category. And most importantly, the database doesn't track material support for terrorism, probably because that would mean reporting on groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations, an ally of MPAC named as an unindicted conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial.
America has mobilized a full-on war effort exclusively against the prospect of Islamic terrorism. Indeed, the moniker “War on Terrorism” has come to specifically mean “War on Islamic Terrorism,” involving everything from new laws like the Patriot Act, to a new torture regime, to new federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security, to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to mass surveillance of Muslim communities.
The statistics Sirota relies on begin history on 9/12/2001, looking at terror attacks after that date. But if one looks at a longer period of time, say beginning on February 26, 1993, or perhaps October 23, 2000, or an even more thunderously obvious date like September 10, 2001, the reason we have tended to link Islam to terrorism might become clear even to someone looking through a lens designed only to show stuff that isn't there.