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California Democratic Party resolves to oppose Islamophobia

The California Democratic Party Executive Board met in Costa Mesa July 19-21. A large chunk of its business was approving resolutions. Among the statements of Democratic Party principle approved over the weekend was one submitted by the state party Arab-American Caucus: “Affirming California’s Pluralism and Diversity.” But this anodyne title obscures the true meaning of the resolution.

After extolling California’s commitment to pluralism and the free exercise of religion, the resolution states:

“WHEREAS, there has been a marked nationwide increase in acts of violence, discrimination and hostility directed at Americans who are Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim or South Asian (AMEMSA) community on the basis of their religious or ethnic identity including here in California.”

On this basis, the party resolves “support and sponsorship of any legislation, which OPPOSE Islamophobia, bigotry and discrimination and repudiate random acts of violence against AMEMSA community members.”

At first glance, this resolution seems suitable, or at least harmless. The problem is, the premise is false, and therefore could lead to mischief.

Look at the most recent federal hate crime statistics, for 2011. Of the 1, 233 incidents based on religion, 771 were anti-Jewish—at 62.5% the largest category. Just 157 incidents were anti-Islamic, not quite 13%.

The comparable numbers for 2010 are: 887 out of 1,322 anti-religious incidents were anti-Jewish (67%); 160 were anti-Islamic (12%).

Now, we’re all familiar with the notion that there are “lies, damn lies and statistics.” Maybe there is some way to spin the data to make it seem more ominous for Muslim-Americans than it appears. But it’s real hard to conclude that Muslims are the main victims of hate crimes in this country.

So what lies behind this resolution opposing discrimination and violence against Muslims? It’s part of the continuing effort to insinuate the concept of “Islamophobia” into public and political life. This is problematic.

“Islamophobia,” defined as a type of racism and bigotry against Muslims, is a conversation-stopper. And that’s deliberate. It’s intended to choke off discussion, not of Islam, but of Islamism and jihadism.

Of course, Islamophobia does in fact exist. There are Americans who hate and fear all Muslims. But:

1. Islamophobia is a relatively small problem. Obviously, it doesn’t feel like a small problem when you’re on the receiving end. But public officials and other thought leaders have consistently and successfully made the case that the majority of American Muslims are good citizens. We’ve reached the point that after a jihadist terrorist attack—for example, the Tsarnaev bombing of the Boston Marathon—the general response is anxiety about a backlash against Muslims, rather than any actual backlash.

2. The strategy of insisting on the ubiquity of “Islamophobia” may actually backfire, escalating the problem it tries to conceal. Those who deploy the concept of Islamophobia as a sword attempt to put out of bounds criticism of Islamism and jihadism, by (a) equating Islamism with Islam, (b) insisting that Islam is not itself dangerous and (c) calling anyone who disagrees a bigot. But people aren’t stupid. They see violent jihad throughout the world. More and more they are likely to conclude that (a) if there is no difference between Islam and Islamism, then (b) Islam is dangerous, and (c) they will lose their fear of being called racists for this quite reasonable deduction.

So it’s too bad that the California Democratic Party got caught up in this deception. In the long run it’s likely to do more harm than good.