The US president recently attempted to ramp up the fear factor to galvanise his faithful voting base with one of his own snippets of fake news. He asserted that among the migrant caravan of thousands heading to the US southern border hoping to request asylum are “unknown Middle Easterners”, a claim supported by Vice-President Mike Pence who said his boss had “very good information”.
When pressed by the media for evidence, Donald Trump admitted that no such proof existed, adding “But there could very well be”. Since when did people hailing from the Middle East (barring Israelis of course) become scary undesirables whose very mention puts the fear of God into law-abiding American citizens!
During the current era facts impact minds far less than blatant political propaganda cynically used to excite the base emotions of cultish rah-rah crowds with a predilection for racism or xenophobia. Whipping up fear and hatred of the other is a staple of present day populists cognisant that blaming foreigners for stealing jobs from nationals or presenting a threat to security is a winning ticket. Their message is tighten our borders and all will be safe and can look forward to prosper.
While it is the case that in recent years extremist devotees of Daesh have killed innocents on US soil, the FBI has revealed that the biggest threats against American citizens emanate from domestic terror groups and mainly white males, including white supremacists. Let us not forget, too, that most of the radicalised killers were, in fact, Americans either born or raised in the United States, not immigrants from the Middle East.
In January, citing a report published by the US Government Accountability Office on terrorism, US Senator Cory Booker told lawmakers that since 2001, “we’ve had 85 major attacks in our country; 73 per cent of them have been by white nationalist hate groups against minorities …”
There have been many more since then together with a string of tragic school shootings. As of last month, the total of shootings on campuses totalled 65. Sky News reported that between 1982 and 2017, 92 out of 95 mass shootings in the US were perpetrated by males. Broken down in terms of race, 54 of the attackers were white, 16 black and seven shooters were either Latino or Asian.
Just in the last few weeks, white American males have been responsible for sending improvised explosive devices to prominent Democrats/Trump critics, creating carnage at a Pittsburgh synagogue while shouting “all Jews must die” and shooting African Americans at a store near Louisville.
You may have noticed that white male offenders are more often than not characterised as being mentally deficient, insane or suffering from personality disorders. Many such attacks go underreported by the media.
Coverage of terrorist attacks
The Guardian’s US Data Editor Mona Chalabi underscored research conducted by the University of Alabama that found an enormous disparity between the coverage of terrorist attacks committed by Muslims and those by non-Muslims. “Terrorist attacks committed by non-Muslims received an average of 15 headlines whereas those committed by Muslim extremists received 105 headlines,” she writes.
In truth, Americans are being fed a crock. They have more chance of winning big in a lottery than being injured or killed by an immigrant from the Middle East. Over 99 per cent of deaths in the US are caused by various illnesses, accidents, homicides and self-harm (suicide), which has risen to unprecedented levels in recent decades whereas suicide rates in Europe are in decline.
American society needs to self-reflect upon the reasons behind the hatred, divisions and violence splintering its core.
It is a mistake for vote-hungry politicians to scapegoat illusory Middle Easterners while playing down the danger posed by far right nationalists and white supremacists. America’s very fabric not to mention its reputation around the world is at stake.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.