American Doctors and the Terrorist Threat

Did you know that there are thousands of Muslim American doctors in the United States? Before I come to the implications of this fact — and the role that American doctors can play to enhance security — here is some relevant background on terrorism in America since 9/11:

1. 400,000 Americans have been killed by gun violence since 9/11. Of those, 45 were killed in terrorist acts by Muslims, half in two tragic incidents at Fort Hood and in San Bernardino. (To be clear: I know that for many people, violence by terrorists is much scarier than violence by other groups. The purpose here isn’t to question that point.)

2. 42% of “jihadi” activities known to Homeland Security since 9/11 were reported by Muslim Americans. Numerous Muslim American imams and community leaders have worked closely with Homeland Security across the country to keep tabs on youths that are being tempted by radicalization.

3. Whereas 5,000 Europeans, many of Muslim descent, have joined ISIS, only a “few dozen” Muslim Americans have successfully done so.

Given that there are some 3 million Muslim Americans, how do we account for the relatively small number of violent acts by Muslims in America — indeed, fewer than by other groups in the overall population? And how do we account for the relative lack of large-scale terrorist attacks (involving more than all-too-common mass shootings) since 9/11?

Improved security and our geographical distance from the Middle East are undoubtedly factors that have prevented terrorism. Perhaps more than any other element, the relative level of economic and professional success and cultural integration of Muslim Americans has contributed to their strong sense of citizenship and loyalty to the country.

And yet Muslims remain largely invisible in American society. Whether we are talking about the thousands American doctors that are Muslim or the hundreds of thousands of Muslim Americans in Texas, few find occasion to reveal their faith in a professional context. Many are too timid to do so even with their friends: “we look like Latinos or Hindus; no one asks, and we don’t tell,” many Muslims say, fearful that people will freak out.

ISIS is preying on the small sliver of alienated and disaffected American and European youth of Muslim origin. Every community has vulnerable people — some mentally ill, some angry for psychologically more predictable reasons (look up the San Bernardino killer’s personal history). Right now, Muslim Americans across the country face a significant increase in children being bullied at school for their faith, rampant racism, and endless hate on the internet and on TV. Does this sound like it will help or hinder the fight against alienation and thus radicalization?

Much of the malice against Muslim Americans stems from the fact that the majority of Americans believe that “Muslim values” and “American values” are incompatible. Our fellow citizens are being terribly misled.

It is time for Muslim Americans to step out into the open. The American Medical Association can help. Perhaps doctors can stand with their Muslim colleagues (in paid ads?) and help Americans realize that one of their doctors may well be Muslim; that most Muslim Americans feel no conflict whatsoever between their faith and their fully American identity; that Muslim Americans are statistically far more likely than other groups to oppose violence against innocent people; and that Muslim American doctors are dedicated as much by their faith as their profession to keep us healthy and serve us when we’re sick.

We trust our doctors far more than our politicians. By helping Americans “see” the Muslims among them, the AMA would help defuse the vitriolic rhetoric and abuse Muslim Americans face everywhere — the kind of hate that just might help radicalize the next terrorist.

Hassanaly Ladha is Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut.