Time Editor Offers Astoundingly Illogical Argument Against Congressional Hearings on Jihadism

One would expect an editor of Time Magazine to argue with more logical force than a college freshman. But alas, in his effort to dismiss a looming congressional investigation into homegrown Jihadist terrorism, Romesh Ratnesar, Time's contributing editor-at-large, demonstrated a profound inability to lay out a coherent argument.

Among the article's highlights: the Fort Hood massacre wasn't actually terrorism and is therefore irrelevant to any discussion of Jihadist violence; most American Muslims are opposed to Jihadism and therefore the few who do endorse the ideology are not really a threat; and because recent terrorist attacks have failed, there is not a serious threat of future attacks.

This passage forms the crux of Ratnesar's argument:

Though acts of violent extremism by U.S. Muslims appear to have grown, their potency has not. American Muslims remain more moderate, diverse and integrated than the Muslim populations in any other Western society. Despite the efforts of al-Qaeda propagandists like al-Awlaki, the evidence of even modest sympathy for the enemy existing inside the U.S. is minuscule. The paranoia about homegrown terrorism thus vastly overstates al-Qaeda's strength and reflects our leaders' inability to make honest assessments about the true threats to America's security.

Those who beat the drums about the homegrown terrorism threat often gloss over one salient fact: for all the publicity that surrounds cases of domestic jihad, not a single civilian has been killed by an Islamic terrorist on U.S. soil since Sept. 11. (The killing spree by Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 doesn't fit the standard definition of terrorism: his motives were not wholly ideological, nor did he deliberately target civilians.) That's due to a number of factors, including the military's assault on al-Qaeda's leadership, tougher homeland-security measures, smart policing and some degree of luck. But the fact that every homegrown terrorism plot has been foiled before it could be carried out also demonstrates the fecklessness of the terrorists themselves. In nearly every case — including that of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, who came closest to succeeding — homegrown terrorists have been found to have acted almost entirely alone. There has been no vast conspiracy. Terrorist attacks may not require much money or ingenuity, but a lone wolf has little chance of pulling off the kind of mass-casualty strike that counterterrorism experts worry about most.

That is some extremely sloppy arguing. Let's take the logical fallacies in that passage one by one.

American Muslims remain more moderate, diverse and integrated than the Muslim populations in any other Western society.

This is a go-to straw man for folks making arguments similar to Ratnesar's. Certainly no legislator who favors the House's hearings on homegrown Jihadism has suggested that large segments of the American Muslim community are radicalized and potential terrorists. It doesn't take large segments, as recent history has so clearly demonstrated.

Despite the efforts of al-Qaeda propagandists like al-Awlaki, the evidence of even modest sympathy for the enemy existing inside the U.S. is minuscule.

A similar straw man: of course there is demonstrably little sympathy for Jihadism in the United States. But again, there need not be widespread sympathy for terrorist attacks to take place.

[N]ot a single civilian has been killed by an Islamic terrorist on U.S. soil since Sept. 11.

If the argument here is that the threat of Jihadist terrorism can be measured by its body count, then Ratnesar has just undermined his own point. After all, quite a few people were killed in the 9/11 attacks.

The killing spree by Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 doesn't fit the standard definition of terrorism: his motives were not wholly ideological, nor did he deliberately target civilians.

Another straw man. Ratnesar's semantic claim that the Fort Hood shooting was not terrorism does not dispute that the shooter was motivated by radical Islam. Congressional hearings into domestic Jihadists - not terrorism, mind you, but the spread of militant Islam in the United States - are not concerned with how we define "terrorism." They are concerned with folks like Nidal Hasan, who yell "Allahu Akbar" as they open fire.

But the fact that every homegrown terrorism plot has been foiled before it could be carried out also demonstrates the fecklessness of the terrorists themselves.

The implication here is that because a number of Islamic terrorists have failed to carry out their plots, Islamic terrorists will, because they are apparently all feckless, always fail to carry out their plots. That is of course an absurd claim - and a dangerous one to boot. Thankfully law enforcement officials and federal legislators do not share the view that terrorism is only a concern after terrorist plots are successfully carried out.

The point also ignores acts of Jihadist violence (I hesitate to use the word "terrorism" so as not to offend Ratnesar's hair-splitting definition) that have been successfully carried out, including the Fort Hood shooting and the bombing of a military recruitment center in Little Rock, Ark.

But even ignoring those instances, the notion that federal legislators are unable "to make honest assessments about the true threats to America's security" because they base their concern on attempts to kill hundreds of innocent Americans that were, thank God, unsuccessful is not just a fallacious argument, but a dangerous one.

In nearly every case — including that of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, who came closest to succeeding — homegrown terrorists have been found to have acted almost entirely alone. There has been no vast conspiracy.

So? Given that Ratnesar prefaced his fallacy-ridden argument with a reference to the Tucson massacre, one would think he would recognize the immense danger of a "lone wolf." Hasan was not part of conspiracy - though he did try to contact al Qaeda - he simply approved of Jihadism and wanted to murder Americans in Allah's name.

Terrorist attacks may not require much money or ingenuity, but a lone wolf has little chance of pulling off the kind of mass-casualty strike that counterterrorism experts worry about most.

Once again, Ratnesar claims that the inability of "feckless" terrorists (as he defines the term) to thus far carry out an attack means that such attacks are not of any grave concern. Again, that is not just wrong, but wrong-headed. Clearly the chance is not that "little" - for some reason we continue to hear about these plots. A willfull ignorance about the possibility that another homegrown Jihadi might succeed as Major Hasan did does a great disservice to attempts to head off such violence before Americans are indiscriminately slaughtered.

Ratnesar goes on to offer more fallacy-ridden clarification:

Of course, violent individuals — from Hasan to Jared Loughner — are still capable of causing mayhem. But there's no evidence that large numbers of American Muslims are inclined to do so. Though alarmists point to the alienation of young Muslims in Western Europe as a sign of things to come for the U.S., the likelihood of that happening there is remote. A Gallup survey conducted in 2009 found that American Muslims report vastly higher rates of life satisfaction than do their counterparts in other Western countries — and higher rates than the populations in every Muslim-majority country except one, Saudi Arabia. In the past 10 years, fewer than 200 people in the U.S. have been indicted on suspicion of jihadist activities. A comprehensive report by the Rand Corporation last year concluded that just one out of every 30,000 American Muslims could be said to have joined jihad, "suggesting an American Muslim population that remains hostile to jihadist ideology and its exhortations to violence."

Oy. Loughner and Hasan demonstrate that there need not be large numbers of radicalized individuals to wreak havoc on the nation. This point seems totally lost on Ratnesar.

True, Jihadism is nowhere near as prevalent in the United States as it is in Europe. And yet, we continue to see attempts - both successful and unsuccessful - by American Muslims to attack the United States. Why is that happening, if Jihadist influence is so sparse in the United States? It's a good question, and one with serious implications for domestic security policy - perhaps it's even a question worthy of a congressional hearing. But don't tell that to Romesh Ratnesar.