Ever since 9/11, Islamophobia has been a recurrent problem in a number of Western societies, including the United States. It's been fueled by opportunistic politicians, hate-mongering bloggers, and any number of the other usual suspects. The lingering fear of Islam undergirds the present concerns that the turmoil in Egypt might give groups like the Muslim Brotherhood greater political influence there.
Trying to inject reason and evidence into this sort of debate is usually futile, but I do wish to report some good news. Remember the avalanche of Muslim-based terrorism that was about to descend upon the West? Well, according to the EU's 2010 Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, the total number of terrorist incidents in Europe declined in 2009. Even more important, the overwhelming majority of these incidents had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.
The report is produced by Europol, which is the criminal intelligence agency of the European Union. In 2009, there were fewer than 300 terrorist incidents in Europe, a 33 percent decline from the previous year. The vast majority of these incidents (237 out of 294) were conducted by indigenous European separatist groups, with another forty or so attributed to leftists and/or anarchists. According to the report, a grand total of one (1) attack was conducted by Islamists. Put differently, Islamist groups were responsible for a whopping 0.34 percent of all terrorist incidents in Europe in 2009. In addition, the report notes, "the number of arrests relating to Islamist terrorism (110) decreased by 41 percent compared to 2008, which continues the trend of a steady decrease since 2006."
I know there are lot of people getting rich fueling Islamophobia, but we'd really all be better off if they would focus their attention to anarchists, or maybe separatist groups like ETA. The report isn't naive or Panglossian about Islamic radicalism, and it emphasizes that there are still extremist groups with worrisome ambitions. But their sifting of the data does put the actual danger in perspective and serves as a valuable corrective to the careless threat inflation that has become all too common over the past decade.
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.