PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler on Tueday addressed Tavis Smiley's claim that Christian terrorists commit far more violence than Muslim ones. Smiley also issued a statement that defended his comments, though it misrepresented what those comments actually were.
"I don't think he made his case, or even came close," Getler said. He rightfully noted that the 2000 Columbine massacre, Smiley's only example of supposed Christian terrorism, "had nothing to do with Christianity." In fact, as Brent Bozell noted in his column today, the shooters even "mocked students who cried out for God to save them."
Though Getler should be applauded for noting Smiley's total failure to offer a convincing argument, he seems to suggest that a convincing case could be made, but simply wasn't in this instance. "One would think," Getler states, "that Smiley would have been better prepared to make what was certain to be a controversial case."
But the point of objection is not that the case is controversial, it's that there is no case to be made in the first place. There are no grounds whatsoever to claim that more Christians than Muslims commit terrorist acts (motivated primarily by their respective religions) in the United States. Whether by the sheer number of attacks, body count, scale of destruction, or impact on policy and our way of life, Muslim terrorists have wrecked havoc on the United States on a scale far beyond the occasional Scott Roeder.
Getler chastised Smiley's "equating the occasionally deranged individual in this country with religiously fanatic suicide bombers and those like Maj. Nidal M. Hasan at Fort Hood in Texas." Smiley did conflate murderers who are Christians with people who murder in the name of Christianity--a logical fallacy in itself.
But the larger issue is Smiley's primary argument (though he apparently considers it a given) that Christian terrorism is more widespread than Muslim terrorism.
That is an argument that should be dismissed outright, but Getler subtly avoids it. Instead, he notes that "there are no doubt people who kill in the name of different religions" and shifts the issue to whether Smiley's examples served to support his argument. But the argument itself is invalid.
For his part, Smiley replied to his critics in a statement that completely misrepresented both his exchange with Ali and the argument that riled up his critics. Smiley stated:
Ms. Hirsi Ali and I were talking about violence perpetrated in the name of religion or by people who claim to be religious. We agreed that there is extremism in Christianity just as there is in Islam and other faiths. We agreed that people have always found ways to use religion to justify heinous acts. Where we disagreed was that followers of any one religion are predisposed to violence. Unfortunately, history has shown us that believers of all stripes have been misguided.
Actually, the disagreement arose not out of a claim that any one religion is "predisposed" to violence, as Smiley disingenuously states. Ali told Smiley "I think you and I disagree" on Smiley's contention that "There are so many more examples" of acts of terrorism perpetrated by Christians than Muslims.
Either Smiley does not understand his viewers' objections, or he realizes how outrageous his statement was, and is trying to shift attention to a completely different argument (that there are violent followers of all religions).
Without a mention from Smiley or Getler, however, was the former's claim that Tea Party activists are comparably dangerous to jihadists. Their collective silence is quite troubling.
Though Smiley made the comment towards the end of the segment in question, he clearly meant to suggest that Tea Partiers--who, he claimed, "are being recently arrested for making threats against elected officials, for calling people 'nigger' as they walk into Capitol Hill, for spitting on people"--can justly be compared to Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Ft. Hood shooter, and Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber.
I'll let Bozell take point in dismantling that assertion:
Put aside the thoroughly unproven accusations, now that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver has backed off the story of conservative spitters, and there is no audio, or corroboration of the accusation of N-words being thrown. Had those events actually happened, would they in any way have been comparable to murder?