Jacob Heilbrunn

Hillary Clinton Compares American to Islamic Terrorism

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is likening American exremists to Islamic ones. Speaking in Dubai, she pointed to the heinous attack in Arizona to draw a kind of moral equivalence between Islamic and American society. According to Clinton,

"Look, we have extremists in my country," Clinton said while taping the show at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. "A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Giffords, was just shot by an extremist in our country. We have the same kinds of problems."

Do we?

The impulse to make such a statement is understandable on several levels. First, it appeals to the Arab audience by trying to draw it into a kind of complicity with Clinton. The underlying idea is something like this: "Hey, we're not really all that different. We have the same problem." The other messsage is: "If we're not that different, then we're not picking on you or singling you out for criticism. We're just as capable of exercising it on ourselves." Finally, it expresses the hope: "Let's all solve the terrorism problem together."

But there are some significant differences between America and the Middle East (to put it mildly!). While a big debate has erupted in America about the extent of the influence of the radical right, no one is alleging that there is a vast terrorist conspiracy. If anything, Jared Loughner appears to be the classic America assassin--the lone wolf, the loser who takes out his anger by attempting to murder public officials. Los Angeles Times blogger Andrew Malcolm observes that mental illness, not political rhetoric, more often seems to be at the root of assassination attempts in America.

Given the bizarre nature of Lougner's ramblings, some liberal commentators have adopted the fallback position that the miasma of right-wing rhetoric created the conditions in which he would feel impelled to attack Rep. Giffords and others. There can be no doubting that by putting politicians in the crosshairs Sarah Palin did more than cross a line. She went too far. Way too far.

It's also the case that Lougner's attack definitely was a case of terrorism. He was out to terrorize. He did. Public officials will become even more nervous about their security. So will judges.

But none of this reaches the level of Islamic societies. If America had government preachers and government television and radio networks preaching hatred against liberal values that would be one thing. But it doesn't. Sorry, Hillary, but Fox News is not the ulama of America. Ultimately, Clinton's facile comparison blurs more than it clarifies.