Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Muslims in America

The Washington Post has an ominous headline, "America's Muslims Aren't as Assimilated as You Think." The article begins:

If only the Muslims in Europe -- with their hearts focused on the Islamic world and their carry-on liquids poised for destruction in the West -- could behave like the well-educated, secular and Americanizing Muslims in the United States, no one would have to worry. So runs the comforting media narrative ... But
over the past two years, I have traveled the country, visiting mosques, interviewing Muslim leaders and speaking to Muslim youths ... and I have encountered a different truth.
Oh no! Are American Muslim communities running rampant with alienated native-born would-be suicide bombers? Are mullahs leading crowds in chants of "Death to America?" Here's what the reporter found:
I found few signs of London-style radicalism among Muslims in the United States.
Whew, OK. Let's read on:

A new generation of American Muslims ... [is] more likely to take comfort in their own communities, and less likely to embrace the nation's fabled melting pot of shared values and common culture. ... [T]he Sept. 11 attacks also had the dual effect of making American Muslims feel isolated in their adopted country, while pushing them to rediscover their faith.

So, the big news is that Muslims feel isolated, and they're becoming more religious. Then the writer gets down to specifics:

Young, first-generation American Muslim women ... are wearing head scarves ... increasing numbers of young Muslims are attending Islamic schools and lectures; Muslim student associations in high schools and at colleges are proliferating; and the role of the mosque has evolved from strictly a place of worship to a center for socializing and for learning Arabic and Urdu as well as the Koran.
Student associations? Studying your parents' native language? What's this world coming to? Surely American Muslims must be seething with anger and resentment! OK, maybe not:
"After I covered, I changed," Rehan told me. "I felt I wanted to give people a good impression of Islam. I wanted people to know how happy I am to be Muslim."

Hm. What about those Islamic lectures?
"So we have to be strategic in our thinking, because people who are our enemies are strategic in their thinking." The "enemies" Yusuf referred to that day were not non-Muslims, but rather those who use Islam as a rationale for violence.

Um, so, how exactly were these Islamic lectures a bad sign, again? And what about that alienation?
I spoke with them ... after they had been to the mosque one Sunday for a halaqa (a study circle) focused on integrating faith and daily life. They were in their twenties: Hayat, a psychologist; Ismahan, a computer scientist; and Fatma, a third-grade teacher. ... "Some Muslims do anything to fit in. They drink. They date. My biggest fear is that I might assimilate to the American lifestyle so much that my modesty goes out the window."

And overall:

Imam Zaid Shakir ... refers to such young Muslims as the "rejectionist generation." They are rejectionist, he says, because they turn their backs not only on absolutist religious interpretations, but also on America's secular ways. ...
In my years of interviews, I found few indications of homegrown militancy among American Muslims. Indeed, thus far, they have proved they can compete economically with other Americans... the average annual income of a Muslim household surpasses that of average American households.

So, let me get this straight. A group of immigrants and their children are getting in touch with their roots and becoming more pious. They're socializing largely within their own group while succeeding in the business world. They wear head scarves out of pride, not of oppression. They're intellectual and struggle against the temptations of modern life. They reject extremism as well as materialism. Heavens to Betsy!

So, what was up with that alarmist headline and introduction? It sounds to me like Muslims may be encountering some expected difficulties in America but overall are doing just fine. If Muslim communities in the rest of the world did as good a job integrating modern and traditional values as the Muslims in America do, we'd all be a lot safer and happier.

Update: A Muslim blogger repudiates the article. Essentially, the Washington Post article confused secularization with assimilation.


At Thursday, August 31, 2006 at 4:39:00 PM PDT, Blogger Victor said...

Essentially, the Washington Post article confused secularization with assimilation.

That's right ... and unsurprisingly so, given that religion is a backwards-ass, superstition for the poor, uneducated and easy to command.

That said ... Christianity has developed a way of living with modernity and has had the concept of a "secular" sphere since almost the very beginning (St. Augustine). Indeed, I'd argue the notion of secularity and the separation of church and state originated with Christianity (render unto Caesar, the prince ... bears not the sword in vain).

I don't know enough about Islam to use emphatics, but I do enough to know that the secular, "Two Kingdoms" and related concepts are at best severely underdeveloped in Islam -- both theoretically and in practice. As long as that is the case, even assimilation into a secular republic of Christendom will be very tricky indeed.

At Thursday, August 31, 2006 at 6:11:00 PM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

Assimilation of immigrants works in two directions; the immigrant group becomes more Americanized and the rest of the country absorbs some of the immigrant group. You're probably right in that Islam is tougher to integrate with American culture and values, but of course, it's not like America isn't full of Christian groups that set themselves apart from the rest of society to some degree or another. But at long as there doesn't seem to be much of an interest in supporting terrorism or shari'a, I think we're OK.

At Thursday, August 31, 2006 at 6:33:00 PM PDT, Blogger Victor said...

but of course, it's not like America isn't full of Christian groups that set themselves apart from the rest of society to some degree or another.

Sure, but most of them just want to be left alone (though they sometimes run afoul of the law in there so doing) -- the Amish/Mennonites, polygamist breakaway Mormons, even the Branch Davidians. And none of them have hundreds of millions co-religionists abroad, providing both a pool for new immigrants and national sovereign governments.

But as long as there doesn't seem to be much of an interest in supporting terrorism or shari'a, I think we're OK.

Setting terrorism aside (for now) as a rabbit hole, that Sharia, or at least someone's version of it, should ideally be the secular[sic] law is pretty much universal orthodoxy in Islam, even if not one of the Five Pillars of Islam per se. In other words, I'm sure there are some Muslims who may not want Shariah law in the US, circumstance permitting. But they are accordingly bad Muslims.

At Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 3:46:00 PM PDT, Anonymous arifa said...

it's always difficult to define a "bad muslim" since there is nothing like the papacy to say what is true islam and what isn't. why should there be a "reform islam" that is just as legit as "reform judaism"? who's to say that's being a bad muslim? if there are enough of us, the definitions will have to loosen up. even the five pillars of islam aren't mentioned inthe quran. there is much confusion, both within the muslim world and outsied it, about what is rooted in culture and what is rooted in the actual religion.


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