Tuesday, August 29, 2006

yes, we are

the WaPo has an essay claiming that American muslims are not as assimilated as one might think. However, the problem here is the definition of "assimilated". In the lead graf, the author concedes,

I found few signs of London-style radicalism among Muslims in the United States. At the same time, the real story of American Muslims is one of accelerating alienation from the mainstream of U.S. life, with Muslims in this country choosing their Islamic identity over their American one.

Emphasis mine, which I think rather undercuts the headline. We ARE as assimilated as you might think; we are not a radical community. The real complaint here seems to be the issue of Islamic "identity". I see no evidence in the article that muslim americans are "choosing" their Islamic identity "over" the American one; in fact if anything there is an ongoing synthesis of the two, which is really the entire point of America. The truth is that yes American muslims are religious, but so are Christians here by and large, more so than in Europe. Few would argue that Christian Americans are choosing Christian identity over their American identity, after all. Muslims in America do not have to be Irshad Manji-style "refuseniks" to be moderate; if anything the history of America teaches us that here (and almost exclusively here!) can the persecuted peoples of the world find sanctuary to practice their faith as they see fit. American muslims do not and should not have to be secular in order to be moderate.

The truth is that muslim americans are a different demographic and have a different history than their European counterparts. I discussed this issue at length in an earlier post titled "muslim citizens, not citizen muslims" and provided quite a few links therein that address this point. Also see publius' comments on the WaPo article above, in which he makes much of the same economic and class-based arguments.

However, the sense of alienation that Muslims feel is a very real thing. What do you expect when we have talk of muslim-only airport lines? For the most part American muslims have borne the increased scrutiny without complaint. We do as a community understand why we are being singled out - but that doesn't take the sting out of "flying while muslim" in any way. But is alienation and resentment equivalent to anti-assimilation? No, though they certainly could be the seeds for it in the long run. However I have great faith in America and I do not think this will come to pass.

The whole issue of identity is really not as critical as that of modernity. Its reconciling tradition with modernity that is tricky. We all have multiple identities and we rarely "choose" one over another, but the conflict between modernity and tradition is sometimes trickier to navigate. The way in which my own community (the Dawoodi Bohras) achieves this feat was nicely described by Jonah Blank in his book, Mullahs on the Mainframe, of which you can read an excerpt here and which I myself reviewed here.


  1. So, I'd like to think that's the direction we're headed. Here's my sheep/goat separating question, though:

    Are American Muslims (or any Muslims) ready to renounce the apostasy doctrine they've embraced all this time?

    I don't see how any acceptable form of assimilation can occur without that.

    For the record, to this point, I've never found any clear statement from any Muslim about this.

  2. For God's sake, I get really tired of this "the silence is deafening" stuff when anyone who spends a moderate amount of time reading muslim blogs or looking at statements from moderate muslim groups knows damn well they weren't silent.

    How do I know? I just now took five minutes out and did an internet search on "muslim apostate." I found this article and this one immediately. I wasn't even trying hard.

    Harry, get your head out of Little Green Footballs and Jihadwatch please, and try actually looking around and talking to some actual muslims. Yeesh.

  3. I thought the same thing when I saw the article about British Muslims "choosing" their Muslim identity over their "British identity. As an American and a Christian, if I were asked which came first, I'd say "Christian." The only people that might surprise are those who have no religious identity to choose from. Which, unfortunately, is pretty much true of a lot of non-Muslim western Europeans.

  4. I think young Muslims face some barriers to integration that other groups may not. While taking a class at my local community college, I befriended a young Muslim man who recently immigrated to the US from Tunisia. I sensed that he wanted to participate in our culture, but found that many of the entertainment activities that young Americans engage in were incompatible with his religious convictions, and as a result tended to socialize with other Muslims exclusively. I can relate to this social isolation myself since I gave up drinking alcohol and all of the related activities in my early 20’s.

    Another thing I wonder about, living as I do in San Francisco, is the effect of the anti-US rhetoric that predominates much of the left-of-left-of-center ideology that is common here and in certain academic and “intellectual” circles. I think the crisis of confidence that the US and the West in general is experiencing is creating an environment that makes assimilation much less appealing to immigrants from other cultures.

  5. I took your advice and read your review of Jonah Blank's book, Mullahs on the Mainframe.

    I suppose I should be comforted to learn that Islam has it's own branch of liberal presbyterian-types, such as yourself. But I'm not convinced that your version of the religion is ascendent, or is ever likely to be.

    My advice is that you accommodate "The West" by giving up on a sinking-ship of a religion that will drag your obviously enlightened heart down with it as it descends to the darkness of its core doctrines. You remind me of the Marxist apologists of the last generation that persisted in claiming that communism was a great and noble ideology, that had been unfortunately perverted by the backward Russians.

    You still need to answer Harry Eager's question and not patronise your readers by suggesting that they read more of your stuff. What is a non-Muslim to make of the constant reiteration by Muslim clerics that it is not possible to leave the faith? "This is not man's will, but Allah's," we are told. This is not compatable with a marketplace approach to human ideas and culture. You can't proclaim Islam is a liberal religion when in the background a murderous ideology relies on coercion to maintain the faith.

    Having said that, I still wish you well in trying to pacify your co-religionists. A bit less on convincing non-Muslims how nice Islam is, and a bit more on what is specifically problematic with aspects of Islamic thought and democratic culture - that would be refreshing, and brave, for a Muslim to write about.

  6. Regarding "apostasy" and those of you calling on the writer to renounce this doctrine, there seems to be the assumption that the inability to leave one's faith is a Muslim, or particularly Muslim, idea. It is not. As a Jew who grew up attending a Conservative Movement Jewish school, I can say that a similar concept was imparted to me: you can't "convert" away from Judaism. Even if you did convert, you were still a Jew. This idea wasn't "taught" so much as casually brought up in other contexts, such as discussing Bob Dylan or the Jews for Jesus movement and its recruiting efforts in the Jewish community.

    At that time, this example of defining Judaism up seemed less sinister than the racialist arguments of those attempting to define Judaism down (this was during the 1980s Russian Jewish exodus, and arguments about "who's a Jew" as regards the right of return and civil rights in Israel).

    So it's not the apostasy (stupid). Demanding that Aziz present examples of Muslim renunciation of this "doctrine" is silly and insulting. The matter is, however, about what happens to the apostates. If you start reading about Muslim to Christian converts in America being executed or otherwise tormented, you might rightfully seek Muslim condemnation of that, and I believe and hope that you'd get it.

  7. Well - that Fox news reporter could speak to the forced conversion thing. He should proclaim his faith in Christ, or Adonai, or Buddha or whatever his actual religion is at some American mosque to cheering American Muslims. That would get some headlines. I'd love to see it. Although I suspect he has better things to do immediately like see his family.

    Are American Muslims just inept at PR in terms of staging something like I suggest above or is there really a filter on the media? The fact that most Muslims condemn terrorism isn't enough in a political and ideological fight. It doesn't take a genius to realize that one needs to do things to command media attention if you actually want to have an effect. I wish the moderate Muslims in America were more politically astute if that is the problem.

  8. I find the concept that it's frightening to choose religion over country kind of bizarre, given that the United States was founded by those who left their home countries because those countries wouldn't let them worship as they chose. If that's not choosing religion over country, I'm not quite sure what would be.

    It appears to me that we shouldn't set up the issue as "country" vs "religion", but rather "killing to meet a goal is okay" vs "killing to meet a goal is not okay" - regardless of whether religion is in the mix. Some non-religious types are very sanguine about hurting people in the process of meeting their goals - radical environmentalists for one. And you have the problem of failing to denounce such behavior in secular contexts too - some environmentalists, to continue that analogy, hesitate to decry the more violent arms of their movement. You have the whole gamut of behavior and acceptance in both religious and non-religious contexts, cutting across race, country and culture. Religion as a whole only frightens those who don't understand it.

    As a Christian, I can say unequivocally that I choose God and my service to Him over my country. It's not even a contest. BUT! The Bible teaches me to respect the leaders of my country, to pay my taxes, to obey the laws as long as they don't contradict His laws, etc. My Christianity is a blueprint for good citizenship. And the more devoted I am to God, the more likely I am going to be careful about being a good citizen. While I (obviously) have major theological differences with Muslims, I'm not at all distressed or frightened to learn that many Muslims are becoming more devoted or that they would choose Islam over America. The problem isn't level of devotion. The problem is the teaching of hate and the tolerance for violent behavior, which is not exclusive to radicalized segments of Islam.

    We as a country should make it clear that violence toward our citizens will absolutely not be tolerated from any person, group or country, regardless of their reason, and no one can hide behind theology, belief systems or rhetoric that to their mind makes it okay. But we shouldn't put devotion to country in opposition to devotion to God.

  9. It's my understanding that because Sharia conflicts with the American law of separation of Church and State that Muslims must choose one identity over another.

    Either you are for Sharia, which makes you against democracy, freedom of religion, and secular government, or you are for the First Amendment, which forbids anything like Sharia.

    Am I missing something?

  10. Susanna in Alabama and Laika's Last Woof have posts that taken together are instructive. Susanna says "The Bible teaches me to respect the leaders of my country, to pay my taxes, to obey the laws as long as they don't contradict His laws, etc. My Christianity is a blueprint for good citizenship."

    Laika says "It's my understanding that because Sharia conflicts with the American law of separation of Church and State that Muslims must choose one identity over another."

    Any Christian who thinks His laws make a perfect blueprint for secular American citizenship is my kind of Christian. Same for any Muslim or Jew who feels that way. They're also a bunch of hypocrites, in the best sense. Long live that brand of hypocrisy.

  11. Time will tell. I think Abdo and the WaPo are right - and it will get worse.

    The fact is that the problem is Islam. The problem is the anger and violence in the Quran and in the life of Islam's prophet - you cannot be against terror and for Mohammed. Think about that. Deny it, pretend it is not there, make excuses, whatever...

    You cannot be for freedom and equality AND Islam. The so-called 'moderate' Muslims will always lose to the radicals, because their arguements are stronger. Both Americans and Muslims are sadly mistaken if they think that Islam, democracy and freedom can exist side by side. Muslims who want to believe in a peaceful, benevolent Islam are blind to reality. Look at Islamic societies, if you will. Ask questions. Think.

    So Muslims feel alienated? So the problem is airport lines? It is always somebody elses fault, isn't it? Perhaps Muslims have not noticed, but all of us have to wait and endure stupid airport lines - and it isn't because of people named Lee, Wong, Joe or Shikorski or Lopez either. All of us suffer because of a few bad apples - Muslim apples - often named Mohammed. And they still can't figure it out. Why does violence come so easily to Islam?

    No, Muslims are not silent, but they are not honest either. Most probably just can't figure it out. I have talked to them and it is sad. Words mean nothing except what they want them to mean. When asked to explain certain verses in the Quran, they go off in a tangent. When asked about vile actions of their prophet you get "You don't understand" "That was then" "bad translation" "out of context" and so on.

    People will find out the truth about Islam the hard way. It will get worse.

    John Kactuz

  12. OK. This is interesting. Say more.

    I am no more disturbed by Muslim fanaticism than I am by Christian (Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu) fanaticm. It's all of a piece, racist and intolerent. I don't like fanaticism of any type. People get killed. Kids get killed. If you kill my kids you won't like what happens after that.

    America is not about racism or intolerence. Like the sign says, "Love It Or Leave It".


  13. Of course, for me personally, it was the Fatwa against Salma Rusdie that I would have gone to war with Iran and the entire Islamic world over.

    Freedom of Conscience is the sine qua non of every living human being. To put a bounty on a man's head, to call for his murder, to force him into hiding for 10 years, to burn book stores that dare carry the Satanic Verses...well I've been angry about that ever since.

    And there were no Muslim's standing up for Rusdie's freedom to write, either.

    It is to be noted that the Fatwa was re-affirmed in 2005 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

    There are things like this that just must be opposed body and soul by every thinking Muslim.

    In my humble opinion...lol

    Best Wishes, Traveller

  14. Who`s God is this ?

    Is it Christian?
    Is it Budhist?
    Is it Hindu?
    or None of the above?

    I am a good god,, today i instruct my prophet to go kill 900 men Jews,, then my prophet and his followers take everything the men Jews own including the women,,,if you want to join my religion you can but if you want to leave i get my prophet and his followers to kill you,, If you think i am bad god just shut yer mouth or i kill you,,,,i make a law to keep yer gobs shut,,

    If anybody thinks this maybe the (good)god of your religion ,,i would advice you seek help as soon as possible you have obviously been misguided in your up bringing ,,or lied to,, nobody goes to heaven for murder,, including prophets,,,

  15. As far as the treatment of Jews under Islam is concerned, Aziz is EXTREMELY selective in his choice of links, since that link uses only ONE source for all of their statements. Of course, he tries to justify it because the authors are Jewish, but that's akin to saying that Susan Sontag is right about white people being "the cancer of human history" because she, as a white person, said it. It's totally bogus. There are books out there, I kid you not, that claim that Jews were not mistreated by Hitler. It's bogus, of course; you can't go around selectively quoting just the stuff you want to hear.

    I think, in general, treatment of the Jews in Islamic countries was no worse than the treatment of Jews in Christian Europe at the time... sometimes they had it pretty good, other times they were getting expelled and brutalized in pogroms. In medieval Europe, I don't think there was ever a kingdom or state of some sort that didn't expel the Jews or mistreat them at least once. Jews only became protected by the states once they discovered their usefulness, ie, as traders, scholars, and bankers. Christians were not allowed to practice usury back then... Jews were, which gave them vast assets from which to give Christian rulers loans to extend their power. Even once the usefulness of Jews to these states was discovered, it still didn't end anti-Semitism and the pogroms (especially in East Europe and Russia).

    I HATE to say this, but I think the hardcore anti-Semitism that we see in the Middle East today can be partly traced back to the founding of Israel; this DOES NOT justify it, but it does give context.

    So, I somewhat reject claims that Jews were treated any better or worse in Islamic countries back in the day than in Christian countries... I think, generally, that Jews were not liked at all for almost all of their existence. Unfortunate, yes... although I will say that TODAY, Jews are much better off and safer in Western countries than in Islamic ones. No question about that fact.