Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Muslims in the USA, Muhajirs in Pakistan, and More

There's been quite a bit of discussion of a Pew Center survey released this week that finds "Muslims 'well integrated' in US" and, of course, it's the jump from there to the same old "...and therefore they are not as prone to fanaticism as those in Western Europe, for example" is a short one. But as I keep saying, for example on the first anniversary of 7/7, the story might not be such a simple one.

I haven't had the chance to actually read the report, but an item on the BBC last night caught my attention. They bothered to talk to the only Muslim in an elected office at the national level in the US: Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota. And they asked him the question that popped out at me. Here's the point as the BBC reported it:
younger Muslims in the US are more likely than older Muslim Americans to say that suicide bombing in the defence of Islam can sometimes be justified.
Ellison had a good point in his reply, pointing out that problems like this are not unique to young Muslim Americans and we have this kind of issue with other young folks in the US. Which kinda makes the point I have often made; that it's not just Islam, but every faith and ideology that have come to these shores has had its aggressive, averse-to-history, everything-is-black-and-white versions thrive and develop here. Which is not to say that other versions of faiths and ideologies do not prosper here, too--there are Sufi centers and a full-blown Progressive Muslim movement pushing for women to lead prayer. But the Muslim-American story is an American story like other American stories. [And notice that Mr. Ellison uses the phrase "Muslim American" rather than the "American Muslim" or "American Islamic" versions so prevalent today, but I digress.]

The point does bear repeating that there's an ideological struggle for the soul of "American Islam" that needs to be fought. And as I was saying at a gathering a weekend or two ago, never mind outsiders, American Muslims themselves--or Muslim Americans, if you will--are still taking a very undifferentiated and unanalysed attitude to themselves. I was amazed at two very intelligent people--both non-South Asian, non-Arab Muslims, by the way--almost arguing when one held up Iman WD Muhammad's ministry and the other held up a community of very Islamist (yes, I use that word advisedly--take me up on it) yuppies as what the Muslim community in the SF Bay Area is all about. The point is that both of those realities are true. Just as the Lubavitchers' American branch and the Tikkun community are both very American Jewish communities and have very different world views. We--all of us, Muslims, non-Muslims, Progressives, Conservatives, Democrats, Republicans,...-- really need to get beyond simplistic definitions if we are to make any progress in the discussion of the engagement of Muslims with the 21st Century and vice versa.

One instructive thing to do is look back in history to the Civil Rights Movement and, say, the Black Panther Party. In my humble view, it was the way Dr. King and Malcolm X were treated and dismissed as communists, or worse, when they talked of rights and a better society for all (Malcolm, especially towards the end of his life) that made the Black Panther Party more of a phenomenon and left it the only manifestation of the movement for the rights of African Americans with any media oxygen at some points in history. [Of course, a closer look at the latter also reveals ideals that, at least in the beginning were more progressive than violent.]

And if I may, this might seem like me digressing again, but the very same applies to what has been happening in Pakistan and the role of the MQM that I was discussing a few days ago. In reacting to the the role the MQM played in the events of May 12th, 2007, if our attitude to that party is that it and all it stands for (or claims to stand for) are bunk, then we are in danger of completely disenfranchising a very large part of the population of the sixth largest nation in the world--and the second largest Muslim nation. And it is the disenfranchisement, the leaving them feeling that they don't have any outlets for their aspirations and concerns that leaves what is so broadly referred to as Terrorism as their only options. Much more than the economic desperation that so many people turn to as the only scapegoat. There is a case to be made that in Kashmir, for example, it was the complete farce that the last election held there in the 80s under Rajiv Gandhi that turned the very kids, like Yaseen Malik and others, that were involved in the political process to the gun. And the educated, urbane young men that are the most at risk. Remember, one of the bombers of 7/7 worked with kids and had been featured on the cover of a British magazine as an example of a ... what's the phrase being used in relation to this Pew Report... "integrated"...."assimilated"

By way of background, major findings the Pew Center Report highlights include:
  • Overall, Muslim Americans have a generally positive view of the larger society. Most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.

  • A large majority of Muslim Americans believe that hard work pays off in this society. Fully 71% agree that most people who want to get ahead in the U.S. can make it if they are willing to work hard.

  • The survey shows that although many Muslims are relative newcomers to the U.S., they are highly assimilated into American society. On balance, they believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society. And by nearly two-to-one (63%-32%) Muslim Americans do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.

  • Roughly two-thirds (65%) of adult Muslims in the U.S. were born elsewhere. A relatively large proportion of Muslim immigrants are from Arab countries, but many also come from Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Among native-born Muslims, roughly half are African American (20% of U.S. Muslims overall), many of whom are converts to Islam.

  • Based on data from this survey, along with available Census Bureau data on immigrants' nativity and nationality, the Pew Research Center estimates the total population of Muslims in the United States at 2.35 million.

  • Muslim Americans reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries. However, there is somewhat more acceptance of Islamic extremism in some segments of the U.S. Muslim public than others. Fewer native-born African American Muslims than others completely condemn al Qaeda. In addition, younger Muslims in the U.S. are much more likely than older Muslim Americans to say that suicide bombing in the defense of Islam can be at least sometimes justified. Nonetheless, absolute levels of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans are quite low, especially when compared with Muslims around the world.

  • A majority of Muslim Americans (53%) say it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Most also believe that the government "singles out" Muslims for increased surveillance and monitoring.

  • Relatively few Muslim Americans believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to reduce terrorism, and many doubt that Arabs were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Just 40% of Muslim Americans say groups of Arabs carried out those attacks.
You can see the Pew Report directly at:


Drop me a line--either in comment below or via email--and let's talk about this; the discussion really needs to start here, not end here.

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Anonymous said...

We met with Congressman Keith Ellison in a private fund raise in Milwaukee, WI.


He was very clear that until Muslims, or anybody, speaks up and let their elected officials know about their issues, they won't get anything.

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