American Muslims are not the threat to America that Ted Cruz and Donald Trump make them out to be
As previously noted, I have a good friend and valued colleague who is not only a practicing Muslim but a Muslim scholar and a professor of comparative religions at a right tall-towered university in New York City. The bombings in Brussels prompted me to recall a conversation we had several years ago which, for me, was nothing less than revelatory and yielded a totally new perspective vis-a-vis terrorist activities/attacks in what I term White Europe.
Immediately prior to that conversation, I had finished the second of two summers spent doing post-doctoral study in Paris. Each of the two summers, I had taken advantage of what free time I had to explore Paris, see a bit of the French countryside, wander the northern coastal areas and make brief visits to neighboring countries in which I was interested – Belgium included.
When I returned home after the second of those summers, I related to my friend a curious series of events that had been part of my “exploration time” during the ten weeks of that season; i.e., on three different occasions, once while on a city bus in Paris and twice while riding as a passenger in a fellow student’s car in Brussels, I and my respective traveling companions had happened upon traffic delays caused by police raids on suspected “safe houses” that were allegedly providing refuge for suspected Muslim militants/jihadis.
I shared with him that, while I was not surprised to find Paris police rousting potential Islamic militants in Paris, I was more than surprised to twice come upon the same happenings in Brussels. At which point he clarified my perspective on the relationship between Muslims, their home countries in what I term White Europe and the radicalization of ISIS sympathizers amongst those same folk. And the perspective in whose formation he has been a major player has been confirmed by experience and by events that have occurred in real-time – including the recent spate of terror attacks in Brussels.
He began by explaining that long-existing Muslim communities in a number of White European countries – France and Belgium in particular – have historically had a generally/relatively negative if not hostile relationship with both the governments and larger populations of those countries. His sense was that there has been no real effort on the part of either of those governments or larger populations to embrace/assimilate members of the Muslim community such that they might feel a valued, invested part of the whole. Instead, Muslim communities, more often than not, are physically, socially and culturally segregated groups that rightly see themselves as living in isolation from larger citizenries that view them warily, suspiciously and with a hefty handful of fear and anger.
The picture he thusly drew could not have been more diametrically opposed to the one that had been hanging in my mind’s eye for as long as I had – wrongly, it appears – thought about such things.
And, when he continued by saying, “as opposed to the experience of the larger Islamic community in the United States,” I felt another pen-and-ink falling from its perch in my perspective.
Though the media meekly and compliantly tends to trumpet the American Right’s skewed, bigoted and xenophobic view of Muslim communities in the U.S. as being seething, boiling vats of virulent hatred which daily live on the brink of violent activity, that is, quite simply, not the case. As my friend noted and as the preponderance of research and anecdotal experience indicates, the larger Islamic community in the United States is much more assimilated and integrated into our wider social, cultural and economic ethos than Islamic communities in White Europe.
As a group, American Muslims tend to be far less insular, isolated and alienated than their religious cousins in countries such as France or Belgium. Which means that, as a whole, they do not feel caged by the wariness, suspicion, anger and fear of the greater American community to anything near the degree as that felt by Muslims in some of the countries of White Europe.
That is not to say that there aren’t those in the larger American community whose carefully-stoked fears of and expressions of vitriol toward Muslims have rent the fabric of a peaceful multi-culturalism which is the only credible vision for 21st-century America. There are. Indeed, the campaign rallies of such moral/ethical heavyweights as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are filled with them.
Neither is it to say that there aren’t elements in America’s Islamic community who, for reasons both understandable and not, harbor feelings of deep alienation, anger and hatred for the West in general and America in particular. There are.
But it is to say that, despite what one may read or hear through the media or through the destructive, purely political rants of Republican presidential candidates or their sycophants, America’s Islamic community generally feels itself to be genuinely invested in American life and generally feels itself to be a valued investor. This as opposed to the experience of many Islamic communities in White Europe.
Which is why pandering prescriptions such as that offered by Ted Cruz; “We need to increase and intensify our police patrols in Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized” are so absurd, ridiculous, bigoted and counter-productive.
People around the world are asking how Salah Abdeslam, one of the authors of the horrific Paris attacks, could return to his old haunts in the Molenbeek precincts of Brussels and roam around in relatively open fashion for over a month before finally being captured by Belgian authorities. It is not as if residents of Molenbeek, a solidly Muslim neighborhood, were ignorant of Abdeslam’s identity. It is not as if they were ignorant of his being sought by international authorities nor that for which he was being sought.
Hence, the question being asked: Why did it take over a month for authorities to ascertain Abdeslam’s presence in Molenbeek, pinpoint his location and move in to arrest him?
The answer goes to the hostile, alienated relationship between Belgian Muslims and the wider community. There is no history of ghettoized Belgian Muslims feeling “a part of the whole” and, over time, this has created a strong undercurrent of anger toward the powers-that-be. That anger has resulted in a breakdown of any kind of cooperative, working relationship between Muslim community groups and the various layers of government intelligence, legal and police agencies. Which means that the suggestive phrase “Say What You See” is irrelevant per Belgian Muslims providing information to the authorities.
Insular, isolated, alienated and angry, the greater Muslim community in Brussels is going to more likely “take care of their own” than take care of a larger group that has, with intent, left them out and left them behind.
On the other hand, “Say What You See” is relevant per Muslim-Americans because, by-and-large, they are neither isolated nor alienated from the larger American community. They are, as much as any minority group, an integral part of the whole, an important part of the multicultural quilt that is America in the second decade of the 21st-century.
Their experience is not the experience of Muslims in White Europe. Indeed, it says something important that the head of the NYPD stated earlier this week that, if Ted Cruz was looking for a “Muslim community to patrol,” he could start with the 996 Muslim-Americans who serve as law enforcement officers in our country’s largest city.
Scared white Americans have both said and done much for which they need to be forgiven per our fellow Americans who adhere to the Islamic faith. But, in not leaving them out and not leaving them behind relative to our national life, we have neither ghettoized nor isolated Muslims such that they do not feel part of the larger experience of “us.” “We” are in this together and, as long as we can prevent bigoted, pandering Republican politicians from stoking the fires of prejudice, our Muslim brothers and sisters will be an important part of that “we.”