Tuesday, June 06, 2006

From Bad to Worse...

So you think that America's immigration problem isn't as bad as Europe's because immigrants to the US are mostly Central and South American, and thus mostly Christian, whereas Europe has been flooded by Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, many of whom bring their hatred of the West with them? Think again.

Across the nation, thousands of Latino immigrants are redefining themselves through Islam, including a few hundred in the Washington region, according to national Islamic groups and community leaders. Precise numbers are not available, but estimates range from 40,000 to 70,000.

The conversions speak to a larger evolution of immigrant identity, as a new generation ingests a cultural smorgasbord of ideas they were rarely exposed to in their homelands. Today, it's easier than ever to learn about Islam from Spanish translations of the Koran, Islamic magazines and Web sites.

But as they embrace a new faith, Latinos face struggles, ranging from guilt to discrimination, as Muslims in a post-Sept. 11 America.

"Sometimes you feel like you are betraying who you are, that you are abandoning your family," said Avelar, who is small and round-faced with a soft voice.

The converts hail from throughout Latin America. In Islam, some say they see a devoutness and simplicity they find lacking in Catholicism. Like the tightknit Latino culture, Islam places emphasis on family, which can make it easier for converts to adjust.

Yet some are as motivated by feelings of alienation in a nation that is divided over immigration. Latino women find what most westerners rarely see -- a respect for women, unlike, some converts say, the machismo culture in which they were raised.

Well, isn't that perfect? Come to America and convert to the religion of its enemies!

Consider the truism that converts to a religion tend to be more devout than those born into the faith, mostly because of the passion required to change religions and by the desire to been seen as a true member of the new faith. If many Muslim-by-birth feel tempted by the call of Islamism, how much easier would it be to persuade a recent convert of the necessity of violent jihad? Especially a recent convert who as an immigrant is already culturally and ethnically displaced, and possibly feeling some resentment about his or her situation?


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