Tuesday, August 29, 2006

American Muslims Seek Separate Identity

Americans like to look at Europe's escalating cultural conflict with immigration-inflated Muslim populations and waggle a self-satisfied finger, noting how European welfare state policies have prevented the assimilation of Muslim immigrants, and the formation of Muslim ghettos in every major European city. America is different, the argument goes, and American Muslims are different, too.

But a surprising article in the Washington Post (especially surprising because it is in the Washington Post) suggests that Americans have little reason to be smug, and that American Muslims are not assimilating into American culture as readily as US politicians and immigration proponents would have us believe.

A new generation of American Muslims -- living in the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- is becoming more religious. They are 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.

Part of this is linked to the resurgence of Islam over the past several decades, a growth as visible in Western Europe and the United States as it is in Egypt and Morocco. But the 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.

From schools to language to religion, American Muslims are becoming a people apart. Young, first-generation American Muslim women -- whose parents were born in Egypt, Pakistan and other Islamic countries -- are wearing head scarves even if their mothers had left them behind; 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.

The men and women I spoke to -- all mosque-goers, most born in the United States to immigrants -- include students, activists, imams and everyday working Muslims. Almost without exception, they recall feeling under siege after Sept. 11, with FBI agents raiding their mosques and homes, neighbors eyeing them suspiciously and television programs portraying Muslims as the new enemies of the West.

Such feelings led them, they say, to adopt Islamic symbols -- the hijab , or head covering, for women and the kufi , or cap, for men -- as a defense mechanism. Many, such as Rehan, whom I met at a madrassa (religious school) in California with her husband, Ramy, also felt compelled to deepen their faith.

"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." But not everyone understood, she said, recalling an incident in a supermarket in 2003: "The man next to me in the vegetable section said, 'You'd be much more beautiful without that thing on your head. It's demeaning to women.' " But to her the head scarf symbolized piety, not oppression.

A group of young college-educated women at the Dix mosque in Dearborn, Mich., described the challenges many Muslims face as they carve out their identity in the United States. I spoke with them in the winter of 2004, 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.

Hayat said veiling was easier for her than it had been for her sister,

10 years her senior, because Hayat had more Muslim peers when she reached high school and felt far less pressure to conform to American ways. When she went on to the University of Michigan, she was surrounded for the first time by young Muslims who dared to show pride in their religion in a non-Muslim setting.

Ismahan recalled similar experiences. In elementary school, she had tried to fit in. As an adult, though, "I know I don't have to fit in," she said. "I don't think Muslims have to assimilate. We are not treated like Americans. At work, I get up from my desk and go to pray. I thought I would face opposition from my boss. Even before I realized he didn't mind, I thought, 'I have a right to be a Muslim, and I don't have to assimilate.' "

Thanks to multiculturalism, there are plenty of people who will tell Ishmahan that she is right. She doesn't have to - nay, she shouldn't - assimilate. After all, aren't all cultures equal? Isn't diversity prized above all else? Isn't Anglo-American culture just racist, decadent and imperialist?

The Washington Post article emphasizes that the increasing Islamic fervor among American Muslims has little militant component (unlike Europe's) and that those Muslims promoting it go to some lenghts to oppose militant Muslims who advocate violence.

Imam Zaid Shakir -- who teaches at San Francisco's Zaytuna Institute, America's only true madrassa -- 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. Many of these young American Muslims look to Shakir (and to celebrated Zaytuna founder Hamza Yusuf) for guidance on how to live pious lives in the United States.

I spent several days at one of the institute's "mobile madrassas," this one in San Jose, and watched hundreds of young Muslim professionals sit on cushioned folding chairs and listen intently as Yusuf delivered his lecture. "Everywhere I go, I see Muslims," he told them. "Go to the gas station and the airport. Muslims are present in the United States, and that was not true 20 years ago. There are more Muslims living outside the Dar al-Islam [Islamic countries, or literally the House of Islam] than ever. 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. For the students at this madrassa and for many Muslims I interviewed, their strategy focuses on public displays of their faith.

Nevertheless, by halting the force of assimilation and setting themselves apart - voluntarily - Muslims are creating a sense of isolation from other Americans that will inevitably lead to alienation and a sense of hostility. As Muslims separate themselves, more and more they will come to regard non-Muslim Americans as "the other," and, eventually, as the enemy. As Muslim communities insulate themselves from the mainstream of American society, they will become fertile ground for Islamists to recruit.

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. Although the unemployment rate for Muslims in Britain is far higher than for most other groups, the average annual income of a Muslim household surpasses that of average American households. Yet, outside the workplace, Muslims retreat into the comfort zone of their mosques and Islamic schools.

It is too soon to say where the growing alienation of American Muslims will lead, but it seems clear that the factors contributing to it will endure. U.S. foreign policy persists in dividing Muslim and Western societies, making it harder still for Americans to realize that there is a difference between their Muslim neighbor and the plotter in London or the kidnapper in Baghdad.

Muslim culture and tradition is so radically different from Western culture that Muslims will always feel out of place in a Western society. So long as their numbers are small, they pose no danger because they are forced to interact with other Americans on a daily basis, compelling at least some measure of assimilation. But when their numbers increase to the point where they can form self-contained communities of their own, the pressure to assimilate weakens, and then fails. Isolation and militancy will grow. The same is true of the Latino communities growing inside the US, served by Spanish-language media and Spanish-speaking government officials. As communities segregate, balkanization grows and the common culture and society fracture. This is the consequence of mass immigration from non-alike nations.

Deutschland's Growing Nightmare

Media coverage of the plot by British-born Muslims to blow up a number of airliners over the Atlantic has overshadowed the exposure of yet another terrorist plot by two Muslims living in Germany to plant bombs aboard passenger trains. Actually, whereas the British Muslims only plotted to bring explosives onto planes, the Muslims in Germany actually planted their bombs. Fortunately, the bombs failed to go off.

Though the German plot would not have killed as many innocent people as the British airplanes scheme, it could easily have given Germany its own version of Madrid's March 11, 2004, train attacks, which murdered more than 200 people. The two would-be bombers are of Lebanese origin. One was attending Germany universities studying mechatronics.

The discovery of the train plot has sent the same shivers down German spines that many Britons felt after the airlines plot was revealed to the public. Particularly since German officials seem certain that more people were involved.

While there appeared little proof of any direct links between the two men and Hezbollah, Germany's tolerance towards this organization has come to the fore of public attention. According to last year's report from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the country is home to 900 Hezbollah members. The unspoken agreement that has existed between Hezbollah leaders and German authorities was that no attacks would be perpetrated on German soil in exchange for a certain tolerance towards its militants residing in Germany.

Whether Hezbollah has changed its strategy in Germany or just lost control of its activists is of only secondary importance for the Germans, who on August 1 woke up in a different country. Now, it is no longer the Germany that frets about unemployment or a sluggish economy; it is a Germany that faces an almost existential terrorist threat coming from the millions of Muslim immigrants and, as in this case, students living around the country.

The failed integration of Muslim immigrants -- many of them in second and third generations -- into the community at large, a malaise that is slowly paralyzing the whole continent, has been apparent in Germany. This year the situation deteriorated quite rapidly: first, it was the case of an almost ritual murder of a girl of the Turkish origin by her brother who was enraged at her disregard for the strict Islamic traditions; then, it was an appeal by a group of teachers (most of them ethnic Germans) to close down a school, where they have been teaching, because, with a predominantly immigration population, it became too unruly to teach in.

So even though the current terrorist threat does not come from the immigrant population per se, but rather from students who entered Germany for short-term studies, there is absolutely no guarantee that their example will not inspire thousands of alienated and radicalized youngsters, most of them German citizens, to follow the pernicious example.

On some level, the threat emanating from the Muslim student population is even worse: they are largely unknown to the German security forces; they have a much stronger association with what is going on in the Middle East, and they have no attachment to Germany whatsoever. Furthermore, the current mass-production scale of the German university system hardly allows for early detection of such radicalized youngsters: with 500 students sharing a lecture hall, it is next to impossible to remember the names, not mention psychological traits, of the student body. Psychological counseling is still mostly unheard of in German schools.

Known for its financial generosity when it comes to education, Germany spends millions to educate people like Youssef Mohammad and even Mohamed Atta, one of the masterminds of 9/11, who then go on to use their technical expertise to construct bombs and explosives (in all fairness, one should point out that the two train bombs did not explode because they were poorly constructed -- so even the German technical education is no longer as good it used to be).

The steep price of mass immigration from non-Western nations is becoming steadily apparent in Europe. From London to Berlin, wherever the gates were opened, the barbarians came rushing in.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Root Cause

Muslim pressure groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations vociferously object to anyone who dares to link Islam to terrorism. When President Bush recently uttered the phrase "Islamic fascists" when speaking with the press, CAIR could not denounce the President's statements fast enough. Muslim propagandist groups like CAIR and its fellow travellers insist that Americans (and other Westerners) deny the obvious evidence provided by their own eyes and ears. No matter that virtually all terrorism committed against the US (and mostly, the West) is at the hands of Muslims. No matter that these Muslim terrorists proclaim their allegiance to Islam as the motivation for their actions. No matter that these terrorists try to justify the carnage the create with Koranic scripture and appeals to Islamic tradition. No matter that no one other than fellow Muslims is willing or permitted to join them. None of this matters, CAIR insists. Islam is a religion of peace. The terrorists are not motivated in any way by Islam. And to even suggest otherwise is racist. Discussion closed and censored.

How then to explain the experience of FOX News journalist Steve Centanni and his cameraman Olaf Wiig, recently kidnapped and released by a Palestinian spliter group?

Two Fox News journalists released after 12 days as prisoners of Palestinian militants in Gaza were forced by their captors to convert to Islam.

A video tape showing Steve Centanni, from the United States, and Olaf Wiig, of New Zealand, being forced to convert at gunpoint was released just hours before the men were let go, The Times of London reported Monday. The men had been deployed to report on Israel's incursions into Gaza.

"It was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns and we didn't know what the hell was going on," Centanni said.

Nope. Clearly it has nothing to do with Islam. Not a thing. Definitely, a religion of peace and tolerance.