There have been a series of recent incidents involving the US Muslim community which point to a troubling pattern. These include:
- Up to 20 young Minnesotans of Somali descent join Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
- It has been alleged that Major Nidal Malik Hasan, of Palestinian origin, was the culprit in the Fort Hood Shooting in Texas on November 5th, and that it was instigated by a Yemeni cleric.
- Najibullah Zazi, of Afghani origin, has been arrested for alleged participation in a bombing plot linked to Al Qaeda.
- Two men, David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, both of Pakistani origin, are suspected of having played a role in the Mumbai attacks and of ties to Lashkare Tayiba.
- Five American students were arrested in Sargodha, Pakistan for attempting to join Al Qaeda-linked jihadists.
- In this article we examine the implications of US-based terrorist activities, with an emphasis on their impact on the American Muslim community and how they complicate its position in its adopted country. We also explore the resulting dilemma for US foreign policy.
It has been estimated that there are about 6 million Muslims in the United States and about 20 million in Europe. According to a 1998 Newsweek article, Islam is perhaps the fastest-growing religion in the US and the American Muslim population is expected to surpass the Jewish by 2010. This of course will make Islam the second largest religion in the US, after Christianity.
Furthermore, a survey conducted by Zogby International in August 2000, commissioned by the American Muslim Council, finds that 77.6% of the Muslim population is foreign-born, while 22.4% is native to the United States. This survey identified the ethnic breakdown as follows: 26.2% is Middle Eastern (Arab), 24.7%, South Asian, 23.8%, African-American, 11.6%, Other, 10.3%, Middle Eastern (not Arab) and 6.4%, East Asian. Thus, those of South Asian, Middle Eastern and African-American origin make up most of the Muslim community in the United States. Moreover, the survey shows that 32.2 % of American Muslims live on the East Coast, 25.3% live in the South, 24.3% in the Central/Great Lakes Region and 18.2% in the West.
It has been commonly assumed that American Muslims are better integrated into their adopted country than their counterparts in Europe. For example, a study funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros found that only 78% of Muslims in the UK identify themselves as British, while in France only 49% identify themselves as French, in Germany only 23% as Germans.
A 2007 Newsweek poll, intended to assess American attitudes towards Muslims and Islam, reported these findings: 40% of Americans believed that American Muslims are as loyal to the US as they are to Islam, 63% believe most American Muslims do not condone violence and 41% feel that Islam glorifies suicide. Unfortunately, these numbers will almost certainly change as more links between American Muslims and extremists abroad are discovered and will surge if there is another terrorist attack on US soil from a Muslim group or nation.
Returning to the cases of American Muslims linked to terrorists mentioned at the beginning of this article, we can see certain common patterns:
- They illustrate the varied Diasporas within the American Muslim community. Some of them were born in the United States, while others were immigrants.
- Their chief motive was to help their suffering Muslim brethren overseas – not restricted to those living in their native lands.
- Some were having problems coping with life in the US while others were quite successful.
Based on the above, one can draw the following conclusions:
- Although many in the American Muslim community lead successful middle-class lives, there is still much alienation because of a widespread feeling that their views have little or no influence on US foreign policy, in comparison to those held by other groups – in particular, those of European, Jewish and Indian origin.
- Members of the American Muslim community empathize with the grievances of their counterparts in Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya, and perceive US foreign policy as biased against Muslims.
- The earlier European immigrants were cut off from the countries of their origin. The communication revolution and globalization has made it easier for the most recent immigrants to maintain a sense of connection to their native lands.
In order to make sense of this complex situation, one must understand that many newcomers to the US who have done well financially desire to assist those in their native lands resolve their problems – and feel that the US should play a role. In short, they want to have an impact on American foreign policy. If they feel that this is not happening, a sense of alienation sets in.
To counter this disquieting trend, the US must provide opportunities for Muslim participation in policy and decision-making. This could be at the advisory level, at think tanks and by welcoming the involvement of Islamic community organizations. It should be emphasized that those who participate must be seen as genuine policy shapers, not merely implementers and facilitators. These steps will help avert the misperceptions and policy blunders which have the potential both to help extremists and transform the war against terror into a war against Islam.
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