Why we are suspicious of Muslims
The on-going dispute at UC-Irvine (where I teach) over the Israel/Jewish/Muslim issue is bringing up (again) an unpleasant but obvious question; that is, the position of American Muslims in American society-especially since 9-11. Today, many American Muslims are feeling isolated, besieged, under suspicion, and forced to choose between their religion and their country. They know that so many Americans view them with suspicion and have developed a very negative perception of Islam as an intolerant religion trying to impose its will on the non-Muslim world. They resent the fact that America is a long-time ally of Israel and that most Americans support the right of that country to exist and to defend itself from attack. To an extent, they have a point. Those feelings must be acknowledged and dealt with directly and honestly. In this article, I will try to do so in a civil manner, but many Muslims will not like what I have to say.
First of all, Americans in general do view Muslims here with a certain degree of suspicion. Since 9-11, we have tried to put it into some sort of perspective and not paint all Muslims with the same paintbrush. Certainly, most Muslims worldwide are not involved in terrorism, but that does not eliminate the fact that Islamic terror is a reality.
I think it also has to be stated that most Americans have been disappointed by the response of Muslims here to the whole terror issue. For the most part, there has been silence-either out of fear, apathy or sympathy with the terrorists. In many cases, organizations like CAIR have added to the resentment with their complaints of Islamophobia and discrimination. We had hoped that, after 9-11, American Muslims would have stood up and proclaimed to the Islamic world that they reject terror and stand with their nation in opposition to it. We have been disappointed.
We want to believe the phrase, "Islam is a religion of peace", but it is increasingly difficult to do so.Also, the actions of many Muslim Student Organizations on numerous university campuses have only added fuel to the fire and increased suspicion. Many of the speakers they sponsor to come onto the campuses are virulent, racist, anti-Semitic, glorifying of terrorists and condemning of America as well. UCI is a prime example. When your sponsored speakers regularly speak in praise of Hamas and Hizbollah and condemn our own country, how can ordinary Americans feel that you are loyal? (Of course, the obvious response is that many walks of American life criticize our country, but Muslims must acknowledge that they sit in a unique position. People are going to listen to their radical speakers and draw negative conclusions. Sorry. That's just the way it is.) We also view with disgust the cowardly pandering of many on the academic left since it fits into their world view that the US and Israel are basically flawed, racist countries-which they are not.
Does that make America a nation of religious intolerance? No. You have to go back to the Salem Witch Trials to find true intolerance of religious issues. Though we have experienced forms of anti-Semitism, Jewish commentators like Dennis Prager and Michael Medved have expressed the thought that Jews have been able to prosper in America precisely because we are a predominantly Christian country that has traditionally tolerated all religions in our midst. That should never change.
In the case of Islam, we have welcomed Muslim immigrants and permitted them to construct their own places of worship. This is a form of tolerance that is not seen in many places in the Middle East, where any religion other than Islam is not permitted, or Egypt, where Coptic Christians are being persecuted as we speak (as are those of the Ba'hai faith in Iran). As for Jews in these countries, they have been already driven out. Many of us in the West are also aware of the poisonous education that Middle Eastern children receive that teaches them that Jews are nothing but apes and pigs.
It might be appropriate here to say a few words about our Jewish population in America. As a Gentile child in West Los Angeles, I grew up among Jewish families. Later, as a US serviceman, I was stationed with the Army just outside Nuremberg for over two years. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of the Third Reich is aware of Nuremberg's significance in that era. I not only visited the many sites made infamous by the Nazi era, I have also visited many of the Nazis concentration camps, including Auschwitz (in Poland). It has left an indelible mark on me insofar as the subject of anti-Semitism is concerned because I have seen the residue of what anti-Semitism brings. Today, many of the same words, the same caricatures that were used by the Nazis to portray Jews are being repeated by many Muslims today. It must be confronted and exposed for what it is and not passed off as simply anti-Zionism.Rightfully, or wrongfully, my perception of American Jews today is that of Americans going back generations. My perception of Muslims is one of recent immigrants though I recognize that many Muslims were born here. My point in stating this, perhaps in a nationalistic manner, is that I view the resurgence in anti-Semitism in our country as being largely imported from abroad. I don't have the empirical evidence to back that up, but that is simply my perception.
Many of us, in the wake of 9-11, have tried to learn more about this religion called Islam. Is it violent? Are the terrorists breaking away from true Islam-or merely putting it into practice? As Americans, we want to believe the former.When we read the Koran, much of it reads like the Bible. Yet, there are disturbing passages that speak of killing infidels. Virtually every chapter refers to non-believers burning in Hell. (Christianity also has this as a tenet, but it is not repeated constantly throughout the Bible.) I believe the constant repetition of that principle instills a hatred for those who do not share the faith.
When we read the life of Mohammed, we are struck by the irrefutable fact that he was a soldier, a military leader who spread Islam at the point of a sword and was responsible for the deaths of thousands-through battles and executions. For a military leader, that is one thing; for a religious prophet, it is troubling to many of us non-Muslims.Be that as it may, Americans are perfectly willing to concede that holy books can be interpreted different ways by different people, and to let Muslims worship as they choose without interference-as long as it doesn't impinge on the rest of us. One of my conservative blog co-respondents, convinced that Islam is a religion of hate and intolerance, argues that the US should outlaw Islam. I respectfully disagree since this would be counter to everything our country stands for. We also have to accept that this is a religion practiced by over billion people world-wide-with whom we wish to live in peace.Having said that, it must be stated that a free and democratic society like the US can never accept any religion, whatever it is, dictating our everyday life. In our society, we allow freedom to practice any-or no religion. We also have to accept certain freedoms that many of us do not approve of in terms of dress, art and sexuality. Muslims who choose to immigrate to America-or the West-must understand that we have freedoms that we would die to protect, and that we will never accept Shariah Law. That means that so-called "honor killings" will be severely punished as any murder would be.
Yet, we do see forms of accommodation toward Muslims in America-and Europe. Certain state-run universities and airports are installing foot baths in rest rooms-in disregard of the separation of state and religion that would preclude the spending of government money for religious purposes. Muslim student unions, like the one at UCI, receive school funding taken from tuition fees. Do Muslims not recognize that the rest of us question that? Do they not understand our resentment when we read about Muslim cab drivers in places like Minneapolis who refuse to carry passengers because they are carrying alcohol? Or Muslim store clerks who refuse to check out customers purchasing pork? Do they not understand when some of us ask; "Who do they think they are?" Who did those "Flying Imams" think they were when they deliberately provoked airline passengers into complaining to the airline about their behavior, an incident that led to their being removed from the plane-then filing a lawsuit and trying to drag in the complaining passengers?
We also read about what many Muslims are doing in European countries that have accepted them. We see the demonstrations in the UK, where radicals wave posters calling for the beheading of those who defame Islam, call for the overthrow of British democracy and installation of Shariah law. We read about the violent death of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands at the hands of a Moroccan immigrant because he had the temerity to make a film critical of Islam's treatment of women. The riots over Danish cartoons, the riots in France, the Madrid train bombings, the London bombings and the despicable suicide bombings in Israel that kill hundreds of innocent men, women and children-killings that are cheered by some Muslim students and their chosen speakers on our campuses.
Yes, we are suspicious of Muslims.
Finally, the question must be asked in all Western countries: Can Muslim immigrants really assimilate into our tolerant, open and democratic societies? Or is Islam incompatible with our form of society and our values? It may sound racist, but it is a legitimate question, and we must not shrink from asking it. We had previously thought that American Muslims were more assimilated than European Muslims since they came here with more education than their European, blue collar counterparts. Now we are wondering since radical thought spreads across socio-economic boundaries.
I can readily understand why Muslims here in America want to defend their faith. It is natural. I have said this before in my writings, but it bears repeating. Muslims should, indeed, defend Islam. But they don't need to defend it from non-Muslims. They need to defend it-to the death-from those violent terrorist elements that are bringing disrepute to Islam in the eyes of the entire non-Muslim world.
It comes down to this: If Muslims in America are willing to accept our values, warts and all, assimilate and be loyal, then they should be welcome and free to practice their religion in a peaceful and tolerant manner. However, if they feel that our values are in conflict with Islam, and they feel they cannot assimilate and be loyal Americans-even if it means taking up arms against other Muslims in the War on Terror, then, at the risk of being called Islamophobic, racist, xenophobic, or whatever you choose to call it, I can only repeat what former Prime Minister John Howard of Australia publicly proclaimed to his country's Muslims a couple of years back: He told them that if they could not accept Australian values, then they should return to where they came from. I think that advice applies everywhere in the West. And I am not afraid to say it.