Assimilation or Not?
America’s Muslims Aren’t as Assimilated as You Think
If only the Muslims in Europe — with their hearts focused on the Islamic world and their carry-on liquids poised for destruction in the West — could behave like the well-educated, secular and Americanizing Muslims in the United States, no one would have to worry.
So runs the comforting media narrative that has developed around the approximately 6 million Muslims in the United States, who are often portrayed as well-assimilated and willing to leave their religion and culture behind in pursuit of American values and lifestyle. But over the past two years, I have traveled the country, visiting mosques, interviewing Muslim leaders and speaking to Muslim youths in universities and Islamic centers from New York to Michigan to California — and I have encountered a different truth. I found few signs of London-style radicalism among Muslims in the United States. At the same time, the real story of American Muslims is one of accelerating alienation from the mainstream of U.S. life, with Muslims in this country choosing their Islamic identity over their American one.
The Washington Post runs a provocative op-ed in its Sunday edition, claiming that American Muslims aren’t well-assimilated in the general population. The writer provides some quotes to support that, but the economic evidence she provides doesn’t, I think. American Muslims are among the most successful immigrant groups in the country; they are successful not only in comparison to other immigrants, but to the general American population.
There is a disturbing quote in the piece, though, where a young woman says that, as a Muslim, she doesn’t need to assimilate. She does, but apparently doesn’t recognize just how American culture deals with religion. Religion, for most Americans, is simply a matter between you and God. The state does not interfere with the rights, rituals, and beliefs of any religion. A religion does not interfere in the laws, rules, and regulations of the state. Where those values conflict, then negotiations—sometimes in the courtroom—take place. Usually, and particularly since the passing of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the state must try to accommodate religious requirements if it can do so without threatening the religious rights of others.
That does not mean that all of any religions rules or laws will necessarily accommodated. Polygamy, for instance, is against American law. Therefore, even if permitted by a particular religion (and there are several religions which do permit it, in addition to Islam), polygamy is not permitted in the US. Some cultures permit honor killings or female circumcision, often with religious justificaitons offered. They are not permitted in the US. Anyone seeking to avoid assimilation on religious grounds will be charged with a crime and prosecuted.
Assimilation does not mean becoming a stereotypical American—however you draw the stereotype. One can keep one’s cultural identity, one’s language, one’s religious values. But they must also respect, if not follow, those of the general population and culture surrounding.
[This item is cross-posted at Crossroads Arabia.]