Muslims, Assimilation, and Racism II

Muslims in America Jim Henley takes another crack at explaining why he believes Mark Steyn’s vision of Muslim immigration is essentially racist. The argument is detailed but its essence is this:

Steyn reduces “Europeans” and “Muslims” to breeding pairs – “demography is destiny” – and says their different rates of breeding alone mean a future of Sharia law. Steyn credits no Muslim with being other than demographic weight on the Islamist scale, a witting or unwitting accomplice in bringing post-Christian Europe under Muslim rule […] He grants no material variance in the constituent parts of the “remorseless” “Muslim demographic” no internal difference that makes a difference. They’re young; they have “will”; end of story. The birthrate is a given, amenable to linear projection. The welfare state that Steyn believes throttled Christian birth rates apparently won’t have any effect worth mentioning on Muslim birth rates.

While conceding my point that “racist” might be technically wrong here, he figures it’s close enough given the limits of language:

We lack a really good term for anti-Muslim bigotry, the way “Anti-Semitism” serves as a marker for the various flavors of anti-Jewish bigotry. But in my opinion, “racist” is a good enough term for Steyn’s comparative schema of European whites, “Anglosphere” whites and predominantly nonwhite and immigrant Muslims.

I am much closer to Henley than to Steyn on the “demography is destiny” argument. And I can see how one could come to think that Steyn’s vision is of a piece with anti-Semitism.

The problem, though, is that term, like “racism,” is bandied about so much as to not only be meaningless but to have a chilling effect on discussion of controversial issues. Indeed, that often seems to be the point. Calling an idea (or its advocate) “racist” or “anti-Semitic” poisons the well, diverting attention to the ad hominem rather than the argument’s merit.

We’ve seen it with the responses to even sober, reasoned works by distinguished scholars like Samuel Huntington (“The Hispanic Challenge“) or Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (“The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy“). While I disagree with the substance of both those papers (see here and here, respectively), their authors are respectable and have earned a fair hearing. Indeed, even Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis is “racist” if one applies the term in this manner.

It’s so unnecessary here. Because Henley provides the framework of a substantive, persuasive critique along with a defense of the labeling, the latter winds up being a distraction.

It’s also immaterial. Whether Steyn secretly believes people from predominately Muslim lands are inferior to whites is irrelevant to whether large scale Muslim immigration will fundamentally change the character of Western societies.

One can simultaneously believe, as I do, that immigration is a net good to the country, admire the immigrants themselves (figuring that the ones with the gumption to get up and leave for a better life elsewhere will be a net addition to our human capital), and yet worry about large immigrant enclaves overwhelming the local culture in the short term.

Goodness knows, those fears aren’t baseless. For a particularly bizarre example, see the takeover of Antelope, Oregon by the Rajneesh cult in 1984. Or, for that matter, the takeover of the Americas and Australia by white settlers.

This concern is mostly cultural. Indeed, we see it with the French resistance to the creeping influence of American culture or between English and French speaking Canadians. Or even among same-race groups within a society. For example, there’s a resentment among those living in southern Virginia of the massive growth in the D.C. suburbs of northern Virginia. Indeed, we see it with long-term residents of exurban NoVa against the new residents (the “slow growth” movement). People have a natural instinct to want to protect their way of life from rapid change imposed by newcomers.

Are Muslims “unmeltable” ethnics who can never be integrated into the “Anglosphere”? I don’t think so. There are plenty of Muslims who have acculturated here in the United States, certainly. Does that mean we should be indifferent to the opening of madrassahs funded by Salafists within our midst? Not at all.

It’s not “racist” or bigoted to welcome immigrants and yet insist that they learn our language and adopt the basic tenets of our secular creed. I suppose there’s a sort of bigotry, for the lack of a better word, in judging our mores preferable to some others; but so what?

Image source: Flickr via Google Images

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tano says:

    Its one thing for people to feel uncomfortable being forced to deal with diversity, I suppose. But it is entirely something else to exploit those feelings and those fears, to play into them and seek to amplify them, in pursuit of certain public policies.

    To the extent that Steyn plays into the fear that all Muslims are, at heart, religious fundamentalists with a secret sharia agenda – to the extent that he assumes that they are immune to the forces of cultural evolution that work for everyone else – his arguments rest on a view of muslims as being profoundly “other” – other than the rest of humanity, and not in a good way.

    That is the core attitude of racism.

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  3. mannning says:

    Of the three factors being discussed here so far–race, religion, and culture–it seems to me that all of them play a part in Islamophobia. But the dominant aspect is that of religion–Islam–that orders both the spiritual and the secular life of its adherents, and prescribes practices for the ultra faithful that are an anathema to Christians. Moreover, the ultra faithful, the fanatics, are a direct threat to our way of life, a fact that no one should avoid.

    If, as some seem to think, Muslims in the US acculturate, “evolve” culturally(!)and religiously(!), I wonder whether they have listened to the preachings of the imams of the many mosques here in the US, some of which have been taped, I understand, by the FBI. I wonder at the teachings of the Koran, the Haddith, the Sira, and fatwas, that are not reassuring on this evolution theory, since they haven’t really changed (been abrogated) since the 7th century. Who is kidding us to believe this evolution hogwash?

    I wonder at the large sums of money raised here for Hamas, Fatah, and other militant groups in the Middle East. I wonder at the rather large demonstrations we witnessed in Detroit and other cities by Muslims. I wonder at the “progress” in the UK and Sweden by Muslims in forcing their desires onto the governments. And, many other indicators that Muslims’ primary allegiance is to Islam, not the US.

    A benign view of Muslims and their potential for major trouble for the US at home is a classic ostrich mentality, charitable though it is, and one that may lead us to chaos later on. It is simply not enough to “keep an eye on them”, as if we will observe their clandestine activities just in time to neutralize them.

    How many mosques have we searched for weapons, for example? None, I will guess, and we won’t. We don’t seem to believe that Muslims will ever strike in the US again, as their population soars to 12 or 20 million this century.

    Using JB’s 1% rule, that would mean 120,000 to 200,000 fanatics in residence here.

    I do hope we can cope.

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Unless and until the majority of Muslims turn against the ideal of a Caliphate that is universal in nature. When I hear Islams leaders denouncing terrorism. I will rest easy they represent to danger to our way of life. Since that has about as much chance of happening as liberals defending America. Some people can intellectually find fault with Mark Steyn writes, but you cannot prove him incorrect. Islam was, is and always be spread by the sword. To ignore that fact is to welcome ones enemies.

  5. mannning says:

    From Robert Spencer:

    “If Muslims want to end “Islamophobia” instantaneously, here’s how they can do it:

    1. Focus their indignation on Muslims committing violent acts in the name of Islam, not on non-Muslims reporting on those acts.
    2. Renounce definitively not just “terrorism,” but any intention to replace the U.S. Constitution (or the constitutions of any non-Muslim state) with Sharia even by peaceful means.
    3. Teach Muslims the imperative of coexisting peacefully as equals with non-Muslims on an indefinite basis.
    4. Begin comprehensive international programs in mosques all over the world to teach against the ideas of violent jihad and Islamic supremacism.
    5. Actively work with Western law enforcement officials to identify and apprehend jihadists within Western Muslim communities.

    If Muslims do those five things, voila! “Islamophobia” will vanish.”

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  7. Steve Plunk says:

    How can you call it racism if it doesn’t matter what race the religious adherent is? White Muslim, brown Muslim, green Muslim, it doesn’t matter. Steyn is talking about a religious culture immigrating not a race.

    When that culture has the baggage we have seen with certain branches of Islam why is it inappropriate to question whether or not the culture is incompatible with our own?

    Would I be intolerant if not comfortable with a neo-nazi moving in next door? How about an anarchist? A evangelical Christian zealot who collects guns? Some perceived bigotry may be justified.

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  21. Cliff Thompson says:

    Stop wasting your time over is it racist or not,the question is, is it true?,if Adolf Hitler told you not to step off a 300ft high cliff because it will kill you it would still be true irrespective of who said it.Mark Steyn is not racist,the accusation is the usual left wing cant aimed at people who question the false (and unworkable) philosophy of multiculturalism.

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