Why American Muslims Stay Silent

Stephen Schwartz asks the titular question, “Why American Muslims Stay Silent.” The column under that headline is interesting but only obliquely answers the question.

Four years after September 11, 2001, numerous non-Muslim Americans repeatedly ask, “Why do American Muslims stay silent in the face of extremism and terrorism? Why do they not act to cleanse their religion of the reputation it has acquired?”

Paradoxically, Muslims in the US and Great Britain are, today, far more dominated by Islamist extremism than their counterparts in various Muslim countries. In many lands where the majority follows Islam, a struggle is underway between mainstream moderates and radicals inspired by the ultra-Wahhabi preachers of Saudi Arabia, the agitators of the Muslim Brotherhood in various Arab countries, and the virulent and volatile adherents of Pakistani jihadism. In some places, from Bosnia-Hercegovina to Indonesia and from Morocco to Mozambique, the moderates are winning. Yet the Islamic communities of the U.S. (dominated by the Saudis) and Britain (run by radical Pakistanis) suffer under a totalitarian regime of thought-control.

What happens when ordinary Muslims rebel against radical domination in America? They are ostracized, thrown out of mosques, and subjected to extraordinary public insults and threats. I myself was harassed in a Long Island mosque in 2003, as noted in this article. Shia mosques are excluded from “Sunni,” i.e. Wahhabi-controlled bodies, and numerous incidents of expulsions of individual Shias from Sunni mosques in the U.S. have been reported to the Center for Islamic Pluralism, which I have established.

That Muslims in the United States tend to be more radicalized than those in preominantly Muslim societies is not surprising. For one thing, radicalism is a luxury of those with enough to eat and quite a bit of free time. For another, the major sponsors of Islam in the United States are the Wahhabist Saudis and the Nation of Islam.

Schwartz’ answer does not seem to be, however, “Because the silent majority of American Muslims think Osama bin Laden is a hero.” Rather, he seems to be arguing that the majority of American Muslims are cowards who lack the gumption to stand up to the “Wahhabi Lobby.” Neither of those are particularly satisfying answers.

Update: Schwartz responds extensively in the comments below. Much of what he says is in reaction to comments but two things are in direct response to my rather glib post. Let me clarify briefly.

The fact that I do not credit American Muslims with loving Bin Laden and therefore being silent is not a matter of being oblique, but of rejecting such a claim.

I didn’t mean to imply that he does. Michael Scheuer, of Through Our Enemies’ Eyes and Imperial Hubris fame, does make the argument that a preponderence of Muslims idolize OBL and I was tossing it out as the most obvious answer.

[A] person who has been intimidated by a powerful machine of money and thuggery is not a coward. He or she puts his family’s security first. There is nothing wrong with that.

Perhaps “coward” is too strong a word, although people who will not stand up to be counted when horrible things are being done in their name are not exactly brave. Schwartz’ point that there is concerted pressure, including violence, mitigating against bravery is well noted, however.

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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.

Comments

  1. Herb says:

    The saving grace to American Muslims has been the absence of attacks since 9/11. If the attacks had continued or increased, then I think there would be no safe place for muslims in America. However, if there is another attack as big as 9/11 and coupled with the silence of the American Muslims, then they had best return to Saudi for their own safety. Don’t think for one minute that the silence on the part of the American Muslims has gone unnoticed. I have heard from many that most Americans simply don’t trust Muslims in general and the lack of condemnation from the Muslim community of OBL and terrorists in general has led to this mistrust. If the American Muslims are American, their best bet is to demonstrate that fact be opening up, speaking out, and letting other Americans know exactly where they stand in the War on Terror.

  2. Bithead says:

    Neither of those are particularly satisfying answers.

    Personally, even in pure speculation, I can’t thank of any particularly satisfying answers. Can you?

  3. lkjg says:

    The column under that headline is interesting but only obliquely answers the question.

    The reason the question is only “obliquely answered” is because it is a stupid question. Outside one personal anecdote Schwartz gives no evidence whatsoever to support his assertion that US muslims are “far more dominated by Islamist extremism.”

    James, I would have thought someone who is trained as a social scientist would require some empirical data before taking Schwartz’s arguement at face value.

  4. Anderson says:

    Who is Stephen Schwartz? Are we supposed to believe he’s any sort of authority?

    Look at this: Shia mosques are excluded from “Sunni,” i.e. Wahhabi-controlled bodies, and numerous incidents of expulsions of individual Shias from Sunni mosques in the U.S. have been reported to the Center for Islamic Pluralism, which I have established.

    I don’t mean to shock anyone, but Protestants are regularly excluded from membership in Roman Catholic churches, and vice-versa.

    Sunnis generally detest Shias as heretics, Wahabis (as they do not like to be called) moreso than most other Sunnis. This is news? This is “Islamic extremism”?

  5. legion says:

    I just think it’d be nice if our own, non-Muslim government could bring itself to stand up to the ‘Wahhabi Lobby’ (great term, btw – I hadn’t heard that before).

    Perhaps weaning ourself off of Saudi oil $$ might be a nice start…

  6. Don says:

    I’ve read that Islamic extremism hasn’t been much of a problem in the U.S. because so many Muslim immigrants in the U.S. are doctors, scientists, engineers, etc., who are unlikely to be attracted to extremism. Even those who drive taxis and run 7-Elevens tend to be pretty successful!

    Most Islamic immigrants to Europe, on the other hand, tend to be much lower on the economic scale, much less educated, have fewer prospects, etc., and hence are more likely to be attracted to extremist ideologies.

    For the record, I don’t think that most mainstream Muslims consider the Nation of Islam to be truly Muslim.

  7. It’s rare for me to see such dumb comments in response to one of my columns, though that doesn’t apply to all of those here. Some are fine.

    The fact that I do not credit American Muslims with loving Bin Laden and therefore being silent is not a matter of being oblique, but of rejecting such a claim.

    There is very little “empirical data” of the kind that academics love because the Wahhabi lobby and and the mosques and schools they control are secretive. You want to go in there with questionnaires? Do you even have any idea what questions to ask?

    If you don’t think I am an authority, there’s this newfangled thing called google. Check it out.

    In the Muslim world, Shia worshippers are generally not excluded from Sunni mosques. This is something that happens much more in the West where the Wahhabis know they can get away with it. The comparison with Protestants and Catholics doesn’t cut it. I’d be very interested in some “empirical data” on where Protestants are “regularly excluded from Roman Catholic churches, and vice versa.” What an idiotic, bigoted comment. Protestants and Catholics voluntarily attend different churches. I have never heard of either throwing the other out of anything.

    Sunnis do not “generally detest Shias as heretics.” There are many places in the real Muslim world, from Morocco to Malaysia, where Sunnis and Shias intermarry and even share mosques. Iraq was one of these places until Saudi started sending Wahhabi recruits and money across their northern border to support terror.

    No real Muslim considers the so-called NOI to be Muslim. It is a form of African-American freemasonry, comparable to the Shriners. A Shriner putting on a fez does not make him a Muslim. A member of the NOI maintaining a so-called mosque on the basis of racial separation is not a Muslim.

    Islamic radicalism cannot be correlated to class. In Egypt the radical Muslim Brotherhood or Ikhwan is nicknamed the “engineers’ brotherhood” because so many people with advanced degrees belong to it. As in Pakistan and Saudi, radicalism attracts members of the disaffected and frustrated middle class. Poor people are usually busier supporting their families and have no time for this stuff. Islamic extremism in America is, in fact, an expression of success and the arrogance that goes with it — radicals feel they have done well here, that the system tolerates them, and they feel enabled to do whatever they want, like threaten and harass people.

    The Saudi oil is not the issue. The foreign oil companies protecting the Saudis is a bigger issue.

    Finally, a person who has been intimidated by a powerful machine of money and thuggery is not a coward. He or she puts his family’s security first. There is nothing wrong with that. But the failure to resist the Saudi money and threats will not do Islam in America any good.

  8. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    I have lived in the Middle East for 25 years amongst the Muslims and I know exactly why the American Muslims have been silent over the past few years. However, explaining it would take more time and space than this blog allows.

    Suffice it to say that it is similar to the phenomenon of medical doctors being unwilling to criticize other doctors.

  9. Herb says:

    P T McGuire:

    That is not a reason, That is an excuse on the part of the Muslims.

  10. John Bazin says:
  11. mycat says:

    This is anecdotal but here goes: in my community Muslims were quite vocal in repudiating extremism in the year or so after 911. Since then not much public display, but no one is making much of a public display of their feelings about terrorism, so why should they? The three Muslim students at the high school where I teach were invited to be part of the holiday assembly, but they declined because they were afraid to be publicly identified as Muslim.

  12. Anderson says:

    The comparison with Protestants and Catholics doesn’t cut it. I’d be very interested in some “empirical data” on where Protestants are “regularly excluded from Roman Catholic churches, and vice versa.” What an idiotic, bigoted comment. Protestants and Catholics voluntarily attend different churches. I have never heard of either throwing the other out of anything.

    Pooh. There are evidently LOTS of things Schwartz has never heard of.

    The RCC doesn’t let non-Catholics take the sacrament. Many Protestant denominations won’t let other Protestans, let alone Papists (sic), take communion. This after centuries of ecumenical development unparalleled in the Islamic world.

    In some areas of said world (a big place), Shias and Sunnis do indeed get along reasonably well. I was referring more to the Mideast and to American Muslims whose families hail from the Mideast.

    Re: my “papist” joke above, my point is that Catholics are about as happy to be called Papists as fundamentalist, “Salafist” Sunnis are to be called “Wahabis.” I would expect an “expert” to know these things.

  13. Herb says:

    Amderson: Sit down and try not to fall off on the floor, but for the first time, I AGREE WITH YOU.

    I get so sick and tired of these “Experts” who write something and expext everyone to read it as though it were gospel. I got a kick out of this guys reason for his being an Expert.

    “If you don’t think I am an authorty, theres this new fangled thing called Google, check it out”

    Hell anyone can get anything they want off of a computer, but that doesn’t qualify them as “Expert”

    I surely am no expert on the Muslims, but like I said previously, they had best be speaking out or I think there will be hell to pay.

    I live about 50 miles from Cincinnati and there was a bombing in a Mosque there about 3 days ago, Now if you don’t know Cincy, they have the usual crime and then some, but the attacking of a place of worship is unheard of there. It is also the home of Matt Maupin, the solder that was kidnapped about a year and a half ago and never heard from since. I think the people are really fed up with the radical muslims and the American population should be spaeking out more than ever before, Everyone wants th know “Just where they stand”.