August 16, 2010

The Tension Of Two Visions Of America

I'm not a big fan of Ross Douhat, but he seems to have hit one out of the park with today's NY Times column. In it he notes that there are two distinct Americas -- one which embraces a diverse vision of legal and constitutional equality and freedom, and another which defines itself as having certain cultural traits that make it a single people distinct from all others. Most difficult to reconcile, however, is that they are the same America. Which leads, he argues, to the Muslim problem in America today, especially as crystallized in the dispute over the Ground Zero mosque.

The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes.

By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

It is there that we have the conflict. Most Americans, myself included, have no objections to Muslims in this country, and want to see that community as a vibrant part of the American tapestry. For that to work, however, this same Islamic community needs to recognize that there is a need for "good Muslims" to also be "good Americans" for this to work. Sadly, that has not always happened, whether we are talking about the repeated discovery of terrorist plots centered on local mosques, efforts to claim rights (to stop the work on a factory floor for prayer time, to refuse to carry handicapped passengers with guide dogs or passengers carrying liquor in Muslim-operated cabs, or to impose sharia-based restrictions on non-Muslim speech) at odds with American values, and an increasing resistance to the sort of assimilation that has helped to incorporate previous generations of immigrants into our society. And in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this sort of Muslim ambiguity towards America has made it harder for the rest of America to welcome the Muslim community.

And like it or not, the military conflicts of the last nine years do have the characteristics of a war against Islam, given that our enemies so often use Islam as a the basis of their ideology. Unlike during World War II, when a Japanese minority that was treated much less fairly under the law before the war found many of its members interned without trial during the war, Muslims in America have found themselves to face few (if any) real restrictions placed upon them that have not been shared by other Americans. Yet unlike the Japanese, who even when interned showed great devotion and loyalty to this country, we instead find in the Islamic community sentiments like the following ruling made by Muslim jurists in America:

Question: Is a Muslim who owns a moving company permitted to transport supplies from the distributor's warehouse to the port, knowing that the supplies are to be sent to soldiers operating in Islamic countries as part of NATO forces?

Response: Help one another in goodness and piety, and do not help another in sin and aggression...If somebody commits a crime and conspires against [Muslims] you must not abet him anywhere on earth, whether he is a civilian or belongs to the military. ..."

Question: Is it permissible [for] a Muslim, to enlist in the U.S. Navy, in light of the possibility that [one] might be sent to serve in a Muslim country. ... [Would] enlisting in the Navy be considered 'loyalty to the infidels and leaving the fold [of Islam].'

Response: One third of all Muslims today live as minorities in non-Islamic countries, and most of the remaining two-thirds live in the shadow of non-Islamic regimes, even if they live in Islamic lands. The two groups are subject to man-made laws, which Islamic (sharia) does not recognize, either fully or in part. ...

In other words, Islam itself would forbid giving one's loyalty to America, even though we are told that the terrorists are not good Muslims and they "hijacked Islam" along with the planes used to attack America on 9/11. And until Muslims in this country resolve this tension in a manner that makes it clear that they are a part of our nation rather than an enemy within, it is impossible for them to meet the demands of Douhat's second America -- which in turn makes many of us wonder just how operative the values of the first can truly be with regard to Islam.

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I got a rather lengthy email regarding this topic which I will parse down to just the last paragraph. (no changes made to spelling or grammar)

"...This is very interesting and we all need to read it from start to finish. Maybe this is why our American Muslims are so quiet and not speaking out about any atrocities. Can a good Muslim be a good American? This question was forwarded to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years. The following is his reply:
Theologically - no . . . Because his allegiance is to Allah, The moon God of Arabia
Religiously no Because no other religion is accepted by His Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256)(Koran)
Scripturally - no Because his allegiance is to the five Pillars of Islam and the Quran.
Geographically no Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day.
Socially - no Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews..
Politically - noBecause he must submit to the mullahs (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and destruction of America, the great Satan.
Domestically - no Because he is instructed to marry four Women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34)
Intellectually - no Because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.
Philosophically - no Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression.. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.
Spiritually - no Because when we declare 'one nation under God,' the Christian's God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as Heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran's 99 excellent names.
Therefore, after much study and deliberation. ...
Perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS
in this country. - - - They obviously cannot be both 'good' Muslims and good Americans.
Call it what you wish, it's still the truth. You had better believe it. The more who understand this, the better it will be for our country and our future. The religious war is bigger than we know or understand.
Can a muslim be a good soldier???"

|| Posted by T F Stern, August 16, 2010 07:34 PM ||
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