Mainstreaming American Muslims
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury from Virginia, USA
In the mayhem that took place in Lahore, Ivory Coast, Brussels, Paris and San Bernardino, California in recent past, the assassins were disgruntled Muslim youths and the victims of assassinations were Christians. Reactions to these murders were marked by strong notes of disdain and vengeance. Ted Cruz, one of the Republican frontrunners, called for intense surveillance on the Muslim neighbourhood allowing the security forces to apprehend the miscreants before they could do any harm.
Donald Trump, the other frontrunner, suggested carpet bombing on the areas ISIS is operating in Iraq and Syria, deny entry of the Muslims to the United States and annihilate the family members of the perpetrators. Trump also recommended posting separate data base for the American Muslims. The mainstream media and liberal politicians, however, dismissed these suggestions and debunked the futility of collective punishment of the community for the crimes of a few individuals.
Leaving aside the political discourse, I wonder, had similar incidents taken place in a predominantly Muslim country where the assassins were non-Muslims and the victims were largely Muslims, how the people and the government would have reacted? The government, most likely, would have asked people to remain calm and promised to haunt the perpetrators. But I am not sure whether people would have remained quiet. They would have tried to take law in their own hands and attacked the non-Muslim neighborhoods.
Properties worth billions would have been looted or set on fire and destroyed. Many would have accepted martyrdoms on both sides of the religious/communal divide.
Judged against this backdrop, it is only fair to conclude that the Americans overwhelmingly rejected segregating the Muslims and imposing collective punishment on the community. Many Senators and members of the Congress visited the Muslims at the mosques and expressed their solidarity with the beleaguered community. They reiterated that the Muslims were integral part of the American society and opposed any measure that would alienate the community from the rest of the nation.
President Obama visited a mosque in Baltimore in mid-February and reminded the audience that the Muslims in the United States are as much American as much Muslims. He cautioned against targeting the Muslims for different treatment.
What is disconcerting is the unresponsive attitude of the Imams and leadership of the mosques in the United States. Mosques managed by the Arabs usually recruit Imams from amongst their community. Sometimes Imams graduated from Egypt and Saudi Arabia are hired and brought to the United States. They are highly educated on theology but their rendition of international affairs are justifiably influenced by the prolonged Arab-Israeli conflict, the United States' biased policy toward Israel, the persecution of the Palestinians and Washington's unconditional support to the dictators in the Middle East.
A perception has been predicated amongst the Imams and a section of the Muslim population that the United States and its European allies are at odds with the Muslims.
The Iraq invasion, launched with no legitimate explanation and in violation of international law, gave credence to this belief.
The mosques managed by the non-Arabs are led by Imams trained in South East Asia. Most of them have memorised the Quran but they are not well versed on "Hadith and Sunnah". They devote a lot of time and attention in arranging Milad mahfils, Qul Khani, celebrating Eid-e-Miladunabi, Shab-e-Barat, etc. which are gradually being disowned by the enlightened amongst the Muslim community.
The Imams can hardly focus on national and international issues. Their sermons on Friday congregations are unraveling and incongruous.
Given this dichotomy, the mosques leadership failed to make loud condemnation of the terrorist attacks on innocent civilians inside or outside the United States. The absence of condemnation by the Muslim community is interpreted by the hawks as the community's acquiescence to terrorism.
The generation (Muslim) born or grown up in the United States achieved higher education in the universities, many with distinctions and excelled in their respective professional careers. They love this country and indeed this is the country they are familiar with. They are foreigners in the countries their parents came from.
Notwithstanding their upbringing, this generation has also been fragmented into two mainstreams.
A vast majority, to a large extent, has integrated into the American society and they are in relentless pursuit of higher learning and better career. They actively participate in local and national elections.
Another group though obtained degrees from the well-known universities, opted for low-profile careers. They came under the influence of Islamic Circle for North America (ICNA) or Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). They attend their annual or bi-annual assemblies and arrange periodic learning sessions with their fellow cohorts on religious principles and practices. They are less attracted to economic or political issues that are of concern to the Muslims and exude little exuberance on exercising their right of franchise.
ICNA focuses on self-development, education and social services. ISNA claims it addresses interfaith relations, civic engagement and better understanding of Islam. ICNA and ISNA leaders are equally ambivalent if not dismissive, to national and international issues.
Muslim community in San Bernardino denounced the killing in unequivocal terms. They termed the incident cruel and reiterated that Islam does not sanction killing of neighbours regardless of their faith, color and tradition. They assembled in a hospital and donated blood for the injured in the attack. The Muslims living in other parts of the country also condemned the killing in the strongest language. However, there was no condemnation from platforms such as the ICNA and ISNA.
Unless there is a reversal in the status-quo, there is reason to believe that the Muslims will be singled out for violence taking place in the United States or elsewhere. There has been a spate of Islamophobia in recent months and it will be worse in future.
Myriad interpretations have been made on the attacks in Paris and Brussels. The persons allegedly involved in the attacks were Arab-French/Belgium nationals. They were born in France and Belgium and grew up there but their communities were never integrated into the mainstream of the society. They had separate neighbourhoods having separate schools and colleges. The number of people living below poverty line amongst the Arabs in Belgium is almost double the national average.
The perpetrators were not devout Muslims, they were found frequenting the bars and some of them were arrested and served prison sentences. It is alleged that they became radicals while in prison and became desperate to act upon their release. The inability of the Muslims to integrate themselves with mainstream European society during the past fifty years has assumed a conundrum given the fact that about 6.0 per cent of Europe's total population is Muslims.
Experts are of the opinion that there is no quick-fix of this global problem. Conversely, the anti-Muslim rhetoric promotes extremist recruitment and creates a sense of alienation amongst the Muslims.
The solution lies in continuous efforts on the part of the local governments to accelerate the process of integration, promote education in locations marked by low enrollment, encourage job training, enhance representation of the community in the law enforcement agencies significantly and intensify dialogue between the community members and government functionaries.
This is a difficult exercise but there is no alternative to integration and building partnership with the community.
The writer is a former official of the United Nations.