Question: What inspired you to write American Islam
Barrett: If I had to give just a few syllables answer, it would be 9/11. I was working at the Wall Street Journal at the time. My main job was as an editor. In the days, and weeks, and months after 9/11, I spent all my time editing stories for the Journal’s front page about the fallout from 9/11 – most of it international, at least initially. And I edited many stories about Islam, and about Muslims, and about the turmoil that has enveloped that religion and its adherents. Almost all of that had to do with Islam overseas and Muslims outside the boundaries of the United States. I genuinely just began to get curious over time about Muslims in this country. And the Journal was chased from its offices by 9/11. The attacks took place literally across the street from the Journal offices, and for a year we were dispersed in different places. When the newspaper re-collected itself in its old offices and my work life became a little more normal again, I decided to carve out some time to work on a series of articles about Muslims in this country. And increasingly as I did those articles, I realized that one, that the American Muslim experience was entirely distinct from Muslim immigrant experiences elsewhere; and even more distinct from the experiences of Muslims in the predominantly Muslim world. And as I got deeper and deeper into that and found the tremendous variety in American Islam, and found the tremendous flux that exists within that subject area . . . that there is no one American Islam; there is no one model of American Muslim; and that Muslims themselves in this country, in a way that is mostly very healthy and very encouraging when you come to understand it, are engaged in an extraordinary debate over what it means to be a Muslim in a wealthy western society, particularly the United . . . that of the United States. That began to have the feel of having enough heft to be worthy not just of newspaper articles, but maybe of a book. And the struggle that the . . . that you mentioned that I used as the subtitle for the book, that subtitle is the internal struggle within Islam in this country. Much of what I write about in the book has to do with conflicts among Muslims in this country from many different backgrounds with many different understandings of their own religion as they try to sort out what it means to be a Muslim today in America.
Recorded on: 12/4/07