Are there common issues that American Muslims face?
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Question: Are there common issues facing American Muslims?
Barrett: Sure, you know again with the caveat, which I’ll mention only once more, that there is no one unified Muslim experience. Muslim immigrants in their country, or now their children, or even in some cases their grandchildren, have for the most part come to this country for the very exact same reasons that immigrants have come to this country for several centuries. They’ve come here for the tremendous economic opportunities that exist. They’ve come here for the educational opportunities. And they come here because there is something very appealing to them about the ideological structure of American society. People abroad appreciate much more than we Americans do the promise and ideals of . . . embodied in aspects of our Constitution and in our civic culture. People . . . Muslims like other immigrants are extremely impressed by – and then once it’s theirs, proud of – freedom of religious expression; freedom of speech in general; branches of government that are limited one by the other so that there are checks and balances so that there isn’t a tendency toward tyranny of one sort; a court system that is a realistic and potent check on the executive branch and the legislative branch; a legislative branch that is not just a rubber stamp for, you know, the ultimate leader. So they come here for all those reasons. And you know in my experience Muslims – while even very observant Muslims; and we can talk about the spectrum of Muslim observance – they may not approve of many aspects of secular American society – drinking, sex before marriage, homosexuality – in fact pretty much all the same things that very conservative Christians and Jews disapprove of – but at the same time there is a willingness to co-exist with those things that they disapprove of. And I think an understanding that that’s kind of the price of living in an open society. Having said all that, there is a fairly consistent theme among Muslims in this country – with all the exceptions we’ve talked about – a real anxiety verging on irritation and anger about American foreign policy, which Muslims very routinely will distinguish from life in this country. It’s very common for Muslims to be very agitated and upset about the United States’ long-term relationship with the state of Israel. More recently most Muslims were fierce and early opponents of American military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. Now again, not all Muslims. You go to Shiia neighborhoods . . . areas where Shiias live in Detroit or elsewhere, they were initially in favor of the invasion of Iraq, because they wanted to see Saddam ousted. But opposition to American foreign policy is pretty much, I’d say, the most consistent political theme within Muslim life in this country, and the source of a good bit of whatever alienation exists among Muslims; and also a source of an important ingredient in the unsettling undercurrent of extremist thought that does course through American Islam. While the majority experience of Muslims in this country is one of integration, material success, educational attainment and so forth, there are pockets of very unsettling thought that tend to combine elements of the fundamentalism that has washed over much of the Muslim world over the last 30 plus years. It combines elements of anti-Semitism; of extreme antagonism to the state of Israel to the point of wanting to see the state of Israel eliminated, wiped off the map in some cases; and a tremendous anxiety about American involvement with Israel and the possible existence of an international conspiracy against Islam. These ideas that exist, they percolate at kind of a low level and they’re a source of concern. They should be a source of concern. They’re a source of concern to many Muslims and to Americans. Happily it’s not the majority strain of Muslim thinking. And one of the big challenges is how Muslims will deal with those issues in coming years.
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