Are there common issues that American Muslims face?

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.

Like other Americans, some Muslims the American government when it goes against the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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A large new study uses an online game to inoculate people against fake news.

University of Cambridge
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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David McNew/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

Conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations led to a record high of 70.8 million people being displaced by the end of 2018.

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