Being Muslim in America Is No Picnic
A good friend of mine shared this YouTube video of 20 year old nightly news piece on his elementary school alma mater, Orange Crescent School in Garden Grove, California (“OCS”). OCS is an Islamic school, part of the Islamic Society of Orange County, and shares a campus with the local mosque. My friend Hassan, who appears in the piece as an adolescent, has always stressed to me that the Muslim community is very American, sharing in our values of self-reliance, hard work, virtue, and personal responsibility, and that they have long desired to become more accepted into the American culture. Sadly for them, in the 20 years or so since this piece aired, Americans seem more wary of Muslims than ever.
The likes of Andy McCarthy and Geert Wilders characterize Islam as not a religion, but a political ideology, and that there is no such thing as “radical Islam,” but instead the atrocities we see people committing in the name of Allah are simply dutiful Muslims following the letter of the Koran. The Fort Hood tragedy was not a freak accident—it was an inevitability given our irrational toleration of Islamic ideology. Islam, McCarthy and Wilders would have the Western world understand, is anathema to free society.
Interestingly, Edward Gibbons, author of the seminal The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, concluded something similar about Christianity. According to Gibbons, Christianity poisoned the pluralistic, secular fabric of the Roman empire, and instead made claims to a singular, universal Truth. They stressed the temporal quality of the physical world, and focused on the otherworldly. Rather than committing themselves to the protection of the Roman empire from the barbarians and swearing fealty to the emperor, Christians were committed to personal salvation and swore fealty to the God.
Today, by contrast, it is the view of many Americans that America is founded upon Christianity. What changed? Not the core tenets of Christianity. It is not Christianity’s message that determines its cultural impact. Religion and political regimes have a symbiotic relationship. The Roman empire was pagan. America was deistic and at least loosely Christian at its founding. Religion—whether Christianity or Islam or just about anything else—is inherently dangerous to political systems if not suitably integrated in the respective society’s cultural fabric.
Most religions can be used to either support or tear down political society. The culprit is not religion qua religion. We should not be so naive as to explain terrorism and anti-Americanism as the inexorable conclusion of a religious view. And until we more fully understand the deep sociological and historiographical reasons that actually underlie modern ethnic and religious tensions, we ought to refrain from alienating that segment of our society that shares so many of our most important values and that wants to become part of our society. Terrorism is a great evil. We do a disservice to the cause of eradicating it by including so many false positives.