Notes From Babel

Being Muslim in America Is No Picnic

with 7 comments

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.

Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire

Edward Gibbons's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

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.

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Written by Tim Kowal

November 16, 2009 at 11:45 pm

7 Responses

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  1. interesting video

    lovebug35

    November 17, 2009 at 12:08 am

  2. Neither is being Atheist. Or anything really that isn’t Christian based.

    Godless American

    November 17, 2009 at 12:30 am

    • But certainly that must be much less true since 20 years ago? There is a place in the limelight now for those such as the “new atheists”, who, far from lurking in the shadows, take the offensive against the Christian cultural/religious order. Moreover, American Christians are more secularized than ever, and thus probably share as many (if not more) points of similarity with atheists as with Muslims.

      Tim Kowal

      November 17, 2009 at 7:34 am

  3. It’s from 2003, but here’s some polling research about who people would vote for:

    http://people-press.org/report/?pageid=724

    Atheism gets the lowest amount of votes in each voting bracket except secular; go figure.

    Godless American

    November 18, 2009 at 12:48 pm

  4. That is interesting — thanks for sharing the link. I think I remember seeing that, or something like it. One might explain it by pointing out that atheists are often perceived as having an affirmative agenda, rather than just a lack of belief in a deity. This would comport with the poll data that being merely “secular” is not as alienating as being atheist.

    I was trying to find something I read recently about this — that “atheism” is a misnomer, because “a” simply suggests “non,” while atheists are often actually quite militant. Here is something similar Rod Dreher wrote earlier this year.

    Tim Kowal

    November 19, 2009 at 3:49 pm

  5. […] 8 comments I have long been sympathetic to Muslims in America and in favor of a more balanced conversation when it comes to Israel and the Middle East.  All the […]

  6. […] Park 51 mosque (a/k/a the “Ground Zero Mosque”) and the Oklahoma anti-Sharia law.  For some time now, I’ve been expressing concern over the fact that, despite Americans’ strong commitment to […]


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