6/29/2006

muslim citizens, not citizen muslims

I have long argued that there is a difference in attitudes between muslims in the UK/Europe and those in America. The main difference is that in the former, they are former subjects of a colonial empire, and therefore there is a deep wall of racism, resentment, and distrust that cuts both ways. The net effect is to put a barrier to true integration as a citizen with a sense of a genuine stake in the societal identity. This barrier can ccertainly be overcome (spectacularly, in fact - for example, look at Zedan). But that takes an effort of will, as well as education, the latter being something that muslims in UK and Europe have socioeconomic copnstraints upon their access that is analogous to the same as the Black ppulation does here in the United States.

Muslims in America, in contrast, attained entry via the usual (and terribly convoluted) immigration process. Their children grew up without the societal baggage of colonialism upon its victims or perpetrators. As a rule, muslim immigrants tended to be professionals or highly skilled; part of the gauntlet that one must overcome to gain entry and visas. Mulsims are not a labor class in the US, they are mostly upper middle class and highly educated.

So in a very deep sense, the differences between muslims here and across the pond are class-based, and carry a historical resonance. Tariq Ramadan has managed to overcome thse obstacles and still articulates a compelling case for muslims in Europe to embrace identity and take full part in their society; the more muslims follow his call, the easier it will be to break down those obstacles. It is exactly analogous to how the Jews in the US overcame institutionlaized racism and hatred.

There is no reason that muslims in Europe can't be full citizens of their nations.

There have been a number of good articles in the media on these issues recently. Via Matoko and Thabet and other sources:

The Economist has a very in-depth article on the topic of assimilation, which goes into more detail about the barriers to identity in Europe relative to the US.

The Guardian analyzes the results of the Pew Global Attitudes Project and finds that attitudes of mulsims and westerners towards each other are quite variable - and surprising.

The New York Times shows how the post-colonial attitudes in Europe still dominate interactions with the muslim community - for example, by infantilizing their belief system.

The New York Times Magazine has an article on outreach to the muslim community in London to enlist their aid in combating terror attacks.

'Aqoul points us to a wire story that shows how European muslims aren't "silent" about terror - they just want to live their lives.

and finally, The Prospect magazine interviews Tariq Ramadan.

As I have argued earlier - for example, with respect to the Dubai Ports World deal - muslims may be a problem, but they are also an essential part of the solution. True success in fighting off extremism requires recognition of what muslim communities have to offer, and enabling them to contribute to society as equal members.

3 comments:

Me said...

Aziz bhai, I appreciate your effort to paint a distinction as to how American Muslims are treated vis-a-vis Europeans. But, you have to admit, it's a bit of a generalization...

1) Your description of upper-class Muslims applies, if at all, to predominantly South Asian Muslims - and this is endemic more to country of origin, not necessarily being Muslim. Ironically, even Quad-e-Azaam would admit that the British (colonizers) did leave a good educational system behind in the Subcontinent, and then Nehru got his chance to build on this system at the college and secondary school level in India. Immigration to Europe occurred closer to the end of empires (Algerian Civil War, Partition, Idi Amin kicking out Asians, etc.)As for America, the creation of a critical mass of Asian educated professionals you extol is in no small part a matter of historical coincidence/luck (naseeb?), occurring during the mid and late 1960s, exactly when the US Immigration Act lifted racial barriers to immigration completely and added skills to fill labor shortages. When there was no jobs in India for these college grads, they came here. Later immigration patterns have not completely mimicked the "brain drain" phenomena. In addition, 33% of American Muslims are native-born converts, who do not at all have the same demographics characteristics you mention.

(important note: socioeconomic inertia among generations and even within a nation-state is a very potent explaining factor as to why we see the demographics we do).

All of these facts are, in a sense, meant to attack the "model minority myth" that many wish to place on Asian/Muslim immigrant communities at the risk of disregarding those at the peripheries or those without adequate educational/financial resources to fight against government persecution (i.e. detention of mainly working class immigrant men after 9/11 or the many Muslims who work below a living wage all over this country.)

In any case, I agree that the success of some Muslims is quite amazing in this country and even more so in Europe. But, to put this achievement on the whole is dangerous and falls into the hands of a not-always-well-intentioned agenda. If there is a difference between America and Europe that is a conscious reflection of the polity (and not just historical accident), is that every immigrant story in the US is put on a pedestal eventually. but, let's be careful to put it on a modest pedestal and not hoist it by its petards just yet.

~mfs

Razib said...

Your description of upper-class Muslims applies, if at all, to predominantly South Asian Muslims

no, it applies to arabs as well. additionally, african immigrants are among the most well educated in this nation, and many of them are also muslim. so you can't minimize this as a small subset. here is immigrant skewed survey. the % of converts is anywhere between 10-33%, depending on who you talk to, but they are natives with deep roots in this nation (despite any alienation because of racism).

Later immigration patterns have not completely mimicked the "brain drain" phenomena

yes, but a large extent they have not regressed back toward a peasant mean.

All of these facts are, in a sense, meant to attack the "model minority myth" that many wish to place on Asian/Muslim immigrant communities at the risk of disregarding those at the peripheries or those without adequate educational/financial resources to fight against government persecution

the inversion is turning muslim americans into opppresed victims instead of a predominantly upwardly mobile disproportionately college educated community, which is what they are.

If there is a difference between America and Europe that is a conscious reflection of the polity (and not just historical accident), is that every immigrant story in the US is put on a pedestal eventually.

over half of french citizens are not "root french." it is an immigrant country.

Razib said...

there are many points to your argument aziz, but, i would offer there are striking counter-examples to your post/neo-colonialism thesis: hindus and sikhs in the UK do far better than muslims and they are colonials (excluding ismailis who come from east africa). in fact, sikhs and muslim mirpuris ("pakistanis") are racially and linguistically and socioeconomically of about the same origin. in the netherlands moroccans have a serious adversarial relationship with the gov., but they were not colonial subjects, the hindus and blacks from suriname were, and they have few issues. in norway pakistanis are a serious problem, but pakistan was not a norwegian possession. simlarly, the kurds and turks in sweden and germany don't have to do with colonialism because these were not colonial nations (germany's colonies were taken away after world war I).

i will put the finger are 3 factors:

1) SES selection bias
2) diverse ethnic origins (there isn't one muslim ethnic group who syngerizes ethnicity and religion)
3) large number of native converts