Seeing an interview with Christopher Caldwell on the Colbert Report got me thinking about Islam and the West. Caldwell notes that one of Europe‘s biggest problems is dealing with Muslim immigrants. Naturally, this is a problem that the United States faces as well.
While Caldwell’s case can be criticized, he does raise a rather legitimate concern: the West faces a serious challenge in dealing with Muslim immigrants and how this is handled (or botched) will have a significant impact on the shape of things to come.
While the United States has had various issues with immigration over the years, the United States generally does a very good job of assimilating immigrants into the American mainstream. This is, of course, relative to Europe. Not surprisingly, we have done better in the case of Muslim immigrants as well. One reason, as Caldwell notes, is that while some folks claim that America is going socialist, we still have an employment based economy that tends to attract people looking for work and get rid of people who are unable to do so. This has at least two important effects. First, this leads to mixing between immigrants and Americans. Second, it means that most immigrants will hold jobs, thus giving them a stake and something to do. In contrast, Europe provides much more in the way of the public dole, thus allowing immigrants to remain who do not mix with the general populace on the job. Perhaps more importantly, unemployment provides a fertile breeding ground for dissatisfaction.
There are of course many other factors that are involved in the United States being able to better assimilate Muslims and these factors should be considered key elements in the war on terror. After all, while most Muslims are not terrorists, many modern terrorists are Muslims. Naturally, terrorist groups that claim to be acting on behalf of Islam will try to recruit Muslims in enemy nations to commit acts of terror and provide support. So far, American Muslims have proven quite resistant to these attempts. However, we should not take this for granted and thus should take steps to make sure that this remains the case.
Assimilating Muslims does not mean making them cease to be Muslims. After all, being a Muslim and being an American are no more at odds than is being Catholic and American or Jewish and American. An assimilated Muslim would be a Muslim who believes that s/he is part of America and is generally favorable towards the ideals, laws and values of America. At the very least, s/he does not regard America or the American people as an enemy of Islam and hence has no inclination to aid those who wish to harm Americans. Obviously, for people to become assimilated, they have to believe that Americans will reciprocate. That is, if a Muslim is expected to be favorable towards (or at least tolerant of) American values and ideals then Americans must at least be tolerant of Islam. This is clearly something that we can do-after all, we have had plenty of practice as a nation (despite some rather nasty bouts of intolerance).
Part of winning the “war on terror” involves denying the enemy aid and support. Perhaps the best way to do this is to make potential enemies into friends and allies-winning through assimilation rather than violence. Our capacity to expand our culture in this manner has been a great part of our success. People come to us and join us, making us stronger. Naturally, we should be on guard against enemies in our midst, but we should not let fear deny us the use of one of our best defenses.