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.
T. J. Babson says
Where do you come down on blasphemy laws, Mike? Did Yale University Press do the right thing by not including the Danish cartoons against the wishes of the author?
Is jettisoning free speech something we must do to “at least be tolerant of Islam?”
“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”
Do Muslims know this? It is their refusal to move from the dark ages that is causing the problems. Islam, seems to be at war with the entire world. It’s not just America. America gets all the attention because we’re the West’s vanguard and bulwark. Fundamentalism has come to define Islam, and Muslims allowed it to happen. In every regard, their cultures lag, their people starve, and blame us.
Fundamentalist Islam is not comatible with Western values. That’s not me saying it, it’s them.
This war will continue for another 1000 years. The West wants all things to be of equal value, and thus wants to tolerate cultures that are nihilistic and destructive. In my mind, not every culture has value, beyond its individuals. In other words–the Aztecs got what the deserved when Cortez and Co. rolled in and dispatched a “beautiful culture” that sacrificed humans by the thousands. Don’t care that he wanted gold and empire. The outcome was good.
Michael LaBossiere says
The brand of Islam you mention is a problem; but the extremists do not define all Muslims (or even a majority). An effective tactic against extremism is to isolate the extremists from the mainstream. Doing this requires being aware of the distinction.
Tolerance is actually a very useful weapon, provided that we do not tolerate the intolerable.
And how are we intolerant in any way that is damaging to Islam? They kill each other more than we kill them.
Michael LaBossiere says
Well, making a comment like that is a bit intolerant in that it presents an us and them scenario. There are Muslims that are part of us (that is, Americans).
True, non-American Muslims kills more fellow Muslims than Americans do. The moderate Muslims have certainly noticed this and this has helped reduce the support for radical groups that engage in this in-faith murder. We can, of course, use this to our advantage by pointing out that the greatest killer of Muslims is not the United States, but the radical terrorist groups. In contrast, we don’t want to kill people who disagree with us and we advocate a tolerance of other faiths. In short, we could make a very good case as to why the moderate Muslims should be pro-US and anti-terrorist. I think it would help us to make it clear that Islam and moderate Muslims are not our enemy. After all, we have plenty of American Muslims who are fine citizens, soldiers and politicians. Our enemy, like that of the moderate Muslims, is the radicals and extremists who are willing to murder anyone, even fellow Muslims. They are, as the old saying goes, enemies of all mankind. If we can get others to realize this, we get more allies and the terrorists lose support.
Think of what Sun Tzu said about war-winning without ever fighting is best.
It may be best, but it’s not always possible.
If the enemy of moderate Muslims is the radical, then the moderates need to become as loud as the radicals; more so. Otherwise I tend to think some of the moderates are merely silent radicals.
It would be tough to find in history a nation more tolerant than present day America. But the fact that Major Hasan was allowed to work in our army was moral weakness, not tolerance.
Why bother speaking out against radical Islam? The Left will speak for them. The moderate Muslims will not have to say anything.
T. J. Babson says
I think nearly all Muslims would like to see laws prohibiting “defamation of religion.”
Does anybody deny that? Do we really want to place religion beyond the pale of criticism?
Michael LaBossiere says
I think anyone of faith would be against defamation of religion. Of course, a distinction between criticism and hateful attacks needs to be drawn.
My view is that that existing laws seem to cover this matter adequately. After all, whether someone attacks or violently threatens an atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, A Christian, a Buddhist, or a transcendental deist it is still a crime. Merely saying mean and hateful things about a religion can be a mean thing to do, but it should not be a crime. Now, if it crosses from mean talk to threats, then the situation changes. For example, if someone says that “Islam is a religion of violence and hate”, then that might be a mean and untrue thing to say, but should not be considered a crime. But, if someone says “We need to kill all Muslims, so start bombing mosques!” then they are heading towards the criminal realm.
If anti-defamation laws allow criticism to be cast as defamation, then they are too broad. While I think people should respect ideas and views that are worthy of respect (and honest faith is often worthy), I do not think that any belief should be placed in a special category of protection. What should be illegal is what actually harms the innocent and I think that we have the laws in place to do that already.
T. J. Babson says
“Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.” – Thomas Mann