The Muslim Perception in American Mind

Cansu ARISOY
31 May 2010
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Islam is one the world’s most widespread religions. A fifth of the world’s population composes Islam’s believers. However Islam is not generally associated with the United States. But it is a fact that Islam is also a religion of the US. There is almost three millions believer of Islam in the US. This means it is larger than the total membership of the “Episcopal Church or United Church”. Also “six hundred mosques” are currently functioning in the States, mostly in the “East Coast, the Midwest, the South and California” (1).

 

In the last half-century the Muslim population in the US has risen rapidly by “immigration, procreation, and conversion.” To be clear: about two-thirds of the total is immigrants from Muslim countries, mostly from the Middle East. Remaining is mostly African – American converts. It is expected that by the year 2015, Islam will be the second largest religion in the US if the Muslim community continues to increase with this speed.

 

As the U.S. relationship with the Islamic world has reached to another level -which is not very friendly- since the September 11 attacks, the American administration has focused its attention on winning the hearts and minds of Muslims abroad. While these efforts are going on, catchy news was broadcasted on 28th May 2010. According to this, in New York there is an announcement which was hung onto buses and says: “Fatwa on your head? Your family or community threatens you? Leaving Islam?” Stop the Islamized America movement put up at least 30 advertisements to New York buses by paying thousands of dollars. The website named: refugefromislam.com that was placed in the advertisement show direction to the ones who want to leave Islam. The members of the movement put forward that they are giving a helping hand to the ones who cannot leave their Islamic beliefs. According to the leader of the movement the advertisements are not inflammatory for the Muslims, instead this is freedom. On the other hand, some part thinks that in America no one can force others to believe into something therefore the advertisement is anti-Islamic. However the organization is planning of spreading this advertisement also to other cities’ buses (2).

 

America is mostly known as a country in which the factor of religion is an important player of everyday life and often defining element throughout the history of the USA. America has always been promoted as a country for people from all over the world who are escaping from religious enforcements and looking for freedom…

 

In the Arab side, the population under the age 15 is almost 40%. In some places the level of unemployment reaches to 40%. If the Arab population continues to rise so rapid that in 10 years nearly 50 million people will join the army of unemployed. The streets in the Eastern world are filled with hopeless, unemployed, uneducated and furious young people. The target of this anger is West instead of their very own governments.

 

Most of them believe that the West deliberately left them behind. And this belief turns back to world as terrorism. This prejudice makes the Muslim side feel no responsibility for what happens to them. The weakness of the Muslim side is to be clumped on Western shoulders. According to this mentality it is all fault of “Western influences, Christian crusades, or Zionist conspiracies.” This feeling is named by Fouad Ajami as: “belligerent self-pity” (3).

 

This definition is used to describe the situation after the September 11 attacks. The belief is that, the September 11 attacks were not committed by the Muslims but by the US and Israel, or both. This underlines the wide spread belief that Muslims cannot actualize such an attack because of their inadequacy.

 

Europe was first to discover the Arab peninsula. America tended to the Muslim world much more later than the old continent. After the Second World War, America increased its weight in the Middle East and became a more crucial player than the Europe. Besides Israel, America built good relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

 

After Second World War America became a much more important actor in the Middle East because it had realized the petrol potential and the strategic importance of the region. In this respect in the framework of Wilson principles Americans won the support of the Arabs. Thus in general, the experts, visitors and bureaucrats that were coming from America welcomed in the Arab peninsula (4).

 

Modern Times

But things are changed since the first quarter of the 20th century. For many decades America was known as a Christian nation. However today it is known mostly diverse and dynamic. The American religious landscape is dominated not just by churches and synagogues and also by mosques in this age.

 

On the other hand, in 20th century Islam changed its face in terms of its tools and the geography that it spreads. Islam is now used in the Middle East by Palestinians to take back the lands that were once theirs. However the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda is using Islam different than any other Muslim entities. They use Islam as a tool for terrorism to change the whole world system. For them every part of the world is their area of action. They do not only use guns and armors but every opportunity of technology like satellite phones and television channels, mobile phones, and websites.

 

Today everybody from different religious beliefs can commit carnage: Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, Buddhists, Shiites, Jews or Hindus. But it is a fact that every day more and more Muslims commit terrorist activities. According to the statistics in the lists of international terrorist organizations, in every 27 organization from 53 define itself as Islamist and increase its activities (5).

 

Barack Hussein Obama is using a more respectful, tolerant tone and he has a more embracing fashion than his predecessor. He speaks to the Muslim world not as Bush had done. Obama is trying to win the hearts and minds of the Muslims. He went straight to the hearts of Palestinians by telling them that “violence achieved nothing” and repeats “vile anti-Semitic stereotypes was deeply wrong”. Obama also admits that the way that the Palestinians are treated is “intolerable and insisted that America would not turn its back on the legitimate aspiration of Palestinians for dignity and a state of their own” (6).

 

Conclusion: What to Do?

After the September 11 attacks Muslims, especially the ones in the USA, started to feel deep alienation. And this feeling pushed them to protest America. But instead of burning flags and joining rallies, they act more organized. These Muslims whose lives were dramatically changed after the attacks, they started to utter their voices more. They are Muslims “petitioning school boards to establish prayer rooms in public schools for their children, taking time off during the workday for prayers, and turning to the courts when they believe their constitutional rights to practice their religion have been violated” (7).

 

With this, the American Muslims benefit from the free environment that the USA provides them. They use the so called right of expression. They develop their Muslim identity. Bush government’s policy of preventing attacks inside the country seriously hurt the relations between the United States and the Arab world. With Obama administration this situation started to change slowly. This can be beneficial in the long turn because according to an opinion the lack of integration that would be come with the wounded relationships can lead the American Muslims to be radicalized. Ghettoization of Muslims can cause bigger problems in multi-ethnic and religiously diverse entities.

 

Muslims in America are becoming more and more conscious of their identities. They are waiting for the day to be recognized as a part of America’s settled groups like Catholics, Protestants and Jews. In this respect the US should take some measures to stop the alienation of the Muslims who are living on the lands of the US and building strong relations with them.

 

For instance American administration can courage their Muslim citizens to participate more in the political life. Until present Muslim community have not played an influential role in American democratic system. A dialogue between the government and American Muslims is one of the fundamental factors of the participatory democracy in the USA. As a result of this dialogue we can assume that Muslims will consequently reach to full level participation and recognition that has been keeping away from them. Furthermore American people should not live egocentrically and learn more about the Muslim culture and Islam. They should internalize that the world does not turn only around them.

 


Recognition and participation of the Muslim community in the USA would be the result of a reciprocal effort of both the US and Arab world. Building bridges would be possible if mutual understanding and collaboration of the political leaders can operate effectively. Actually this should not be hard for such a country like America which is based its political values on equality, freedom and democracy. Also the contributions of each side should not be ignored. The process of bridge building is far away from easy. Instead, it will be hard and slow.

 

Just one speech by Barack Obama cannot alone remove all the obstacles on the dialogue between the Muslim community and America, and soften the hostility that has been accumulating over years. But showing the good intentions and the wish of integration can win the hearts and minds of the Muslims who are expecting the worst from America.

 

The future of Muslims in America will glow if these people can adapt their religious exercises to the USA’s liberal democratic principles. Furthermore by becoming democratic minded political participants and joining the nationalist experience, American Muslims can harmonize with the American society.

 


Sources:

1- Yvonne, S. and Haddad Y. (1997): A Century of Islam in America. Hamdard  slamicus: Volume: 21, No. 4, Muslim World Occasional paper, No: 4

Available at:
http://www.teachislam.com/dmdocuments/History/A%20Century%20of%20Islam%20in%20America.pdf

[Accessed on 31st May 2010]

2-http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/dunya/14860767.asp?gid=200

3-http://www.global-prosperity.org/files/publications/america_in_islam.pdf

4-http://www.radikal.com.tr/haber.php?haberno=98242

5- ibid.

6-http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article6434069.ece

7-Abdo, G. (1960): Islam in America Separate but Unequal. The Washington Quarterly: Volume 28, Number 4, Autumn 2005, pp. 7-17

Available at: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/washington_quarterly/v028/28.4abdo.html

[Accessed on 31st May 2010]

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