The American Muslim Success Story


One thing that seems to be overlooked in this Manhattan mosque/activity center scuffle and the broader debate over integration and assimilation is just how well Muslim immigrants have done in the U.S. We don't have the Muslim ghettos, separatist movements, rioting, and the tense cultural clashes Europe has. There have been some arrests of alleged home-grown Islamic terrorists in America, but there are going to be extremist outliers in any ethnic, religious, or ideological group of 3 million people (the estimated number number of Muslims in the U.S.).

In contrast to many of the minority Muslim populations in Europe, American Muslims embrace modernity, are better educated, and earn more money than their non-Muslim fellow citizens. A 2007 Pew poll suggests American Muslims are also doing just fine when it comes to assimilating and viewing themselves as part of America. According to the poll, just 5 percent of American Muslims express any level of support for Al Qaeda, and strong majorities condemn suicide attacks for any reason (80+ percent), and have a generally positive image of America and its promise for Muslims.

According to the poll, the only subset of American Muslims where support for Al Qaeda and suicide attacks gets unccomfortably high is among native-born African-American converts, many of whom converted in prison. To the extent that this particular subset of American Muslims is more prone to radicalism and less optimistic about America, it has nothing to do with immigration/assimilation problems, and seems more likely to stem from lingering hostility about race. That is, it's an American problem, not a Muslim problem.

I'm not an immigration expert, so I'm not going to pretend I know everything that factored into it, but it's worth repeating that the story of Muslim immigrants in America over the last two generations is unquestionably a success story. There's the temptation to caution that all of the demagoguery and marginalization of Muslims over the Cordoba Center threatens that success, and could shake loose more potent factions of European-style Muslim radicalism in America. But the Pew poll suggests the overwhelming majority of American Muslims held to their sense of place in U.S. society even after September 11 and its immediate aftermath. It's worth condemning the "Ground Zero Mosque" demagoguery for the naked pandering to fear that it is. But the good news is that Muslim Americans appear to be confident enough with their position here that the escalating hysterics of Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, & Co. aren't likely to budge their general optimism about America.