Why US Muslims live in peace

The 9/11 perpetrators were not aided by a single Muslim-American collaborator.

us muslims 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
us muslims 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Wherever you have a Muslim community, you'll find trouble, you'll find friction, you'll find national-religious demands, and you'll find terror. Isn't that so? No, it isn't, at least not where the Muslim community in the United States is concerned. At a time when European countries are debating among themselves about how to deal with the burgeoning extremism among their Muslim immigrant communities and how to contend with the dangers to their national security and culture from those who demand official recognition of their separate culture, there is no sign of similar unrest in the US. Close to a million Muslims live in America in peace. Whereas in Europe acts of terror are initiated by local Muslims, the perpetrators of the terror attack on the World Trade Center were not aided by a single Muslim-American collaborator. Strident demands to institute Shari'a law for Muslims are being heard in Europe, and even in Canada - but not in America, where no one has demanded that Arabic be recognized as an official language. Moreover, Muslim-American notables accentuate their loyalty to the US, and, unlike their European counterparts, publicly condemn Islamist terror and declare that they are proud of their loyalty to their new homeland. A PUBLIC-OPINION survey conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in 2006 to gauge the views of Muslim voters showed that 84 percent said Muslims should strongly emphasize shared values with Christians and Jews; 77% said Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews; 89% said they vote regularly; 86% said they celebrate the Fourth of July and 64% said they fly the stars and stripes. Nothing similar can be found in European surveys. What is the explanation of this dramatic contrast? True, the Muslim minority in the United States represents a much smaller proportion of the population than in Europe, but that alone cannot explain the distinct dissimilarity. THERE ARE five fundamental differences between Europe and the United States. First, the US has been a land of immigration from its inception and has a great deal of experience in absorbing immigrants from other cultures, while in Europe, the phenomenon of immigration is relatively new. The US is also more selective than Europe in choosing which immigrants they allow into their country. Second, the US maintains maximum, if not absolute, separation between religion and state, making religion an individual matter. That means there is no room for Muslim-religious demands. In Europe, even in those states that do not have an official religion, religion is still very influential - perhaps with the exception of France - in the areas of education and public life. Third, the United States has a tradition of individualism: It is the individual that stands alone facing government; the individual pledges his allegiance to the flag and the constitution when he becomes a citizen; the individual can conduct a dialogue with the government on his own and has no need for an intermediary, such as the Muslim Councils established in Britain and France. FOURTH, the immigrant to the United States knows that his economic fate is up to him and his own efforts: He knows that he is immigrating to a country where he has the chance of becoming rich, of becoming a celebrity. The immigrant to Europe is motivated, among other reasons, by the opportunity to become eligible for national welfare. However, when the welfare payments are provided, the immigrants discover that they are not sufficient to actually put them on a par with the veteran population. Fifth, multiculturalism is recognized in both cultures, but in the United States, the concept is limited to certain specific areas: tolerance, recognition of other cultures and of the need to have affirmative action and diversity in education and employment. In Europe - and especially a short time ago in Britain, Holland and Scandinavia - multiculturalism has been translated into group cultural rights, which isolate the immigrants from the majority population. Because of all these things, scholars and political leaders in Europe are now turning their gaze to America to learn from it about how to absorb Muslim immigrants. IN ISRAEL, the situation is of course quite different, largely because of the conflict and the extremist anti-Israeli stance taken by the Israeli-Arab leadership. But the American example is significant: The most important question of all, for us too, is whether there is any chance that the Arab world will ever make its peace with modern democratic values, which place the emphasis on individual freedoms, thought and expression, redirecting religious injunctions to the private domain. The democratic world stands on two principal pillars: the Jewish pillar - that all humans are created in God's image - and the Greek pillar, which encourages criticism of accepted thought. So far, not a single Arab society has accepted these two foundations. On the contrary, Arab societies are increasingly moving in the direction of oppressive extremism and suppression of all independent thought and freedom. In his books, Albert Camus, a North-African Jew who fought against French colonialism, expressed his abhorrence of the anti-modern trend of the Arab-Muslim world, but in an interview with L'Express he said, "The Arabs will have no choice but to accept the values of the West." Were he alive today, he could point to the Arab and Muslim community in the United States as a case in point, proving that under proper governmental conditions, the Arab-Muslim individual differs not at all in his aspirations for modern democracy and freedoms from his Western counterparts. In this area, Israel can learn two things from America: the need for all immigrants and those receiving citizenship to take an individual oath of allegiance, and the importance of making the economic changes necessary to enable every Israeli Arab to advance economically, without being suffocated by red tape. The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, a former minister of education and MK, and the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law.