I’ve written about this subject a few times since 9/11, since I’m something of a defender of Muslims in America..
A recent (Aug 1) interview by Tucker Carlson with an American convert to Islam, Bob Morrow, is descriptive of the general misunderstanding Americans have about worldwide Islam and Islam in America.
They are different. By definition they are different. But since the Obama administration, probably much earlier, it had been the policy of the US government, both in immigration and foreign relations, to erase that distinction.
This is not really about Islam, or Muslims in America, or sharia, but what many Americans on the Right don’t fully get about what it means to “become American” and how it distinguishes us from all the rest of the world. And all the rest of History.
You see, the Left fully gets it. They know that America, as created, is different. That’s what they want to undo.
Muslims have been coming to America for over a century, but they did not come as part of the waves of teeming masses that came through Ellis Island. They were not part of the “tired, poor, huddled masses ” as Emma Lazarus in the 19th Century reached out to channel poor Jim Acosta about in the 21st. Most were professional people, doctors, engineers, and entrepreneurial businessmen, who did “yearn to breathe free” because of suffocating professional caste systems in Delhi, Karachi, Tehran, even London and Paris, where it wasn’t what you knew, but who you knew in order to succeed. A merit-based free market for professional talent did not exist elsewhere.
In fact, merit had little to do with how anyone got ahead anywhere in the word… except America.
(As we now know, “merit” got caught up in the luggage of a male, white, patriarchal, largely Christian society that had to be displaced, as we’ve been watching transpire for the past half century now. But that’s a story for another time.)
Those educated professionals came to America already possessing middle class attitudes about society in general. They were not poor, tribal and parochial. Once here most prospered by comparison to any endeavor they may have undertaken in their home country. They did not live or work in ethnic conclaves. Yet they were practicing Muslims, usually within easy access to a mosque.
And there were Anglo-American converts. My copy of the Koran was translated by an English convert, Mohammed Marmaduke Picktall in the 19th century, which I bought for a college course in 1965. Picktall entitled it “The Meaning of the Glorious Koran.” signifying his enthusiasm. Picktall was one of those “desert-loving English”, an academician, who, in the heyday of the British Empire could be found in every colonial capital, from India-Pakistan, Malaysia, East Africa (Kenya-Tanganyika) and West Africa (Nigeria).
Many rotated back to London (mostly) where they took up positions in universities and government. The oldest “purpose-built” mosque in London was built in 1926, while interestingly, the oldest American mosque was built in 1922…in North Dakota!
Most American converts are similar to the English. Mr Morrow, Tucker’s guest, was a former foreign service officer. John Brennan, former CIA director and Dep Director- NSA, under Obama, is also said to be a convert to Islam. I am sure most every American university today has a few American converts, although, since 9/11 the attraction for the real-deal, middle eastern and probably radicalized Muslims appear to have been a trend since the mid-2000s, to match the otherworld-drift of American universities in general. There are all sorts of Muslim organizations who have a list of applicants for any college or university that wants to fill out a diversity slot. (The California imam Mahmoud Harmoush, who recently called upon Allah to destroy all Jews—in Arabic—is from Syria, for instance.)
Mr Morrow claimed some ignorance of there being anything but middle class, professional Muslim immigrants in the United States. This is sort of like the Manhattenite not understanding how Reagan or Trump won inasmuch as they never knew a single person in their circle-of-friends who would vote for them!
That has changed in the past 30 years, for President Trump’s proposed change in immigration policy, reducing the numbers of unskilled, “un-socialized” worker-immigrants (most aren’t, nor intend to be, if Europe is any measure, where less than a quarter have entered the workforce) and returning to inviting only Muslims with middle class values already intact, is already getting tremendous backlash.
After a generation of immigrants coming in with absolutely no intention to “become America”, or any serious official inducement to do so, many on the Right find it difficult to differentiate between the Muslim who immigrates to America and the Muslim who immigrates to any other country in the world.
“To become American” is unlike any other phenomenon in history, for it is anchored in the deepest desire of Mankind, to be free to be able to build one’s House, own it, pass it on (“pursue life, liberty, happiness” per Jefferson)…and, as Moses Sands reminded, to be able to make reciprocal arrangements with neighbors to protect that process forever (per the Constitution). I’ve often thought of this as Liberty’s Golden Rule, inasmuch as it would be a bit much to ask of 100 national peoples to come here, even if professing Christianity, to simply turn around and start “loving their neighbors as they love themselves” But reciprocation toward a mutual end?
America was born a middle-class nation in outlook and attitude, despite the fact they were largely farmers and store clerks. Just the idea that one can be just about anything he/she wanted to be, “without permission of state” (my Soviet professor friends, 1991) and “without permission of church” (Moses Sands, 1998) elevates anyone’s social perspectives from the outset.
In the context of Islam this last element is most important to understand.
It was not until the 1920s and 30s that America went out on a massive assimilation plan to bring all the disparate nationalities in under one national identity, although it had been going on informally from the beginning. What was demanded and carried out, mostly through public schools, was a common tongue and a common morality, a basic set of understandings about the history of this new country and the principles upon which it was founded. (My favorite tale of this transformation to becoming American was the 1937 classic by Leonard Q Cohen, The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N , still in print and easily available.)
Unnoticed in this metamorphosis, unless you were looking for it, was the notion that this new-found freedom allowed men to build their House and lock out the rest of the world unless invited in. This applied to his business affairs, and private affairs, under the protection of the Bill of Rights. But also the strong arm of religion, as once applied around the world. Unlike life in the Old Country, many churches in America also found that their pass key to the front door had been taken away, as well. New rules applied. The original Puritans exerted great control over their parishioners’ private property. Likewise many Presbyterians kirks in the colonial era. But those practices did not last even into the Revolutionary War era.
The American and his castle were sacrosanct.
So, while America is said to have been built on religious freedom, the House has always been its foundation. And this included Muslim immigrants. Attempts at radicalization has been going for at least 30 years, but the more socialized Muslim-Americans had been able to keep this at arms length.
Not so much the more recent waves, who, rather than be assimilated, have been corralled into communities, not unlike Black inner city “communities”, where an abundance of government assistance, alongside aggressive programs that are political as they are religious, keeps inhabitants from wandering too far off the reservation. An unholy alliance between radical Islam and the Left has emerged, glued together by public assistance and almost no mobility toward building one’s House in either this generation or the next. Cabrini Green, here they come.
I doubt that American converts such as Bob Morrow would ever consider this perspective, or that Dr Feisal at one of Boston’s neurology practices would have ever considered his family’s sojourn in America for two generations in this way. Or that their granddaughter may grow up to marry a Christian….which, again, in America, is normal.
Shutting down radical Islam in America and the mass importation of cannon fodder to fuel that enterprise, as well as the national welfare state, are intertwined. It should then go without saying that poorer, lesser-educated Muslims are even more vulnerable to radicalization, or, at least, as first generation Sicilians learned in the early 1900s, how just to keep their mouths shut, see nothing and hear nothing.