Can -Will- Muslims Be Assimilated Here

Reading this morning @Solomonia, which by the way appealed to me as one of the better blogs for understanding the Middle East political situations, I noticed a highlighted article. It was America’s Muslims Aren’t as Assimilated as You Think, and it gave an outline of the social direction of American Muslims.

A new generation of American Muslims — living in the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — is becoming more religious. They are more likely to take comfort in their own communities, and less likely to embrace the nation’s fabled melting pot of shared values and common culture. ~Geneive Abdo

Some of the given reasons were the suspects as usual, increased religious loyalty and fervor, increased interest in its culture,“Young, first-generation American Muslim women — whose parents were born in Egypt, Pakistan and other Islamic countries — are wearing head scarves even if their mothers had left them behind; increasing numbers of young Muslims are attending Islamic schools and lectures; Muslim student associations in high schools and at colleges are proliferating; and the role of the mosque has evolved from strictly a place of worship to a center for socializing and for learning Arabic and Urdu as well as the Koran.”, and perceptions of rejection with feelings of alienation due to changes made by Sept.11, 2001, “9-11”.

Whatever the reasons, the present state of affairs is depicted thus, “Muslim Americans consider Islam their defining characteristic, beyond any national identity. In this way, their experience in the United States resembles that of their co-religionists in Europe, where mosques are also growing, Islamic schools are being built, and practicing the faith is the center of life, particularly for the young generation. In Europe and the United States, young Muslims are unifying around popular imams they believe understand the challenges they face in Western societies; these leaders include Yusuf in the United States and Amer Khaled, an Egyptian-born imam who lives in Britain. Thousands of young Muslims attend their lectures.” and the blame laid in the usual place [see this post on “cultural equivalence“], which is U.S. foreign policy persists in dividing Muslim and Western societies, making it harder still for Americans to realize that there is a difference between their Muslim neighbor and the plotter in London or the kidnapper in Baghdad..

I would like to submit my own view on why we cannot expect Muslims, immigrants and their progeny to assimilate into American culture easily, if at all. And the trouble is not just one for them, but many immigrants to a lesser degree.

As someone who is close enough (on one side of the family, second/third generation American) to the immigration process to know some of the differences in todays vs. the last generations immigration assimilation, I’d like to point out some of those shifts that have taken place in our society that will prove barriers to assimilating this generations immigrants.

What is not different is the cozy familiarity of living in community- we still have names that are reminiscent of that past: “Little Italy” “Jewish neighborhood” “Chinatown”, etc. usually centered around places of worship which hold cultural related activities and festivals. In fact, there is a Greek festival this weekend in Columbus Ohio, which is held at the Greek Orthodox Church… and is very popular. But those immigrants and these types of neighborhoods and cultural activities arose in a very different American environment.

The differences I see today:

  1. Today, Americans themselves have assimilated a viewpoint that hobbles their ability to pass on the Civitas, the foundational precepts of our civil society. We are convinced as a culture that the Western European civilization and Christian religious heritage is constrained to the past and not something we wish to “push” on others. Others, including those who come to live in our nation on a permanent basis. We no longer wish to “push” citizenship in its real sense of a loyalty to being a nation.
  2. Even native born Americans are detoured away from founding principles in their education and given a confusing array of smorgasbord beliefs about their history and what their country stands for in today’s world. While community is encouraged for groups such as Muslim immigrants, it is not encouraged for Americans generally. The Melting Pot is no more, now it is the ala carte menu plan.
  3. When my grandfather headed an immigrant populated church, he had a program of things that helped his people understand American values, American government, and the English language. The Sunday morning services that I remember were the first service in the native language and the second in English, side by side every Sunday. He personally did a lot of the work that agencies do today, act as go-between with the incoming immigrants and the job placements, etc. That was what pastors were expected to do in those days… but I remember finding an old sermon of his that emphasized the importance of becoming “Americanized”. Compare that with what the imams are preaching in the West today.

    The difference is that immigrants in my grandfathers day were convinced of the priviledge that was entailed in “being an American”. Nowadays we conflate such sense of the priviledge with pride. There is a vital difference… they were still proud of their former heritage, but they considered precious the new one that they were forging for themselves and their children. There was a sense that they were becoming Americans. They wanted to become Americans. I do not see this in today’s immigrant population, and it is because we are too intimidated by our own culturally negative self-talk to convey it to them.

  4. We have very simply lost the -American part of the name by which we name ourselves…especially in the new immigrant population. And by losing that inflection we guarantee that many will feel alienated by the society that they ought to be joining and working within.

Generally, I would say it is more of what we have lost, and are losing, as a people, rather than the immigrants inability to assimilate. It is part of our Civitas duty to enable those who find shelter here to also find participation, eventually full participation as citizens.