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How well are American Muslims fitting in?

The suicide bombings in London raise questions of assimilation for the 3 million Muslims in the US.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 19, 2005



WASHINGTON

It's called the "Virginia Jihad" case: Iraqi-American medical researcher Ali al-Yimimi, who preached in northern Virginia mosques and disseminated his radical thinking on the Web, was sentenced to life imprisonment last week. His crime: inciting followers, many of them young American-born Muslims, to a violent defense of Islam and war against the United States and its intervention in Islamic countries.

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Mr. Timimi's sentencing in an Alexandria, Va., courtroom came against the backdrop of the London bombings, which British police now say were carried out by young British Muslims - and not foreign terrorists as in the case of the Sept. 11 attacks. They also say that the mastermind may have been a US-educated Egyptian chemist arrested Friday in Cairo.

The London blasts not only brought the phenomenon of terrorists blowing themselves up to Western soil, but they raise new concerns of home-grown terrorism - not to mention a sense of dread about consequences among Britain's predominately peaceful and moderate Muslim population of approximately 1.6 million.

In the US, the attacks and events like the Virginia Jihad case are raising anxieties about immigrants and their allegiances in the midst of a rapidly expanding immigrant population. With a new report finding that births to foreign-born women in the US are at their highest level ever - nearly 1 in 4 - some experts are warning that the traditional rapid assimilation of immigrants risks breaking down - with potentially worrisome consequences.

"Traditionally you had in the US an immigrant child learning to swim in a sea of native children, but increasingly it is the children of natives lost in a sea of children of immigrants," says Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. His research of US Census figures shows that in 2002, 23 percent of US births were to immigrant mothers - up from 15 percent in 1990.

The figure is closer to 25 percent today, Mr. Camarota adds, and could approach 30 percent by 2010.

The vast majority of those children are born to Mexican and other immigrant Spanish-speaking women - a fact that prominent experts like Harvard's Samuel Huntington, of "clash of civilizations" fame, say presents its own special challenges.

Camarota estimates that the US Muslim population is about 3 million, including converts. Other organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, put the overall number much higher, at perhaps 6 million. Based on a 2002 study of US immigrants from the broader Middle East, Camarota estimates around 600,000 children of Muslim immigrants in the US.

These facts, set in the context of new twists in Islamic terrorism, are raising questions about how well the children of Muslim immigrants are being assimilated.

In California, the issue arose last month in the Central Valley town of Lodi - with a community of some 3,000 Muslims, mostly Pakistani immigrants or their descendants - where federal agents arrested two residents, a father and a son, for allegedly lying about links to terrorist-training camps in Pakistan, and two local imams.

The Lodi case roiled the city's Muslim community, raising worries about the sudden national spotlight, and drawing professions of allegiance and love for America from the local Muslim residents.

Such cases appear to be feeding a growing sense of concern among Americans about immigration, and about Muslim immigrants in particular. In a new survey published last week by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, Americans joined other Westerners in the perception that Muslims have a strong and growing sense of Islamic identity, and want to remain distinct from the mainstream culture.

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