How well are American Muslims fitting in?
The suicide bombings in London raise questions of assimilation for the 3 million Muslims in the US.
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"What we're seeing is a relationship between a perception of separatism among Muslims living in these [North American and European] countries and serious concerns about extremism," says Carolyn Funk, senior project director for the international survey of Islamic extremism.Skip to next paragraph
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The survey of 17 countries did find that approval of terrorist acts such as suicide bombings is falling in many Muslim countries, with more Muslims expressing concerns about the threat posed by Islamic extremism to their own country. Even Osama bin Laden is losing some of the shine he enjoyed in some countries, such as Morocco and Indonesia, although the survey shows esteem for him actually rising in Jordan and Pakistan.
In Western countries with sizable Muslim minorities, the survey shows, concerns about unassimilating populations run parallelel to worries about extremist violence. In the US, where 70 percent said they worried about Islamic extremism in their country, half said they sensed an increasing interest in Islamic identity, and generally saw that as a bad thing. "The US is on the lower end [when compared to European countries]," says Ms. Funk, "but the same trend is there."
Americans seem to be of two minds about immigration, with a new Gallup poll confirming that ambivalence: It finds that a large majority of Americans think immigration is good for the country, while at the same time feeling that current levels of immigration are too high. For experts like CIS's Camarota and others, those misgivings reflect a concern about the ability - or desire - of some groups to assimilate.
At the same time, many Muslim community representatives say assimilation has become more difficult as Islamic extremism has risen to have an impact on the West. And they add that addressing the isolation and fanaticism that can feed homegrown extremism has to be the work of both the Islamic community and the broader society.
"The challenges for immigrants, and in particular for Muslims, are more formidable in the post-9/11 era; the assimilation process is a much more difficult mountain to climb," says Salam al-Marayati, national director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles. Comparing the assimilation process to something of a two-way street, he says there are essential roles for both the minority Muslim community and the majority society "to make sure that Islam and Muslims play a positive role in American pluralism."
He also says that public officials must do more to acknowledge the cooperation they are getting from and relationships they are building with the Muslim community. He notes for example that his organization is working with the Department of Justice and the FBI on an antiterrorism campaign that has resulted in community forums and training in 20 cities. But he says officials have never held the press conference acknowledging the program as promised.
"All I can think is that there are political calculations that keep them from doing it," Mr. Marayati says.
If true, that would run counter to what many experts say is a key factor in preventing another attack on US soil: the cooperation and allegiance of American Muslims. Clearly many have played key roles in cases where law enforcement has been able to target activities with potentially violent designs.
But some Muslims say more encouragement is needed. "There's a lack of space for Muslims to contribute to the political and social spheres," Marayati says, "and you end up with an exclusion of the American Muslim voice."