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Radical Islam finds US to be 'sterile ground'

Home-grown terror cells are largely missing in action, a contrast to Europe's situation.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 23, 2006



NEW YORK

The Islamist radicalism that inspired young Muslims to attack their own countries – in London, Madrid, and Bali – has not yielded similar incidents in the United States, at least so far.

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"Home-grown" terror cells remain a concern of US law officers, who cite several disrupted plots since 9/11. But the suspects' unsophisticated planning and tiny numbers have led some security analysts to conclude that America, for all its imperfections, is not fertile ground for producing jihadist terrorists.

To understand why, experts point to people like Omar Jaber, an AmeriCorps volunteer; Tarek Radwan, a human rights advocate; and Hala Kotb, a consultant on Middle East affairs. They are the face of young Muslim-Americans today – educated, motivated, and integrated into society – and their voices help explain how the nation's history of inclusion has helped to defuse sparks of Islamist extremism.

"American society is more into the whole assimilation aspect of it," says New York-born Mr. Jaber. "In America, it's a lot easier to practice our religion without complications."

In a nation where mosques have sprung up alongside churches and synagogues, where Muslim women are free to wear the hijab (or not), and where education and job opportunities range from decent to good, the resentments that can breed extremism do not seem very evident in the Muslim community. Since 9/11, however, concern is rising among Muslim-Americans that they are becoming targets of bias and suspicion – by law enforcement as well as fellow citizens. It's a disquieting trend, say the young Muslims – one that might eventually help radicalism to grow.

It's impossible to pinpoint the factors that produce home-grown terrorists, analysts say. But it's also impossible to ignore the stark contrast between the lives of Muslims in European countries where bombings have occurred and those of Muslims in America.

"What we have here among Muslim-Americans is a very conservative success ethic," says John Zogby, president of Zogby International in Utica, N.Y., whose polling firm has surveyed the Muslim-American community. "People come to this country and they like it. They don't view it as the belly of the beast. With very few exceptions, you don't see the bitter enclaves that you have in Europe."

Life in America vs. life in Europe

Part of what so shocked Spain about the Madrid train bombers, and then Britain after the London subway and bus bombings in July 2005, was that most of the perpetrators were native sons. In each case, the young men, allegedly inspired by Al Qaeda ideology, came from poorer neighborhoods heavy on immigrants. (By contrast, a plot foiled in August to blow up airplanes over the Atlantic involved suspects from leafy, middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods in Britain.)

America, too, has poorer neighborhoods with large Muslim concentrations, but they tend to be interspersed with other ethnic groups and better assimilated into society. Another difference, some suggest, is the general profile of Muslims who have come to the US and raised their families here.

Most Muslim immigrants came to America for educational or business opportunities and from educated, middle-class families in their home countries, according to an analysis by Peter Skerry of Boston College and the Brookings Institution. In Europe, the majority came to work in factory jobs and often from poorer areas at home.

European Muslims today live primarily in isolated, low-income enclaves where opportunities for good jobs and a good education are limited. In the US, 95 percent of Muslim-Americans are high school graduates, according to "Muslims in the Public Square," a Zogby International survey in 2004. Almost 60 percent are college graduates, and Muslims are thriving economically around the country. Sixty-nine percent of adults make more than $35,000 a year, and one-third earn more than $75,000, the survey showed.

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