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Peter King hearing: Why won't media – or Muslims – address Islamism in America?

America’s freedoms aren't in danger from Islamists. But we can't ignore Islamist influences on Muslim-American organizations. It is not enough for Muslims here simply to assert their rights but also to address questions whose continued neglect fuels understandable anxieties.

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Not unlike former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s approach toward his opponents, this has led others to indulge such instincts and fixate exclusively on these organizations’ links to Islamism, however remote or attenuated.

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These divergent responses are each in their own way inadequate. Not surprisingly, both sides reach out to Muslims who suit their purposes. Such “user-friendly Muslims” either denounce extremism, paint mainstream Muslim-American organizations in the worst possible light, or gratify some other positive or negative interpretation of Islam. One way or another, these individuals embrace some value or values that resonate with non-Muslims – whether secularism, humanism, feminism, pacifism, or gay rights.

The problem is that such Muslims tend to come from minority sects, like the Ahmadiyya and Ismailis, or the more numerous Sufis. Despite their many talents and often good intentions, these “represetatives” aren’t really representative: they lack meaningful connections to the vast majority of Muslim Americans. And while the leading organizations may not adequately reflect the views of all Muslim Americans, or even a majority, their well-established and ongoing relationships with Muslim communities across the United States afford them better street-level credibility than the “user-friendly” alternatives.

Separate fact from fiction

What to do?

First, our elites, ever prone to political correctness, must face up more forthrightly to the Islamist origins and lingering influences on mainstream Muslim-American leaders and organizations. Once this step is taken, we can begin to sort out genuine concerns and threats from presumed ones.

Although Islamists might seek to convert their fellow citizens to their faith, they do not pose the threat that many Americans might assume. Muslims are simply too few in numbers to produce any real change in this deeply Christian country. Moreover, as we have seen with other immigrant groups, and to the credit of the American way of life, the passage of time, the pursuit of successful careers, and the raising of families in tolerant and religion-friendly communities have smoothed the rough edges of many an Islamist. After all, if the Muslim Brotherhood has earned much less than majority support in the fertile environment of Egypt, what exactly do we have to fear from Islamists here?

For their part, Muslim Americans must face up to the full implications of the Islamist origins and history of their leadership. To be sure, for many, this is a legacy of struggle and pride. Yet here in America it is also a source of confusion among many Muslim Americans as to their obligations to Muslims around the globe – the ummah – and to their fellow Americans.

At a time when Americans, including some Muslims, are in combat overseas against Muslim adversaries, Muslim Americans cannot afford to consider themselves as a community apart. If they are to realize full citizenship, it is not enough for Muslims here simply to assert their rights but also to address questions whose continued neglect fuels understandable anxieties about Islam among their fellow citizens.

Peter Skerry is professor of political science at Boston College and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Gary Schmitt is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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