Terrorist threats and tolerance - Irfan Husain - Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/09/terrorist-threats-and-tolerance.html
THE recent demonstration in New York against the scheduled congressional hearings on Muslims in America underlines the growing anti-Islam feelings taking hold in the West. Called by Republican Congressman Peter King, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, the hearings have attracted controversy and outrage among liberal Americans, as well as Muslims who feel they are being unfairly targeted.
Defending his move, King said recently on CNN that while he believed that the majority of Muslims were peaceful, law-abiding citizens, the fact was that many among them were being radicalised by extremist propaganda. He also felt that moderate Muslims were not doing enough to rein in the radicals who were a menace to American security. His opponents feel that while any terrorist threat should be studied, it was unfair to blame all Muslims for this perceived danger.
So just what is the extent and nature of this threat? To put things in context, the American Religious Identification Survey puts the number of Muslims in the United States at 1.35 million. But the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) places it as high as seven million.
The reason for this wide disparity is that American census forms do not contain a column for religion. But whatever their exact numbers, it is certain that Muslims constitute a tiny fraction of the American population which today stands at around 310 million.
As to the threat posed by members of this community, the Triangle Centre on Terrorism and Homeland Security says that the number of Muslims arrested in 2010 for either planning or carrying out terrorist attacks is a mere 20. So it doesn’t seem that waves of wild-eyed, bearded Muslims are running amok and threatening the foundations of American society. Nevertheless, it is clear that many Americans do fear that the Muslims in their midst are a fifth column who produce and secretly support radicals who seek to destroy their way of life.
In a thoughtful though controversial book (Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West), Christopher Caldwell, a respected American journalist, makes the point that in the middle of the twentieth century, there were virtually no Muslims in West Europe and America. Now there are between 15 and 17 million in Europe, plus between two and seven million in North America.
Caldwell goes on to argue that given the assertive nature of this Muslim population, in addition to their refusal to integrate into the mainstream, there is a real danger of the majority culture being overwhelmed. In certain European cities, Caldwell reports that this creeping Islamisation is well underway. He goes on to give figures revealing low educational achievement and high crime rates for this community.
In America, however, Muslims are less likely to be involved in criminal activities than their brothers in Europe. One reason is that Muslim immigrants in the United States tend to be better educated, and more likely to be gainfully employed. Some sociologists ascribe these differences in attitudes and work ethics to the social security network in place in most European countries. This makes it possible for immigrant communities, including Muslims, to stick to their traditions more rigidly as unemployed people are sure of being looked after by the state. This relieves them of the pressure to learn the local language and fit in to survive.
In the United States, by contrast, they have to sink or swim. Thus, they need to learn the ropes, mingle with the majority community, and get on with life without complaining about discrimination. European liberal tradition, on the other hand, encourages the minorities to wear the mantle of victimhood. All too often, they acquire a sense of entitlement, taking advantage of any loophole in the generous social welfare schemes to scam the system.Understandably, this causes great resentment among the majority population. Another factor feeding into the current questioning of the loyalties of the Muslim population of America is the growing price of the Iraq and Afghan wars in terms of blood and money. Many Americans, especially in the hinterland, equate the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as the insurgents in Iraq, with the Muslims in their midst. While this is clearly unfair, it is often how people react. In fact, this is not unlike the way Pakistani, Iraqi and Egyptian Christians are being targeted by extremists, and blamed for Western policies.
Another growing fear about Muslims in the West is that their numbers are rising at a much faster rate than the host population. It is true that Muslim families tend to be larger than those of white Europeans; however, there are distinct signs that this rapid rate of increase is falling, and in the next couple of decades, will be close to Western norms. However, many in the West, seeing growing numbers of Islamic symbols such as the hijab, the niqab, and long, unkempt beards, are alarmed at what they see as the takeover of their society.
These are the alarmist attitudes that spur politicians to take an increasingly anti-Islamic stance. As I wrote recently, ‘immigrants’ has become a codeword for Muslims. Nevertheless, according to a 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, 42 per cent of Americans say that Islam does not encourage violence more than other religions, as against 35 per cent who say it does. Even more positively, 62 per cent say Muslims should have the same right to build places of worship in their neighbourhoods as followers of any other faith. I wonder what a similar survey would reveal about our generosity of spirit when asked about the right of Christians to build churches, or Hindus to build temples here in Pakistan.
However, as the recent furore over the proposal to build an Islamic centre near Ground Zero in New York showed, there are some red lines even in a largely liberal society that Muslims would do well not to cross. Clearly, it is up to a migrant community to reassure their hosts. Just as a guest should not indulge in menacing or offensive words or deeds when welcomed into somebody’s home, so too do economic and political refugees have the obligation not to alarm the majority population through their rhetoric or attitudes. And if they do, they should not complain of Islamophobia.

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