Friday, 9 February 2007

Re: Debating American Islam recently published an illuminating online discussion on Islam in America. Particular emphasis was placed by one of the interlocutors on the idea that America was successful in integrating Muslims because of its culture of tolerance and acceptance, as well as the American tradition of bringing faith into the public realm.

Its an interesting argument and I think Mr. Aslan may be on to something, but I do think he downplays what is probably the most crucial aspect of the relative success or lack of success in the integration of Muslims in the west. To quote from his article:
After all, the majority of European Muslims come from impoverished immigrant families, while the majority of Muslims in the United States are either middle-class converts or educated immigrants. Sixty percent of Muslims in the United States own their own homes. Believe it or not, the median income for a Muslim household in America is greater than it is for a non-Muslim household.

I think there is something vital in understanding integration in these facts. Taking Britain as a case in point, the majority of Muslim immigrants came from Pakistan and Bangladesh during the economic boom years of the 50s and 60s to work in textile mills and other low-paying working class jobs. By the late 70s most of these mills had closed down and by the 80s, the working class as a whole was under relentless attack by Thatcherism and the whittling away of a range of welfare services.

It was under these circumstances that there was both a growing racism against 'Pakis' for taking away scarce jobs, as well as a growing reaction amongst 2nd generation immigrants against the traditionalism and quietism of their parents as well as the perceived threat of a racist British society. The 80s also saw a boom in the funding of fundamentalist Salafist ideology, since it was seen by the U.S. and its Saudi ally as a useful vaccine to secular Socialism and Communism and Iranian revolutionary Shiism. An industry of ideological materials (textbooks, schools, mosques, community centres etc.) developed and by the 90s had firmly lodged themselves in the ghettos of poor immigrants that existed in Europe. This reactionary ideology never reached critical mass in the U.S. due to the lack of Muslim ghettos and the highly mobile nature of the American urban or suburban middle and upper classes (which doesn't mean it doesn't exist, just that it has not been able to entrench itself fully).


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