Ever since Sept. 11, President Bush and other national leaders have been telling us how loyal, law-abiding and patriotic most American Muslims and Arabs are. There’s no reason to doubt it, but there’s no doubt as well that a lot of American Muslims of Arabic background don’t feel terribly comfortable with being Americans at all. That’s no reason to blame them—there’s little reason why immigrants from a very different culture should feel comfortable here—but it is a good reason not to permit the mass immigration that let them come here.
Reporter Ralph Hallow of the Washington Times interviewed a number of Muslims in a recent story and found that while they are far from the kind of murderous fanatics who carried out the Sept. 11 massacres, they’re still not fully on board with most other Americans about the nation’s response. [Washington Times, October 11 “Muslim students are wary of the war”]
Thus, Altaf Hussain, a 31-year-old Muslim who’s a Ph.D. candidate at Howard University and president of the National Muslim Students Association, says he wouldn’t be willing to fight other Muslims. “Not under these circumstances and not for this war. It doesn’t sit well to say Afghan people should suffer when they have not done anything.” Mr. Hussain’s not a marginal figure, and his views are not isolated. “Most Muslim students hold widespread grievances about America’s role in the Middle East conflict, its sanctions against Iraq and the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia.” Those just happen to be Osama bin Laden’s main gripes as well.
Mr. Hussain isn’t convinced that bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11 attacks, nor is another American Muslim youth, Ashraf Ali, at the University of Maryland. “Everything is in question until the evidence comes,” he says. Another, Bilal Dogan, vice president of the Muslim Students Association, says, “Inasmuch as I could fight terrorism, I have no problem. If I’m asked to fight Muslims, I won’t.” In their view, once a Muslim commits real terrorism and kills innocent people, he ceases to be a Muslim. Unfortunately, in a war, a nation has to demand more than that from loyal citizens and soldiers.
Even less loyalty emerges from remarks cited by Washington Postcolumnist Marc Fisher last week. [Washington Post, Muslim Students Weigh Questions Of Allegiance, October 16, 2001] Speaking to students and teachers at the Muslim Community School in Potomac, Md., Mr. Fisher was told by one seventh-grader, “What does it mean to be an American? Being American is just being born in this country.” That’s all it may mean to her and whoever taught her that, but to millions of us whose ancestors settled and fought to create it, America means just a bit more. But not to Ibrahim, an eight-grader who also piped up about patriotism. “If I had to choose sides, I’d stay Muslim,” he told Mr. Fisher. “Being an American means nothing to me. I’m not even proud of telling my cousins in Pakistan that I’m American.”
On several policy issues, the Muslims questioned by Mr. Hallow and Mr. Fisher dissented from what our government does and is doing and from what many Americans want it to do. Most regard Israel as the “real terrorists,” and insist that Muslims are now being persecuted in the United States as well as Israel. Lots of Americans who aren’t Muslims or immigrants may share the same views, but there’s a major difference.
The difference emerged from a remark of Salahudeen Kareem, the principal of the Muslim school, to Mr. Fisher. “Allegiance to national authority is one thing, but the one who gives us life is more entitled to that authority. This is the story of religion through all time. When national laws and values go counter to what the Creator believes, we are 100 percent against it.”
What Mr. Kareem is expressing and what many American Muslims appear to endorse is what used to be called a “double loyalty.” It was an accusation that used to be regularly launched against both American Jews and American Catholics—that the one placed Israel, the other the Pope, above loyalty to the nation. American Jews and Catholics, however, have spent most of their histories in this country fighting that accusation; American Muslims seem to treasure it.
Most serious Christians and Jews would agree that they have no obligation to obey a nation or state that commands actions contrary to the laws of God, but most Christians and Jews in the United States don’t feel the need to reach for that principle all the time or when we’re in conflict with other, mainly Christian, states. If the Muslims who have invited themselves to this country do feel that need, they clearly aren’t comfortable being here. Maybe they should go back where they belong as soon as possible, and if they don’t, maybe the government and nation for which they feel so little attachment should encourage them.