By Fakhruddin Ahmed
With President Donald Trump's ascendancy, despondency has descended over the Muslim-American community.
Trump recently retweeted fraudulent, incendiary, racist anti-Muslim videos from fascist British groups to his 44 million followers, potentially inciting anti-Muslim violence. Muslim-American organizations condemn all acts of Muslim terrorism on their websites, yet most Americans remain oblivious or unconvinced. Muslim violence is quickly labeled "terrorism," while mass shooters often receive the "mentally disturbed" exemption.
After 29-year old Uzbeki suspect Sayfullo Saipov's truck devilishly killed eight in lower Manhattan on Oct. 31, Trump demanded the death penalty for the "animal." When 26-year old Devin Patrick Kelley gunned down 26 worshippers at a Texas church on Nov. 5, Trump offered "thoughts and prayers."
Saipov's primary allegiance was to the Islamic State. Reportedly, he wanted to fly IS flags from his truck and hospital bed. He did not request a Quran.
Revealed over 23 years, the Quran is a complex scripture that requires assiduous study to comprehend. God exhorts the faithful to follow its best meaning (39:18). The Islamic State, however, weaponizes its worst possible meaning. By murdering over 300 worshipers at an Egyptian mosque on Nov. 24, Islamic State fighters demonstrated once again that they kill many more Muslims than non-Muslims.
Muslim-Americans are a mosaic of communities residing in ethno-centric or country-specific islands, separated by wide cultural, linguistic and gastronomic channels. According to a July 2017 Pew Research Center poll, 41 percent of Muslim-Americans are of Middle Eastern origin, 28 percent are from South Asia, and 20 percent are African-American.
There is little interaction or intermarriage between the groups. African-American Muslims view events through the prism of their American experience and generally vote Democratic. Pre-9/11, Arab and Pakistani American Muslims overwhelmingly voted Republican.
Yet, Muslim-Americans are united by an invisible web. The seismic ripple from a problem in one segment of the web is felt in faraway places. Bombing by a Muslim-Chechen terrorist in Boston can result in the shoving of a hijab-wearing woman in New Jersey and the beating of a Bangladeshi immigrant in New York.
Muslims run the gamut, from very observant to casual, gay and feminist to pork-eating and alcohol-drinking nominal Muslims. Religion is only a part of who Muslims are; yet, that defines them.
After every terrorist attack, Muslims pray: "Dear God, let it not be a Muslim!" If it is, they clam up, close Islamic schools and hire extra security for mosques. They scamper surreptitiously past their neighbors, avoiding eye contact. They act as the criminal without committing the crime.
Children worry about their rattled parents who fail to satisfactorily answer their persistent question: "What have we done?" For the children, Muslim terrorism is like watching a scary movie on television. They want to grab the remote and switch channels.
The Trump-inspired, right-wing, anti-Muslim offensive is ferocious because there is no counterresponse. Not fully conversant in Americana, the fledgling Muslim-American immigrant community is neither media-savvy nor sophisticated enough to fend for themselves, relying instead on kind Americans.
Right-wing propaganda has persuaded many Americans that Muslims will trigger a Christian vs. Islam civilizational war; Muslims are Trojan horses with secret plans to enforce Muslim religious code, Sharia, in America; and Muslims will convert all Americans to Islam! Muslims find such propaganda preposterous. Grandiose visions of religious conquest are furthest from their mind.
Muslims are here for better economic opportunities and freedom from oppression.
They are also desperate to eliminate all Muslim terrorism. At the slightest suspicion of illicit activity, Muslims alert law enforcement agencies.
Detractors of Muslims whitewash earlier European immigrants as paragon of virtue. Some of those Europeans were actually anarchists and terrorists who murdered police and fought sectarian battles. They founded organized crime and the Mafia. They resisted assimilation and established Catholic schools, colleges and hospitals. But, the gravitation pull of assimilation overpowered the European immigrants, as it will Muslims.
Muslims face an additional hurdle. European immigrants were Caucasians. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are not. Historically, America has treated its white and nonwhite denizens differently. For Muslims, road to assimilation will be more arduous.
Despite assurances from friends that Muslims will never be interned, Muslim-Americans remember with trepidation that Japanese-Americans were dispatched to internment camps during World War II, while German-Americans and Italian-Americans were not.
Fakhruddin Ahmed, a regular Star-Ledger contributor, is a teacher and a Rhodes Scholar. He lives in Princeton Junction.
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