I grew up as a part of the Muslim American community back in the 1960s and 70s. It was a community with a lot of amazing people back then, as it is today.
Most Americans seemed to be unaware of Muslims until 9/11/2001 when the Twin Towers collapsed. For Iranian-Americans, the public became aware of us a bit earlier, during the Hostage Crisis of 1979. Americans were upset about the hostages being taken, and one Iranian friend of mine had even gotten beat up. I remember being at a rock concert with my friends during the crisis, when someone unfurled a white bed sheet on which was painted in bold, black letters, “IRAN SUCKS!” The crowd went crazy. I felt like hiding under my chair.
Despite some incidents during crises like these, America has been a hospitable place for immigrants, including Muslims. In 2006, I was in Morocco. In conversing with a Moroccan Berber man who was also a community leader, the subject came up of travel abroad. He mentioned to me, somewhat matter-of-factly, “If the government of Morocco allowed anyone who wanted to leave, and the government of America allowed anyone who wanted to come, then, I believe in 30 days Morocco would be emptied of people.” Though he was only speaking for himself, his sentiments probably reflected those of others, too.
Assimilation and Integration: The American Dream
For most immigrants, the idea of the “American Dream” still exists—a land of personal freedom and economic opportunity. In the minds of many, America is still a place where one can build a future for oneself and one’s family. Although the American Dream may not be synonymous with Martin Lutheran King’s “Dream” or even any “dream” Jesus might have, the American Dream concept has continually “pulled” immigrants from everywhere, including Muslim countries. The American Dream has historically been a shared interest of immigrants, something to which immigrants could aspire to and even assimilate into.
Because of the Middle Eastern Refugee Crisis, the topic of assimilation is on the front pages of European news, and to a lesser extent, American news. “Assimilation” carries with it the meaning of “becoming like.” This raises a wider question regarding America—a land of immigrants. Is the country more of a “melting pot” in which all peoples are mixed together and, over time, become similar? Or is America more like a “mosaic,” in which various groups share some common tendencies (such as, perhaps, the American Dream) while keeping many of their cultural distinctives, such as food, music, and language, etc.
For my thinking, complete assimilation may suppress some of the distinctives that immigrants may enjoy and contribute to society. “Integration” is a similar term, defined by Merriam-Webster as “incorporation as equals into society or an organization of individuals of different groups (as races).” My experience growing up was that Muslim immigrants at that time sought integration. Most of them wanted to contribute to the fabric of society and simultaneously enjoy the blessings of freedom.
Victimization and Muslim Americans
Fast forward to today and we see new trends emerging. Some of them are troubling. One such troubling trend is playing the victim card. For example, when a young Somali Muslim immigrant recently went on a killing spree at Ohio State University, the killer sought to paint himself as a victim (see, for example: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/442561/ohio-state-knife-attack-somali-immigrant-saw-himself-victim.) Others rushed to his defense with statements that Muslims were being victimized because of “Islamophobia.”
I believe this is an issue American Muslims will have to wrestle with going forward. It is no secret that the American Left seeks to define victimized groups and shepherd them into its political fold. Really this is all about politics and votes. Can the Left herd the diverse population of American Muslims—many of whom are successful doctors, professors, engineers, researchers, housewives, businesspersons, neighbors, students, etc—into a victimized group with an aggrieved minority mentality? Would Muslims even want this mantle of victimization? And if they don’t want it, who will stand up for the Muslim community and say they don’t want it, especially since the political microphone is always passed to the ones who do cry out that they have been victimized? If Muslims claim victimization, how can they explain that so many Muslims worldwide would want to come live in America if they could?
This is one issue with which some Muslim Americans may be grappling. In my subsequent blog, I will discuss these issues further. Please continue to pray for our American Muslim neighbors.
This blog is a follow up to Rev. Dr. Tommy Hodum’s fascinating Intercede article, which brought up the issues of assimilation and integration among American Muslims. https://4dc5f6c2-e36d-423e-be9c-eb19f2a78946.filesusr.com/ugd/ee6865_2cdb0ac756404ad2a3d359cded8edf02.pdf?index=true
Blog originally published by Global Initiative Reaching Muslim Peoples, 2017
By Fred Farrokh