A better-integrated Muslim population would better serve the United States as it navigates critical domestic and foreign-policy challenges involving Muslim populations, a new report argues.
Sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the report released Tuesday says that greater U.S. Muslim involvement in the public square is crucial to the nation’s security and well-being, and that Muslims are largely responsible for finding ways to make themselves heard.
The report by a 32-member nationwide task force culled from academia, politics and the business and nonprofit worlds largely avoids sensitive questions about attitudes toward U.S. foreign and security policy.
“This is a group that is half-Muslim, half non-Muslim that came together because we believe that America is losing by not having the appropriate involvement of Muslim Americans in the civil discourse of politics,” said task force co-chair Lynn Martin, a former Republican congresswoman and secretary of labor in the Bush administration. “This is not whiny. This is not about what’s wrong. What it says is, here are some potential solutions.”
Among them: expanded counterterrorism partnerships between Muslim Americans and law enforcement, development of a leadership network of prominent Muslim Americans to work with youth and serve as “community ambassadors,” building stronger Muslim American institutions and working with coalitions on common concerns like immigration and health care.
The report also calls on the media and government to fairly portray and involve Muslims in the national discourse, but suggests Muslims carry greater responsibility.
Suspicion and mistrust
Muslim Americans must meld into U.S. society before suspicion and mistrust lingering since the attacks on New York and Washington isolates them and sparks radicalism in their ranks, the study said.
“There is an urgent national need for Muslims and non-Muslims to work together to create full and equal opportunities for civic and political participation of Muslim Americans,” the report said.
For the first time since World War II when the U.S. government rounded up and interred Japanese, many are questioning the loyalty “of a largely unfamiliar and largely immigrant American community,” said the report written by a task force of 32 individuals from business, government and academia.
Six years after the Sept. 11 attacks focused attention on them, Muslim Americans remain “largely outside the U.S. mainstream,” the report said, even though they are an often well-educated and diverse group with the potential to make important contributions to civic life.
“The Muslim American community lacks strong institutions and recognizable public or political voices to gain regular access to government and media circles,” the report’s executive summary said.
“Some existing Muslim American institutions have avoided foreign policy issues for fear of drawing unfavorable scrutiny,” it added.
While independent studies found little evidence of widespread extremist activity with links to al-Qaida or similar organizations, efforts to counter perceptions to the contrary have not been effective, it said.
‘A proactive engagement makes a lot of sense’
Farooq Kathwari, co-chair of the task force, said in an interview that a radical response is always possible, “especially among the young. They are hot-blooded and they don’t want to be alienated.”
“Fortunately in America there is more chance to be integrated,” he said, but “a proactive engagement makes a lot of sense. We need to be extra careful that we don’t create a situation that is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The Kashmir-born, Brooklyn-raised Kathwari is the president and chief executive officer of furniture maker Ethan Allen Interiors Inc. Others on the task force included former congressman Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group, and former labor secretary Lynn Martin.
Kathwari said the historic pattern of assimilation for immigrants that sees later generations woven into the fabric of society was disrupted for Muslim Americans by Sept. 11.
“This process of integration has to be accelerated,” he told Reuters, to counteract both the perception that Muslims are one monolithic force and to ease fears among Muslims, some of whom have become targets of violence.
“It is not an easy situation for Muslim Americans because they are not one, they are not monolithic,” he said. “The only reason now they’re getting together — like African-Americans got together — is for civil rights.”
Contrasting statistical portraits
A recent Pew Research Center poll estimated there are 2.35 million Muslims living in the United States, a tiny fraction of the U.S. population of more than 300 million. Other estimates range as high as 7 million.
That same survey, based on a sample of 1,050 Muslims and released in May, drew a contrasting picture of U.S. Muslims, saying they were largely assimilated, happy with their lives and more moderate than Muslims in other countries.
But the Pew survey did find that 26 percent of younger Muslims believed suicide bombings are often, sometimes or rarely justified.
The report maintains that a good foundation exists because most Muslims see no contradiction between their faith and American values — and also makes clear the consequences of failure when tensions remain high over terrorism.
“The gathering climate of suspicion and mutual mistrust, exacerbated by the lack of engagement and dialogue, threatens to marginalize and alienate some Muslim Americans to the point where the danger of radicalization of a small minority could become a real possibility,” the report says. “It would take only a single, significant act of terrorism in the United States involving Muslim Americans to cement the impression that rampant radicalism has taken root within the community.”