The Problems of Second Generation American Muslims

The Problems of Second Generation American Muslims

Redacted from a much larger, in-depth article

By Peter Skerry
The Weekly Standard
JUN 24, 2013

The Boston Marathon bombings highlighted again, the challenges of assimilating Muslim youth. In general, we too easily overlook — even in the midst of a raging debate over our immigration policy — what Norman Podhoretz once referred to as “the brutal bargain” that immigrant children must accept in order to assimilate into the society their parents chose for them. For Muslims today, the drama involves not so much overcoming poverty and educational deficits but adapting to a society whose values are sharply at odds with their religious heritage.

Among Muslim-American youth, especially since 9/11, this has led to heightened criticism and suspicion of U.S. government policies at home and abroad. More generally, it has resulted in a hard-edged identity politics that has encouraged some young Muslims to define themselves not only in opposition to the government but to American society and culture.

Marcia Hermansen, a Muslim who is also a professor of Islamic studies at Loyola University in Chicago, recounts her shock when she “encountered some Muslim students on my campus who seemed to feel vindicated by the destruction and loss of life on September 11!” This trend was picked up by Pew pollsters who reported in 2007 that Muslims older than 30 were much less likely (28 percent) than those aged 18-29 (42 percent) to agree that, “There is a natural conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.”

So today Muslim Americans are being reassured that it is permissible — even desirable — to have non-Muslim friends. And that it is okay to attend business lunches where non-Muslim colleagues drink alcohol. And that it is definitely a good idea to vote and get involved in civic and political affairs.

Other topics are addressed with discretion. Explicit displays of Islamic triumphalism are now rare. The topic of intermarriage with non-Muslims is typically avoided. Controversial political issues get finessed. Since 9/11, Muslim Americans have learned to be much more discreet about their views on Palestine and U.S. support for Israel. Much of the energy concerning such issues has been re-channeled into opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq or to the Obama administration’s reliance on drones.

In most mosques here, leadership is up for grabs. Contrary to what non-Muslims think, imams are not necessarily in charge. They are typically foreigners who understand Islam but lack specific knowledge about American culture, society, and politics. Their command of English may also be limited.

One factor that weakens and even compromises Muslim-American leaders is the longstanding and pervasive presence of the Muslim Brotherhood here in the United States. Most of the major national organizations and their leaders either have direct ties to the Brotherhood or come out of that milieu. The Brothers also conceal their activities from their fellow Muslims, sometimes even their own families. Countless mosques have been riven by conflicts over clandestine Brotherhood efforts to take over boards, and the memories of such battles die hard.

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, where Suhaib Webb is the imam, is a case in point. The ISBCC is explicitly and officially managed by the Muslim American Society (MAS). But, what Webb and his many non-Muslim supporters refuse to acknowledge is that MAS is the American branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. To knowledgeable observers inside and outside the community, this is simply incontrovertible. This lack of candor on the part of Muslim leaders understandably arouses anxieties among many Americans about their loyalty to this nation.

Yet perhaps an even more pressing question is how such deception further undermines the leadership needed to guide their own people forthrightly and authoritatively — especially troubled and turbulent Muslim-American youth.

Peter Skerry teaches political science at Boston College and is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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