“It couldn’t happen here” is the attitude, but Islamic fundamentalism may become more prevalent in the U.S. in coming years
Since the massacre at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January, the U.S. media has understandably devoted attention to the problem of radical Islam in Europe. The fact has been widely reported that thousands of European Union citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the self-styled Islamic State. Almost as much coverage has been given to stories of French Jews emigrating to Israel. And there have been numerous articles about Michel Houellebecq’s diabolically timed novel Soumission, which imagines France in 2022 with a Muslim president introducing sharia law and being fawned over by the Parisian establishment.
The implication of many of these articles is: “How utterly terrifying. Thank heavens it couldn’t happen here.”
True, there are no American equivalents of the alarmist books about Europe with titles like Eurabia or Londonistan. Apparently it is not quite time to warn about the “United States of Sharia” or “Michiganistan.” But are we underestimating the speed with which this country could develop substantial and influential populations of Islamic extremists? A growing, if still small number of cases like that of Abdi Nur — the 20-year-old student who left south Minneapolis to join IS last year — suggests we may be.
According to estimates by the Pew Research Center, the Muslim population of the United States is set to increase from around 2.6 million today to 6.2 million in 2030, mainly as a result of immigration, as well as above-average birth rates. Although in relative terms this will still represent less than 2 percent of the total U.S. population (1.7 percent, to be precise, compared with around 0.8 percent today), in absolute terms that will be a larger population than in any West European country except France. Between now and 2030, the Muslim population of the United States will be growing faster than that of any EU member state (with two exceptions where the absolute numbers are tiny: Ireland and Finland). The annual growth rate will be more than double that of France.
Approximately two fifths of Muslim immigrants between now and 2030 will be from just three countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iraq. Another Pew study – of opinion in the Muslim world – shows just how many people in these countries hold views that most Americans would regard as extreme. (Data on opinion are unavailable for the other two big “sender” countries, Somalia and Iran.)
Three quarters of Pakistanis and more than two fifths of Bangladeshis and Iraqis think that those, like me, who leave Islam should suffer the death penalty. More than 80 percent of Pakistanis and two thirds of Bangladeshis and Iraqis regard sharia law as the revealed word of God. Only tiny fractions would be comfortable if their daughters married Christians. Only a minority regards honor killings of women as never justified. A quarter of Bangladeshis and one in eight Pakistanis think that suicide bombings in defense of Islam are often or sometimes justified.
People with views such as these pose a threat to us all, not because those who hold them will all turn to terrorism. Most will not. But such attitudes imply a readiness to turn a blind eye to the use of violence and intimidation tactics against, say, apostates and dissidents – and a clear aversion to the hard-won achievements of Western feminists and campaigners for minority rights.
Of course, “it” might still not happen here if the United States is as successful at turning these immigrants into an assimilated, “hyphenated” community as it was a century or so ago when the immigrants were Irish, Italian and Jewish. But will the melting pot work its magic this time? Ten years ago, the late Samuel Huntington feared that it already had ceased to function, citing what he saw as problems of assimilation with Mexican immigrants. If he were still with us, I suspect he would be a lot more worried about what is happening in Muslim America.
According to a detailed survey of Muslim Americans, about 8% of those surveyed said that suicide bombing and other violence is often or sometimes justified to defend Islam from its enemies. Indeed, more than a fifth of Muslim Americans say there is a great deal or a fair amount of support for extremism in the Muslim American community. About 20% say that Muslim Americans want to remain “distinct from the larger American society.” Indeed, half say they think of themselves first as a Muslim, second as American, despite the fact that 81% of those polled were U.S. citizens.
Read it all.