Monday, August 16, 2010


Attacking the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, Ross Douthat urges American Muslims to take up the white man's burden:

... During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture -- and the threat of discrimination if they didn't -- was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream. Nativist concerns about Catholicism's illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.

So it is today with Islam....

Douthat is celebrating the part of America that

looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well. It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora -- and it expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these norms, and quickly.

Except that, as we learned from Douthat's own paper this week, the guiding spirits behind Cordoba House seem pretty damn American:

Daisy Khan, who immigrated, also as a teenager, to Jericho, on Long Island, from Kashmir, married Imam Feisal {Abdul Rauf] in 1997. They founded a Sufi organization advocating melding Islamic observance with women's rights and modernity. After 9/11 they raised their profile, renaming the group the American Society for Muslim Advancement and focusing on connecting Muslims and wider American society. They spoke out against religious violence; the imam advised the F.B.I.; his wife joined the advisory panel of the 9/11 memorial and museum....

Preparing for a May 5 community board meeting, Ms. Khan got support from her usual allies, like the United Jewish Federation of New York; Trinity Church; and the September 11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow....

Imam Feisal is no longer at that Sufi mosque, but, as we were told in a subsequent Times article, it currently sounds very much assimilated:

Men and women sat together. The worshipers ... included a young man with multiple piercings and a shirt identifying him as an employee at Jivamukti Yoga....

The fast-breaking meal, or iftar, included baby spinach and goat cheese and aloe vera water passed around by the mosque's female leader, Sheikha Fariha al-Jerrahi....

Oh, but what am I talking about? Obviously, Douthat isn't talking about assimilating into that America. That America -- the America of feminism and artisanal produce and yoga mats rolled up in backpacks -- isn't, as the possible next president of the United States likes to remind us, the "real America."

Muslims are supposed to assimilate into the Republican America. Y'know -- like blacks. If they're "community organizers," or if they still talk about the struggle for civil rights, they're fifth columnists. If they play bad songs at tea party rallies, they're Americans.

Hate liberals. Watch Fox. Then you'll be welcomed, Muslims.


Ah, but you'll say that that's not Douthat's point. He goes on to write:

For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they'll need leaders who don't describe America as "an accessory to the crime" of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June).

Rauf's point in the former instance was, in fact, that America had partly made Osama bin Laden what he'd become by 2001 -- and while I realize that Ross Douthat was a very, very young man during the last days of the Cold War, even he should know that there's a great deal of truth in that.

And as for ducking questions about Hamas, as a native of Boston I would like to remind Douthat that certain Catholics' assimilation into the America's "Anglo-Saxon" traditions did not extend to a rejection of terrorism when it came the IRA -- far from it. In the Southie of my boyhood, I don't think very many people would have even bothered to "duck questions" about whether a militant response to the British was justified.

No comments: