More good news about American Muslims

Last fall, in an Atlantic cover story called “Declaring Victory,” I discussed the one big advantage the United States held over most European countries when it came to dealing with Islamic terrorists: the loyalty and assimilation of America’s Muslim and Arabic-origin populations. The two categories are not identical — many U.S. Muslims are from Pakistan, India, Iran, or other non-Arab countries; many Arab-Americans are non-Islamic, especially Lebanese Christians — but they are similar in overall success in America and resistance to extremist views. For instance (from that article):

“The patriotism of the American Muslim community has been grossly underreported,” says Marc Sageman, who has studied the process by which people decide to join or leave terrorist networks. According to Daniel Benjamin, a former official on the National Security Council and coauthor of The Next Attack, Muslims in America “have been our first line of defense.” Even though many have been “unnerved by a law-enforcement approach that might have been inevitable but was still disturbing,” the community has been “pretty much immune to the jihadist virus.”

Something about the Arab and Muslim immigrants who have come to America, or about their absorption here, has made them basically similar to other well-assimilated American ethnic groups—and basically different from the estranged Muslim underclass of much of Europe…“If you ask a second-generation American Muslim,” says Robert Leiken, author of Bearers of Global Jihad: Immigration and National Security After 9/11, “he will say, ‘I’m an American and a Muslim.’ A second-generation Turk in Germany is a Turk, and a French Moroccan doesn’t know what he is.”

Now a Pew Research Center survey of American Muslims reinforces what I had heard. “The first-ever, nationwide, random sample survey of Muslim Americans finds them to be largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world,” the report says. As the Christian Science Monitor observed in an editorial about the study: “The finding that most Muslims are fitting in is not just some by-the-way bit of information or an obligatory bow to American inclusiveness. It’s vital to national security.”

Indeed. And in retrospect, one of the Bush Administration’s rare effective applications of “hearts and minds” strategy was the President’s insistence on including American Muslims in religious and patriotic ceremonies just after the 9/11 attacks, notably an end of Ramadan observance at the White House on December 17, 2001. Come to think of it, that was probably the last symbolically shrewd gesture the Administration made. Six weeks later, it was “axis of evil” time. But these latest results that the U.S. has not yet managed to throw away all of its advantages.

Disclosure 1: My wife works for another branch of the Pew Research Center.

Disclosure 2: Thanks to the Boys Weekend Journal site for alerting me to discussion of this report.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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