New York Post – November 27, 2003
By Ralph Peters
November 27, 2003 -- AS suicide bombers terrorize much of the planet, America has been remarkably free of such attacks since 9/11. Much of the credit goes to our law-enforcement establishment, as well as to our government's determination to take the War On Terror to our enemies.
But we also owe a debt to our Muslim immigrant communities, as well as to all Americans with family ties to the Middle East. They've been unreceptive to terrorists and want no part of violent extremism.
Overwhelmingly, America's newest Muslims are determined to be good citizens.
Yes, a tiny minority of American Muslims do have some sympathy with our enemies. A fraction of that minority have made headlines through half-baked Jihadist plots, schemes to aid captive terrorists or donations to suspect "charities." But the excessive attention paid to the few who turn against America distorts the overall picture.
Viewing all American residents with Middle Eastern backgrounds as potential threats to our security does a disservice both to our fellow citizens and to America itself.
Will some Muslim immigrants find themselves disenchanted with the United States? Sure. It occurs in every immigrant community. But 99 percent and more have the same dreams for themselves and their children as did our own immigrant ancestors. They, too, will become loyal, responsible citizens, indistinguishable from any others.
First-generation immigrants of any background feel conflicting cultural loyalties and suffer a great deal of psychological tension. It takes time to master our country's complexities. But America is wonderfully seductive. And freedom really is magic.
Of course, for anyone who reads history, the prejudice expressed toward American Muslims is an old story. Current bigotry echoes that directed toward earlier immigrants. The sky was always falling, the foreigners were always too foreign.
When Irish immigrants, fleeing poverty and oppression, poured into our harbors, Americans insisted they could never become good citizens. Their religion supposedly prevented them from giving their first loyalty to our country. Culturally, they were too different, too backward. They crowded together for protection, suspicious of outsiders and the authorities. They were involved in sinister, violent plots.
Thousands of Irish-Americans were involved in sedition and riot within our borders, during our Civil War and afterward. Yet, who seems more American now than Irish-Americans? American Jihadists? How about the German-Americans who went back to the Vaterland to fight for Hitler? And just by the way - the greatest terrorist organization in our history was the Anglo-Saxon Ku Klux Klan.
Thus far, Muslim-Americans look remarkably good in comparison to the historical record of many a group now accepted as all-American.
Every ethnic and religious group that has come to these shores has enriched us with good citizens. It takes time, but America always wins. After the Irish began to overcome the prejudice against them, cookie-cutter bigotry was directed against Italians, Slavs, Jews, Chinese, Hispanics and others. Yet, history always proves the bigots wrong.
Why do we have so little faith in the transformative power of America?
This column has been bluntly critical of the failing cultures of the Middle East, of the dictatorships and the regional disregard of human rights, of the oppression of women and the paralyzing corruption. But Arab or Iranian or Pakistani immigrants came here to escape from those realms of failure, not to import them to Detroit or Washington, D.C.
They have the same practical ambitions everyone else's immigrant ancestors had: to build better lives for themselves and those they love.
Doubtless, many new Americans from the Middle East quietly cooperate with our law-enforcement authorities, while others work to keep their communities in good order. American Muslims fear a repeat of 9/11 more than the rest of us do - they worry about the blanket prejudice that would spread over their families. They each want to achieve their American dream, not to live in a nightmare.
Meanwhile, the rest of us overlook the tremendous good American Muslims are likely to do not only for our country, but for the entire Muslim world. We've all heard the complaint that Islam's problem is that it "never had a Reformation." In fact, Islam had more reformations than Christianity, but they were all reactionary reformations (as Martin Luther's back-to-the-Bible movement was meant to be, until it spun out of control).
The overdue liberalizing reformation is coming to Islam. And it's likeliest to start in North America. Just as the decency and openness of our society continue to transform Christianity and Judaism, so, too, this country will inspire Muslims to re-examine the man-made chains that encumber their great faith.
The theologians of the Middle East look backward to an over-imagined past, but the Muslim thinkers who emerge in America will look forward to a better future. The great schism in the Islamic world in coming years may well develop between modernizing reformists in North America and arch-conservatives abroad.
That ought to sound familiar, too.
Suicide bombing will come to our streets eventually. It's too cheap and effective a technique not to be employed against us by our enemies. But we should be very encouraged that, to date, the masterminds of terror have not been able to persuade young American Muslims to blow themselves up. When the young have hope, they do not rush to die.
America makes people want to live.
In the long term, our citizens with Middle Eastern roots may turn out to be our most powerful advantage in the War on Terror. Meanwhile, they're busy being Americans.
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of "Beyond Baghdad."