The roots of radicalization
Why do Muslim immigrants radicalize? Two research scientists with degrees from the University of Maryland have argued in a recent New York Times that the difficulty of Muslim immigrants to assimilate into Western society is the primary reason why some of them radicalize. In addition, they argue that President Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from some predominantly Muslim countries only fuels this radicalizing tendency.
They have a point. But their thesis is open to serious questioning. First, they base their conclusions on surveys of only 200 Americans. Even if deeper study lies behind their conclusions, they wishfully say: “The overwhelming majority of their participants want to integrate aspects of American culture and their cultural heritage into their own identities.”
This leaves unanswered the question: If the “overwhelming majority” want to truly assimilate here, what about the rest? I am sure they are right that the majority of Muslim immigrants to the United States do not hate our culture and despise our way of life. Many –— perhaps most — undoubtedly want to assimilate into American life. This would especially be true of the first generation who have come here leaving behind chaos, bloodshed, tyranny and economic scarcity.
But as everyone knows, it only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the barrel. This is why the administration’s ban is only temporary and excludes those with green cards, valid visas or those who can wait a few weeks to re-apply for admission to the U.S. When the New York Times entitled the article by these two research scientists: “A Muslim Ban is Unscientific” they were only perpetuating the misunderstanding that what this administration wants is to bar all Muslims from immigrating.
What the president has actually called for — despite his incendiary rhetoric on the campaign trail — is a temporary ban on immigration from nations with such failed governments that no accurate background statistics from them can be trusted. This leaves the U.S. with an inability to separate those who truly want to assimilate from those who want to come to do us harm.
The over-reaction we’ve seen to the administration’s efforts to bring some order and rationality to the wave of immigrants and refugees wanting to enter the U.S. raises another question: Do these protesters really understand Islam?
Claiming Islam is a religion, as these two research scientists do, is only half true. It is true that Islam has a religious covering and claims a religious justification for all its practices. But that does not disguise the fact that it is a lot more than a religion. It is a total way of life that involves gender relations, marital customs, legal implications, political ideologies, economic prohibitions, penal practices, inheritance rules, educational assumptions and a host of other things that go way beyond our understanding of religion. When it comes to Islam, we are willfully ignorant if we don’t see the incompatibility of classical Islam with our American views of human rights and humane practices.
From its inception in the seventh century, Islam has aimed at world domination. Despite periods when it flourished alongside of Western culture, as it did during the so-called “Golden Age” of Islam from the eighth to the 13th century, it has had aspirations to conquer the world. The West needed continually to repel Muslim invasions and only at the Siege of Vienna in 1529 were the Ottomans finally turned back and denied European conquest. I have seen tourists eagerly crowd around the glass display case in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum gazing approvingly at “The Swords of Mohammed.” The message seemed very clear.
Of course, when Muslims are in the minority, they tend to disavow these expansionist goals. But there are places, especially where there is a dividing line between modern Islam and Christian and animist cultures such as in in Sub-Saharan Africa, that tell a very different story. Encroachments usually begin with Muslim high school students asking for a room in which to pray. Soon the room becomes a mosque into which others are not welcome.
The more troublesome matter, and one for which I think our two research scientists are profoundly culpable, is their “look the other way” approach to terrorist activities perpetrated by radicalized Muslims. It is as if they have forgotten 9/11 along with the more than 76 separate violent attacks on civilians that have plagued this country since 1972. Is it really possible to forget that there were 2,996 deaths on September 11, 2001 plus the thousands who have been wounded or killed in incident after incident across the nation? Who can forget Ft. Hood, San Bernardino, Orlando or the 264 bystanders wounded at the Boston Marathon on 4/19/13?
Professor Ruud Koopmans is professor of sociology and migration research at the Humboldt University of Berlin and director of the research unit at the Berlin Social Science Centre. His findings agree with those of the Pew Research Association in which he notes: Of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, approximately 50 million are willing to sanction violence — including violence against civilians. Half of this global Muslim population is “attached to an arch-conservative Islam which places little worth on the rights of women, homosexuals and people of other faiths,” writes Koopmans. And despite insistence from pro-immigration advocates that assimilation is their real goal, consider the fact that there are around 900 no-go areas controlled by Muslim migrants in Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Sweden that even police are afraid to enter. Koopmans says that 100 million Muslims view the 9/11 massacres of Americans as completely justified.
Given this, it seems exceedingly disingenuous for United Nations Chief Antonio Guterres to claim that Islamic terror is “fueled by Islamophobia.” This is like someone saying that the fear of Islam being different and dangerous is what actually causes Muslims to make Islam different and dangerous. Could you imagine, to take a parallel example, anyone arguing that the violence of rape is caused by women’s fear of men?
It may well be true that a sense of homelessness that immigrants feel when they move to the U.S. is a destabilizing factor. We all can do more to assist them in what must be a huge adjustment. On that point I agree with the two research scientists. Christians, moreover, should be in the forefront of reaching out to immigrants and refugees.
But to explain Islamic radicalization simply by reference to a sense of homelessness is myopic. Whatever drives Muslim immigrants to hate our society and become dangerous are those portions of their own scriptures that call for jihad. Nominal or peace-loving Muslims usually overlook those passages that incite violence and, instead, interpret jihad as a moral struggle. However, once these same people become really serious about the Koran, they bump into portions of the Koran that advocate holy war.
Clearly, there are many Muslims who are peaceful and who are refugees from other Muslim groups who wish them harm. Anyone with a modicum of compassion would want these true refugees here and want them to enjoy the same freedom of religious expression that the rest of us have.
It is those immigrants who radicalize and want to wreak havoc on American soil who are the ones we would want to deny entry — especially if we can know their true views. But to know that means careful vetting is essential and that, it seems to me, is the ultimate purpose of this administration’s program.
So, let’s by all means welcome immigrants and refugees to America — including Muslims. But let’s make sure that they really want what we have to offer — not just financial security, but an opportunity to participate in a culturally pluralistic way of life that truly fosters human flourishing.
Peter C. Moore, D.D. is the director of the Anglican Leadership Institute.