Why the President should not ban Muslims from the United States

Whatever motivated Donald Trump as a candidate for the presidency to suggest a ban on Muslims entering the United States, he should consider some very salient reasons for dropping the idea. For a start, it makes little economic sense.

If pulling President Trump’s heart strings won’t work, then the business case might convince the POTUS. In 2011, the purchasing power of American Muslims was estimated to be between $107bn and $124bn. This spending goes across a whole range of sectors:

  • img_3750Housing – $33bn
  • Motor vehicle and services – $16bn
  • Insurance and pensions – $11bn
  • Healthcare – $6.5bn
  • Entertainment – $5bn

The Muslim population is younger than the US average with education and income levels at a par if not slightly above the average household. This presents a huge potential market for corporate America. The obvious areas include halal food products and Islamic finance though companies have plenty of other opportunities if they think creatively and start talking to American Muslims more creatively.

As a market, Muslims are set to grow in population and spending. By 2030, their numbers will have doubled to over 6m regardless of any bans on entry and their share of US GDP will also have doubled to around 1.7%. All those young Muslims are already coming to form a spending phenomenon known as Generation M.  They are hard working, ambitious and will give their political support to those who help them move upwards. Politicians who support Muslim aspiration can expect to be rewarded with votes.

Muslim Americans are also expanding into the political sphere. This may dismay nativists and the alt-right but the truth is that these representatives, far from seeking a sharia governed caliphate, just want the same improved community services as non-Muslims.

While President Trump celebrated victory in New York in November, 2016, a Somali-American woman Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American legislator in US history. Hillary Clinton may have failed to smash her glass ceiling that night but Ilhan Omar broke several.

She began life amidst the horror of civil war in Somalia followed by a Kenyan refugee camp but is now a hijabi wearing member of the Minnesota House. If ever there was a genuine log cabin story in American politics, then Ilhan Omar’s biography fits the bill. As one newspaper put it:

Omar’s story is just the latest in a long line of oppressed people coming to the United States, grabbing hold of the country’s democratic levers and demanding equality and opportunity — mirroring the journey of Irish, Jewish and other immigrant groups.

569858440_1280x720In Dearborn, WWE Smackdown champion Terrance “Rhyno” Guido Gerin was defeated at the polls by Abdullah Hammoud for Michigan’s 15th House District seat. The wrestler thought he’d take the Republicans to victory but Hammoud, a 26 year old healthcare advisor, beat him soundly. No amount of wrestling themed campaign ads from his opponent stopped the more convincing Hammoud.

Hammoud’s programme included more support for small business including start-up loans as well as greater incentives to keep jobs in Michigan. Like an increasing number of Muslim Americans, Hammoud is well educated with a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbour. He is the political and educational expression of Generation M.

With American-Muslims advancing politically and economically, the new Republican administration has to decide whether it stands for aspiration and advancement or if it prefers xenophobia and fear.

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Why US presidents should visit mosques more often

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It is extraordinary that it took until February, 2016 for President Obama to make his first official visit to an American mosque – right at the end of his second term in office. Islamist propaganda has always cast the War on Terror as a war by the West against the whole of Islam on a global scale. Arguably, by not visiting a mosque during most of his term, the President had unwittingly bolstered that narrative. After all, why not visit a mosque?

In the United States as of 2014, according to Pew, there were 2.75m Muslims. By 2050, they will surpass those who identify themselves as Jewish. They are mostly anti-extremist, even believing that their faith leaders have not done enough to speak out on this issue – again, according to Pew. On the other hand, there is a widespread view that post-9/11 anti-terror legislation has impacted disproportionately on Muslims.

Obama finally decided to cross the threshold of a mosque in response to comments made by Donald Trump while running as the Republican presidential candidate. He told the congregation:

If you’re ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States: You fit in here — right here. You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too. You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.

Muslims themselves have moved decisively towards a reconciled identity in the US adopting increasingly liberal attitudes on homosexuality and abortion. Politically, they trend towards the Democrats and in spite of high rates of business formation and suburban lifestyles nevertheless believe in bigger not small government.

But in spite of these encouraging signs of assimilation, Republicans are noticeably cool about their Muslim fellow citizens and even Democrats are not reportedly warm. Democrat attitudes to Muslims could best be described as neutral compared to outright suspicion among Republicans.

It is wrong and dangerous to conflate American Muslims with Islamist extremists. Successive surveys have revealed a community that is happy to adhere to American values and salute the flag. Yet Obama left it very late in his presidency to reach out to Muslims. Even George Bush visited the Islamic Center of Washington after 9/11 to boldly state that “the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam”.

If we want to drive Muslims into the hands of Islamists, there are two proven ways to achieve this:

  1. Put the whole of Islam and Islamist extremism in the same bucket and depict both as some kind of civilizational threat
  2. Encourage a sense of victimhood among Muslims slowly convincing them that it is impossible to live as a Muslim in the United States (and only caliphate governed by sharia law will offer real protection)

The antidote to the above is to make a clear distinction between the majority of law abiding, patriotic Muslims as opposed to Islamist extremists – and deal with them very differently. Avoidance of victimhood narratives is also critical, instead disseminating stories of success and aspiration.

It would also help if presidents of the United States set foot more often in Muslim community venues to evidence that they are as much a part of the fabric of the US as Catholics, evangelicals and Jews.

Are Muslims in the United States more assimilated than in Europe?

According to the Cato Institute – the answer is yes. On what basis? Because Muslims in the United States have opinions on issues like abortion and homosexuality that are more in line with the general population than in Europe.

img_3746Cato quotes stats from Pew and Gallup showing that while 58% of Britons find homosexuality morally acceptable, next to no British Muslims do. While in the US, it’s 48% of the US who are fine with gay rights and 27% of American Muslims. So the gap in attitudes between Muslims and non-Muslims in the US seems to be much narrower.

On abortion, 55% of Britons are fine with abortion while only 5% of British Muslims find it morally acceptable. Go to the US and it’s 55% of non-Muslims who think abortion is moral compared to 40% of Muslims. Again, a narrower gap.

Cato then moves on to the labour market. In the US, Muslims are more likely to be in work than non-Muslims. That is reversed in Europe where unemployment rates are alarmingly high – particularly among women. This non-participation in the labour market creates a gulf between Muslims and the rest of society, Cato argues.

Something else is going on that may explain better assimilation in the United States than in Europe. Between 2007 and 2014, the number of Muslims who believe in a literal approach to scripture fell eight percentage points from 50% while the non-literalists rose by 10%. Pew has also found that at least 23% of US residents raised in Muslim households had left their religion altogether.

This contrasts with Europe where second and third generation Muslims have often parted company with their parents’ cultural Islam seeking instead a globalised Muslim identity. That can include the hyper-literalism of salafism and in some instances, an adherence to extremist Islamism. But the picture is not all grim. London has a Muslim mayor who is a role model of integration and several Muslims sit in parliament. An increasing number of Muslims are successful in business and the arts but nevertheless, a degree of alienation clearly persists.

In spite of what looks like a rosier picture in the US, this did not stop the 2016 presidential election including a call by the Republican candidate Donald Trump to impose a ban on any more Muslims entering the country. Yet Muslims appear to have been an assimilation success story – especially compared to Europe.

 

 

 

Can African American and Arab heritage Muslims ever form a united ummah?

A fascinating issue at the centre of American Islam is whether Muslims of African American heritage can ever meaningfully unite with Muslims from an Arab/Middle Eastern background. Looking through several academic papers and articles, here are some of the key challenges:

  • African American Muslims have traditionally been more interested in the concept of asabiya or nation building whereas Arab Muslims see themselves as part of a global ummah or community of the faithful. Can both parties move beyond this to create an American Muslim ummah?
  • African American Muslims have a far longer history in north America going back to the slave trade of the 16th century when Muslim slaves were brought over from West Africa
  • Looking at a city like Detroit with a large Muslim population, it was African American Muslims who first got political and organised in 1930 by forming the Nation of Islam. From the outset, this group emphasised the special position of black people in the eyes of Allah. Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad went as far as to claim he was a new messenger with a message specifically for African Americans – a notion that would be anathema to most Muslims
  • In the post-war period, most Arab Muslims viewed the Nation of Islam as an African American identity issue and nothing to do with mainstream Islam. However, the Nation of Islam moved away from its racial definition of Islam in recent decades and quietly dropped Elijah Muhammad’s claim to prophethood
  • Continuing to look at Detroit, the picture on the Arab Muslim side is interesting because of the strong presence of Shia Islam. This means that not only is there a division between Arab heritage and African American Muslims in the city but also a fracture between Shia and Sunni Arab Muslims. However, research seems to indicate that Shia and Sunni in Detroit want to work closer together
  • In Detroit, Arab Muslims have tended to migrate to the suburbs alongside white Americans while African American Muslims carried on living in crumbling inner-city areas. Arab Muslims have also, until recently, been classified as ‘white’
  • It has been argued that race has often trumped faith with ‘white’ Muslims discriminating against African American Muslims. Some claim that Anglo converts are received with more enthusiasm by Arab Muslims than those from African American backgrounds
  • Some commentators have been accused of regarding immigrant Arabs as the first legitimate Muslims in the United States, de-legitimising the African American experience. It’s insinuated that African American Islam is not genuine while Arab Islam is the real thing
  • Immigrant Muslims tend to enjoy a significant wealth gap with African American Muslims – earning ten times more according to one survey. It also irks African American Muslims to find newer Arab arrivals regarding themselves as the de facto leaders of the ummah in the United States. One reason is the command of Arabic, the language of the Prophet, and their roots in the Middle East
  • African American Muslims do not tend to segregate women to anywhere near the same extent as Arab Muslims. In fact, women have often played leading roles in African American Islam

This is a subject to which this blog will return to frequently.