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Peter Skerry and “The Muslim-American Muddle”

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Drawing on his work with our “Dialogue on Islam in America,” Peter Skerry has written a thoughtful article on Muslim-American identity in the new edition of National Affairs. Paying special attention to the “enormous diversity” of the Muslim-American population (currently estimated to be about 2.75 million, or less than 1% of the U.S. population), Skerry traces the history of the main Islamic organizations in America and paints a broad picture of their immediate futures. Focusing largely on the competing claims of loyalty that many Muslims face–and the confusion that begets–Perry notes:

The fundamental problem is not disloyalty among Muslim Americans, but their reluctance to confront the implications of the Islamism that has been part of their milieu and that their leaders continue to invoke, however ritualistically or unreflectively. Thus, the primary goal should be to exert constructive pressure, in different ways and to different degrees, on Muslim Americans — leaders and ordinary citizens alike — to “deal with their baggage.” An exemplary step in this direction is the FBI’s policy shift away from contact and cooperation with CAIR. So was the Bush Justice Department’s prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation. Today, however, the Obama administration is pursuing a more accommodating policy toward Muslim-American organizations. This is regrettable, but in truth there is only so much the government can or should do on this front. The most appropriate and effective source of pressure will be non-governmental actors, especially universities, think tanks, and the media.

If any such substantive engagement with Muslims is to be undertaken, then non-Muslim Americans will need to be much better informed. We must overcome the populist paranoia, fueled by the evasiveness of our elites, that demeans a free people. And rather than obsess over the presumed influence of overseas ties on Muslims in America, we need to be cognizant of how American Muslims have adapted to some of the most dysfunctional aspects of our own politics.

The whole article is well worth reading and thinking about.