Mixed Attitudes Among American Muslims: Continued

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Young Muslim leaders continue their conversation about attitudes within the Muslim American community. They turn their discussion to the way Muslims view their place in American society.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: A Republican congressman defends the president's request for an Iraq funding bill with no timelines attached.

But first, we're going to talk more about the lives of Muslims in America. The Pew Research Center just released a survey about U.S. Muslims - how they view American society and how they see themselves fitting in. We're speaking with Arsalan Iftikhar, national legal director for The Council on American-Islamic Relations. And we're also joined by Asra Nomani, author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam."

Thank you both for staying with us.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (National Legal Director; The Council on American-Islamic Relations): Thank you.

Ms. ASRA NOMANI (Author, "Standing Alone: An American Woman Struggle for the Soul of Islam"): Thank you.

MARTIN: Asra, there are two other things in the report that are interesting. One is that younger Muslims are more likely to be religious than their elders, more likely to be religiously committed or to identify themselves first as Muslims before other forms of identity. And Andy Kohut also points out that around the world, younger people are more likely than older people to favor violence as a means of solving a problem. Do any of those points resonate with you?

Ms. NOMANI: Yeah. When I hear those statistics and when I read them, I really thought that what we have happening is, in fact, a identity of the younger Muslims affiliating themselves with extremist ideology, in my point of view, because I do see that as a reality happening in our communities. I just want everyone who's listening to know that not all Muslims have the same response as institutional organizations do to statistics like this. We are as troubled as people who are outside of our community about any kind of expression of sympathy for violence against innocent people.

But I don't think we have to be afraid of it, as I mentioned, because what we need to do is look at it as a window. The fact that there's greater religiosity tells me that it's not just about faith. It's also about identity. And that's what I think we see expressing itself very much in these numbers with the youth. They are an empowered generation.

Here in America, we've learned that we can stand up and we can fight. We are told about the stories of Rosa Park, civil rights, the underdogs, in fact, standing up for justice in the righteous American way. And I think the young Muslim population in America wants to see that express itself in the world, as well as here in America. And when they see war and corruption and injustice, they call it, and that doesn't mean that they sacrifice their patriotism.

MARTIN: Asra, I wanted to ask you - and Arsalan, you also - if you think some of the disenchantment and, as what the survey points out, that American Muslims by and large have positive feelings toward the United States, have positive feelings about the opportunities that they experience in the United States, and don't feel that there's a conflict between being a Muslim and an American. So I think that needs to be said. But do you think that the way that the U.S. is proceeding in Iraq and Afghanistan plays some part in whatever disenchantment does exist?

Ms. NOMANI: I think absolutely. I mean, America has basically lost in the war for the hearts and minds of Muslims, and that includes Muslims in America. Relatively few of the Muslim Americans surveyed in this report say that the U.S.-led war on terror is a effective way to reduce terrorism. We need to pay attention to that, I think, because these are people speaking from within their own community and they know what's going on. America had the moral high ground after September 11th. The majority of Muslims in this world believed that an injustice had happened, but sadly, they have lost that moral high ground.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what about you?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, it's quite obvious that most, if not all, of the post-9/11 domestic and foreign policy initiatives that have been undertaken by our government have disparately impacted the Muslim Arab and South Asian communities here domestically and in the Islamic world in general. And I think that it is just indicative of the overall political sentiment that we are seeing here in America today, where President Bush has a very low overall favorability rating.

MARTIN: We're talking about the attitudes of American Muslims with author Asra Nomani and Arsalan Iftikhar from the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Conversely, as we've discussed, the data showed that American Muslims are much more assimilated and invested in the society than Muslims in other Western countries, particularly in Western Europe. Why do you think might be, Arsalan?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It revolves around immigration. The United States has always traditionally had very strict immigration laws, whereas the European Union has had more lax immigration laws with their guest worker programs. And so what that has done in the last 40 to 50 years that it has brought the more white-collar, highly educated Muslims to immigrate to the United States, whereas you have more of a blue-collar, working class guest workers program in certain E.U. nations.

And so within the E.U. paradigm, we have seen, you know, a great deal more discussion about homegrown radicals, and because they've been dealing with discrimination for nearly 30 and 40 years. I mean, there are third and fourth generation European Muslims who are not even given citizenry in their respective societies. And so I think that that's why you see a much more favorable outlook in terms of the way that American Muslims view their role in their society as opposed to if you had taken the same sample in most other Western European nations.

MARTIN: Arsalan, we've talked about the limits of surveys and how they can, you know, only give you kind of a snapshot into a certain narrow set of issues. This was exhaustively done. I mean - as I understand it, they interviewed something like 55,000 people to come up with a sample of a thousand and to sort of pursue this survey. But what else might you like to know if there were another opportunity to conduct a survey of this type? Is there something else you would like to know?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, one other thing that stood out to me the through my reading of this was that it was very immigrant-centric. And so it was really hitting home the point that it is their belief that the vast majority of American Muslims were born aboard. And so what that does to people like myself and Asra, you know, and others who were born here to immigrant parents and so don't look, quote/unquote, "traditionally American," I would actually really like to, you know, talk to the people at Pew to see why the focus on the immigrant community? Why not more of a focus on the totality of the American Muslim community, a good percentage of whom were born and raised here as an indigenous American Muslims.

MARTIN: But because the finding was that 65 percent of those surveys were born elsewhere.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Well, and, you know, and Michel, there have been surveys that have said that 62 percent of American Muslims are born in the United States, also. So, you know, there have studies that contradict one another, and you know, there is no one study that is sort of watershed study that, you know, is infallible and can truly give an accurate assessment as to the depth and diversity both of political but also of demographic and ethnic backgrounds as well.

MARTIN: And Asra, what about you? Is there something else that you would like to know?

Ms. NOMANI: What I would really like to do is find out more about the specific ideologies prevailing in our American Muslim community. I'd like to know where we fall, whether we have liberal or conservative or ultra-orthodox interpretations of Islam, because I think those kind of facts give us a window into larger questions such as whether you think that you can kill innocent people through suicide bombings or whether you believe that there should be an Islamic legal court in America. And so that's how I feel like we can really break down what our American Muslim community thinks.

MARTIN: You know what, interesting. Maybe that folks at Pew are listening, and will take your suggestions.

Asra Nomani is the author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam". She joins us from Morgantown, West Virginia. We were also joined by Arsalan Iftikhar, national legal director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also known as CAIR. Thank you both so much for joining us.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Thank you, Michel.

Ms. NOMANI: Thank you, Michel.

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