By N.S. Palmer
Today’s New York Times has a front-page article titled “U.S. Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?”
The family described in the article seems perfectly nice, so I’d like to answer that question with an unqualified “yes.”
But sadly, the truthful answer is, “yes and no.”
To the extent that Muslims adopt Western culture, customs, values, and behaviors, yes, they do indeed belong. A society is a group of people who share those things.
And there’s the rub. Whatever its merits or demerits as a religion, Islam is not a significant part of Western history and culture except as an antagonist. Muslims stand outside the Western tradition.
It’s important to understand what that means and what it does not mean.
It does not mean that Muslims are bad people or that they are necessarily our enemies. It does not mean that they can’t contribute to our society and be accepted in most contexts. It doesn’t even mean that Islam itself has nothing to offer us in religious insights or examples of faith and courage.
What it does mean is that by their answer to one of the most important questions of life, “What’s it all about,” Muslims stand apart. They do not belong. And depending on how they interpret their faith, it means that they disagree with some of Western civilization’s fundamental conclusions about justice, individual rights, freedom of religion, the role of government, and the relationship between humanity and God.
It also means that most Western people will regard them with just a little bit of doubt. The more values and beliefs that people share, the more they feel confident that they understand each other and can trust each other. Don’t blame me for it: that’s just the fact. There are both valid and invalid reasons for it.
And it has nothing specific to do with Islam. It applies to all differences between people. The more extensive and important the differences, the greater is the potential for distrust, misunderstanding, and hostility.
Difference is not a license to treat anyone with less than the respect and love that all people deserve. But it’s foolish to pretend that the difference doesn’t exist.
Copyright 2010 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL (http://www.ashesblog.com) are included.