Mad, bad and dangerous talk in the US election campaign
Ted Cruz and Donald Trump want to make the United States more like Europe. That is to say, with marginalised communities of Muslims in their ghettos, in opposition to the state and its security forces and alienated from the host community.
That would be the result if the recent insane proposals of the two Republican Party hopefuls for president were to be implemented.
In the aftermath of the attacks on Brussels, Cruz and Trump offered their take on how to make the United States safe from terrorism. These went as follows:
“Patrol and secure” Muslim neighbourhoods, said Cruz, because that’s what’s required “where there is gang activity”.
Trump didn’t suggest patrols (though he would support them “100%”) but merely repeated his drastic calls to temporarily keep Muslims out of America altogether because of the “hatred” they feel.
“Look,” he said, “we’re having problems with the Muslims.” On March 24th, Trump tweeted: “Europe and the US must immediately stop taking in people from Syria. This will be the destruction of civilisation as we know it! So sad!”
This is mad, bad and dangerous talk. Dangerous because it could excite Islamophobes and freelance agents of American patriotism who may equate “homeland security” with anti-Muslim vigilantism. It is mad and bad because it is unnecessary, Muslims in the United States being in a totally different situation from those in Europe.
Unlike the concentrations of first-, second- and third-generation immigrant Muslim communities in Britain, France, Belgium and Germany, American Muslims are dispersed and diverse and as steeped in the culture and practices of the country as any other ethnic or faith community. Unlike European Muslims, substantial numbers of those in the United States are at least as affluent and well-educated as the host community.
About one-quarter of Muslims in America and 29% of immigrant Muslims have college degrees compared to 25% for the US general population, according to Being Muslim in America, a lavishly illustrated book published by the US government’s Bureau of International Information Programs. And 41% of Muslim Americans and 45% of immigrant Muslims report annual household income levels of $50,000 or higher, compared to the national average of 44%.
Cruz’s “Muslim neighbourhoods” are a fantastical notion unless he meant the wealthy suburbs of Chicago, where American- Muslim doctors have their palatial residences.
Other than ethnic pockets of Somali refugees in Minneapolis, “Little Syria” in New York and the 30% Arab concentration in Dearborn, Michigan, the United States has few Europe-style Muslim neighbourhoods.
It certainly has hardly any Muslim ghettos similar to Molenbeek, the Brussels neighbourhood, home to a big Muslim immigrant community and where the Paris and Brussels’ attacks were planned.
Molenbeek has long had a reputation for poverty and petty crime — muggings, drug dealing, burglaries. It is the perfect Petri dish for marginalised Muslim youths to take up jihad just for want of something to do.
The unemployment rate for Belgians of North and sub-Saharan African descent is between 40-50%. The Belgian establishment remains unrepresentative of the demographic change that has occurred and its multiple police forces are a case in point. The BBC reported in 2015 that only 22 of Antwerp’s 2,600 police officers are non-white.
Perhaps Cruz is imagining the same sort of situation in Muslim-dominant areas in the United States? Which ones? Perhaps he means some Somali gang in Minneapolis?
In any case, there was no “gang activity” in mass shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s neighbourhood in San Bernardino, California, before he set out with his disturbed wife to kill innocent people. What “patrol” could have picked up the increasingly deranged thoughts of an American-born-and-bred man who worked in the local county office and just happened to be Muslim?
Thus far, points out Seamus Hughes, a former US National Counterterrorism Center official, there have not been many examples of Muslim groups sprouting open call for violence in the United States. Among the 84 individuals arrested in connection to the Islamic State (ISIS), he said, there is no common profile, other than that they tend to be younger men. “In the United States, communities don’t radicalise; individuals do,” he said.
This is well documented. A 2011 Pew Research Center poll reported that the vast majority of American Muslims wanted to “adopt American customs”. Only 20% of those surveyed said they would prefer to “be distinct”. Half of the respondents said that many of their friends were non-Muslim and almost 80% rated their community as an “excellent” or “good” place to live. In Europe, Muslims would generally find it hard to say the same and with quite so much enthusiasm.
By demonising America’s estimated 3.3 million Muslims, Cruz and Trump simply amplify extremist propaganda that the West is conducting a religious war. As former US national security adviser Stephen Hadley said, such “rhetoric creates a sense of alienation from their fellow citizens and makes them more susceptible to the [ISIS] argument that they have no real place in American society”.
This is neither necessary nor sensible. Making it legitimate to think and act hatefully towards Muslims in America would do nothing more than marginalise them. No one would be any safer. Not America and certainly not the American Muslim community.