Neither Pet nor Threat: The State of American Muslims

13th November 2018

The American political environment is now more in flux than ever. The recent midterm election this past week was not only characterized by the candidature of an unprecedented number of women, of whom a number came from minority backgrounds, but also resulted in the election of two Muslim women to Congress. Moreover, the vocal and active voice of both the President of the United States and his administration on a number of key policy topics, ranging from immigration to border security, and the commonplace characterization of him as both a nationalist and protectionist, has resulted in serious consternation both within a domestic context and with allied partners in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Despite the debate over POTUS’s rhetoric, both in Washington policy circles and across the media, the simplistic analysis of both the liberal and conservative camps don’t quite adequately capture what is currently at state in America. Specifically, as it relates to American Muslims, those in the bleachers of the American Muslim establishment have chanted the mantras of  “stop insulting Islam” and “extremism has nothing to do with Islam.” Meanwhile, the other side have continued loudly to declaim that “Islam is the problem”. This has taken place against the backdrop of the rise of ethno-nationalist politics and white extremist groups. Few are unimpacted by the polarised political climate.

Quilliam and many of our partners have been arguing for a pushback against both the regressive left and far right. We call for others to share our centrism. In our Quilliam and larger civil society network globally, we characterize It as Ctl –Left, Alt— Right, Delete and have been advocating and lobbying for a movement of centrists.

There are never easy answers when seeking to address matters of religion and culture, irrespective of the society in which we live in. However, when you add the additional dimension of national security to the scenario everyone has an opinion. Everybody wants the world to hear their argument.

As an American Muslim who has worked in the realm of national security for over a decade and is part of our country’s indigenous Muslim community, we must seek balance and nuance. It is time to venture beyond the black and white. Why is it important to do so?

For starters, according to Pew polling data of 2017, the American Muslim community is ideological diverse, moderate, liberal, conservative and sometimes even secular. It is important to bear this in mind when seeking to understand who this community is or isn’t. As you can imagine, some of those diverse community members will be members of the FBI, CIA, NSA. We can be Republicans, Democrats, LGBTQ, and may subscribe to a myriad of identities, which together make up the cultural milieu of America.

As such, no single person, group, individual or demographic can claim authority for American Muslims: just as there is no single country overseas that commands authority over all Muslims of the world. Thus, American Muslims should not be seen as neither pet nor threat, but instead productive members of our American liberal democracy: an imperfect experiment, but one which has great promise both for all Americans and and for our fellow co-religionists around the world.

As the American Muslim community celebrates the election win of two Muslim female congressmen, we must also make sure we open the door for more women to enter the mosques and be embraced by them throughout the United States, to share in equal treatment and respect by their male counterparts and husband. We must seek to encourage renewal and revivalism inside of our Muslim circles just as surely as we champion freedom, justice and equitable treatment for all other Americans.