Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Rod Dreher, on the RealClearReligion site, observes how Muslims in Great Britain have responded to the riots with community solidarity and cooperative efforts to protect neighborhoods and businesses. He notes a study of teenagers in an impoverished neighborhood in Birmingham and how differently Muslim kids saw the world and their future:
In 2009, Britain's Learning for Life project released a study of the beliefs and attitudes of 14-to-16 year olds living in the impoverished Hodge Hill neighborhood of Birmingham, Britain's second-largest city and a target for looters. The contrast of views of Hodge Hill's Muslims and non-Muslims is remarkable, and instructive.
Though everyone studied lives in the same neighborhood, and in relative poverty, the character profile of Muslim kids was far different. The report found that Hodge Hill's Muslims took religion seriously (unlike the others, who had no real engagement with religious thought or practice), and come from strong families guided by engaged fathers. Among the Muslims, parents and children alike are optimistic about their futures, with their aspirations "often centered around responsibility to the family."
The Learning for Life researchers found that Muslim students were more engaged with their communities, "get on better with their neighbors," and that "there is a strong sense of Islamic solidarity within the community."
And there's this, from the Learning for Life report:
Muslim students tended to think that Britain was fairer. One remarked that 'it's what you make of it innit? Seems fair to me' -- suggesting that they had a higher level of self-control than other groups. Non-Muslim students were more critical of Britain, commenting that it had done little for them.
Muslims in America are very similar and distinctive in this regard. As reported by the Pew Research Center in 2007, in its comprehensive study of Muslims Americans, a larger percentage of Muslims (71 percent) than the general public (64 percent) has internalized the American work ethics and believe they can move ahead through hard work. Overall, 78 percent of Muslims in the United States report that they are either happy or very happy. A very recent new Gallup poll found that, among all religious groups, Muslim Americans are the most optimistic about their future.
Not only do these studies confirm, contrary to stereotype, that Muslims in the West are mainstream, involved in their communities, and good neighbors, but these studies show again the vital importance of faith for building strong communities and instilling healthy values in the next generation. As I read these reports about Muslims in Great Britain and the United States, it's hard not to think of the same being true of Catholics and Catholic communities in the United States in decades past.
We as legal scholars and political commentators are apt to think that our law reform and public policy efforts are important and hold the answers to our social problems. But I continue to think that our parishes and parish schools are likely to be making a bigger difference for our communities and our future. As our Muslim neighbors are showing us, we should not be waiting for government and new social programs to fill the hole in the soul of our community. We need to renew our own commitments to our parishes and Catholic schools, which are teaching our children how to thrive and how to build satisfying lives grounded in Catholic faith and moral values. God/Allah bless our Muslim neighbors for reminding us of these first principles.