Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Religion, Community, and Optimism for the Future: The Example of Muslims

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.

Greg Sisk


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Those Muslims obviously need to be more in touch with our gay activists. They really know how to promote life.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Aug 17, 2011 5:39:00 PM

So how do Muslims get along with NON-MUSLIM neighbors? Not very well. How about the percentage who believe that violence is acceptable against non-Muslims? A third believe it is justified.

Posted by: Fr. J | Aug 18, 2011 11:18:31 AM

Actually, Fr. J's comment reflects the continuing misunderstandings and mistaken stereotypes about American Muslims. American Muslims are mainstream, well-integrated into American society (except when they encounter discrimination based on stereotypes), positive about their neighbors, and vehemently opposed to violence against others. As the Pew Report comprehensive study showed, most American Muslims have close friends outside the Muslim community. Moreover, as confirmed by many studies, and now emphasized by the most recent Gallup poll. among all major religious groups in America, Muslims are the least likely to believe that an attack on civilians could ever be morally justified.


Posted by: Greg Sisk | Aug 19, 2011 11:54:11 AM

Greg, why not ask those at Fort Hood Texas how they feel about the extent of Muslim integration?

Posted by: Fr. J | Aug 19, 2011 12:21:00 PM

Fr. J, I am curious about whether you believe that your response is a genuine refutation of Prof. Sisk's comment, or just a rhetorical device.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 19, 2011 12:37:23 PM

One could just as fairly ask how those in Oklahoma City feel about the extent of Christian integration. To tar Christians generally, or conservative Christians, with the evils of Timothy McVeigh or the outrageous views of Christian Identity extremists would be unjust. To castigate American Muslims for the atrocity of a deviant individual who accepted an extremist version of Islam is likewise unfair. We of course should be concerned about extremist infections in any segment of our society, including Muslim extremism where it is found, as do in fact American Muslims organizations (although the news media seldom reports those responses). We should never condemn a whole group of people, such as Muslims in America who are overwhelming productive citizens and loyal Americans, because of the failings of an extremist subgroup.

Posted by: Greg Sisk | Aug 19, 2011 12:40:26 PM

Paul, I have read stats that show Muslims are much more accepting of violence against others. I think we bury our heads in the sand if we think that Muslims are all into apple pie. Here are some stats from a Pew Study in 2009:

"One in four younger U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings to defend their religion are acceptable at least in some circumstances. That sentiment is strongest among those younger than 30. Two percent of them say it can often be justified, 13 percent say sometimes and 11 percent say rarely. 5 percent of U.S. Muslims expressed favorable views of the terrorist group al-Qaida, though about a fourth did not express an opinion. 40 percent said they believe Arab men carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. By six to one, they say the U.S. was wrong to invade Iraq, while a third say the same about Afghanistan—far deeper than the opposition expressed by the general U.S. public."

This is cause for concern. It is also a concern that in every Muslim nation Christians are routinely persecuted and they don't seem to mind doing it. You might also consider that Muslims are permitted to lie to the infidel when circumstances suggest that is a good strategy. It isn't just rhetoric.

Posted by: Fr. J | Aug 19, 2011 5:54:39 PM

Greg, you should know that the Oklahoma City bomber was a lone wolf who was also an atheist. He said science was his god. Are you suggesting we suspect atheists?

Posted by: Fr. J | Aug 19, 2011 5:55:47 PM

We risk creating the very thing we wish to avoid when we wrongly characterize an entire and enormously diverse group of fellow Americans as deviant and violent. Our Muslim American neighbors are engaged, well-educated, active in the economy, optimistic about the future, appreciative of American democracy and freedom, etc. As I adduced in this posting, we could learn much from them and have much in common with them.

Muslim Americans should no more be held responsible for human rights abuses in other countries than Catholic Americans should be held responsible for terrorist attacks by the IRA in Ireland. Muslims coming to America are no different in this regard than were Catholic immigrants generations ago -- and the unfortunate antipathy toward Muslims by too many is really no different than the responses to Catholics at that time (i.e., characterizations of Catholics as being un-American, preferring tyranny in governance, persecuting persons of other religions, etc.).

Before reaching a conclusion that our Muslim neighbors wish us ill, one should read the entire Pew Research study (from 2007), as well as the Gallup Poll study from 2009, and read the results in context. Among all religious groups in the United States, Muslim Americans are most strongly opposed to any violence against civilians (which encompasses terrorist attacks as well as "collateral" consequences of excessive use of weapons by military). That speaks volumes about the kind of people that have come to this country. Nor can one treat the finding of tiny minority and then nearly always qualified support among some Muslims for suicide bombings as the equivalent of general support for terrorist attacks. Of course it should be concerning -- and is deeply concerning to Muslim American leaders whose efforts to counter even minority extremism in their own communities is usually ignored by major press -- that even this single-digit minority believes suicide bombings could be justified. At the same time, the question is framed to ask about suicide bombings as a defensive strategy and not as something that would apply in a nation like the United States where Muslims are not oppressed. Similarly, the admittedly foolish but understandably self-defensive refusal by many Muslims to accept that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks hardly says anything about support for terrorism. And, again, these reports should be read as a whole, including the powerful and pervasive evidence of American Muslims having positive and thoroughly "American" views about this country.

In sum, nothing in these two comprehensive portraits of American Muslims translates into a general labeling of Muslim Americans as prone to violence or intolerance.

Posted by: Greg Sisk | Aug 19, 2011 6:35:52 PM

Greg, actions speak louder then words. A quarter is not a tiny minority. We have already seen multiple evidence of Muslim violence against civilians in this country. The last time, at Fort Hood, the man had claimed he was a conscientious objector. He lied. Do you think that Muslims told the complete truth to the pollsters when their religion enjoins them to deceive the infidel?

I will give you a personal example. I knew an Egyptian man, born their, lived here over 10 years, a citizen. He argued that the Jews were the cause of all the problems and that no Copts were persecuted. I finally produced a sheaf of evidence that showed Copts being persecuted by Muslims. He glanced at it, shrugged, and said "they deserve it." Essentially he had been lying to me for weeks and felt no sense of guilt for it when caught. I was an infidel and didn't count. He thought it was strange that I would want an apology. "For what" he asked. Then he, knowing I was Catholic, mentioned that Islam would triumph and that St. Peter's would become a mosque. I countered with the idea that we would turn the Kaaba into a church. That shocked him and he felt it was an insult, yet didn't see that we thought his view was an insult to us. How could we object since Islam was of course true? I have found this not to be an isolated example once you penetrate through the outward show.

Posted by: Fr. J | Aug 20, 2011 2:53:08 PM

Fr. J,

Whatever his religious beliefs, Timothy McVeigh was in no way a "lone wolf". He would not have been able to blow up the Oklahoma City Federal Building without the well-documented assistance of others who shared in his beliefs about the inherent evil of the federal government which in their view justified the use of lethal violence against innocents.

Had you been a Protestant in Northern Ireland you would have said the same things about Catholics that you say here about Muslims and had you been a Catholic you would have said the same things about Protestants. Religious differences are by and large a pretext for committing violence for reasons that have nothing to do with religion itself.

Posted by: Peter S | Aug 20, 2011 8:36:09 PM

Peter, McVeigh was indeed a lone wolf which is why such things are so rare. It is NOT rare for Muslims to commit acts of terrorism. Also he did not do it for religious reasons, which claim I notice was quietly dropped.

The IRA was a Marxist Nationalist organization not a religious one. Members were not noted for their religious observance. The Church did not support the IRA and in fact publicly rebuked it. Muslims kill specifically for their faith with the support, quiet or otherwise, of their religious leaders. In every Muslim country Christians are subject to discrimination and persecution, EVERY ONE OF THEM. It has everything to do with religion. Pretending otherwise is insane.

Posted by: Fr. J | Aug 21, 2011 12:53:45 PM

Any Muslim country that supports the persecution of Christians is not worshipping God, for Love is not coercive, nor does it serve to manipulate.

Posted by: Nancy D. | Sep 4, 2011 2:20:41 PM