Study: Western-Muslim Tensions Getting Better

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amelia T.

After Herman Cain’s recent declaration that American communities should be able to ban mosques, it would be easy to understand why relations between Muslim and Western countries might be strained.  A new study  from the Pew Center has some mildly hopeful news: although tensions between Muslim and Western publics are still palpable, they’ve gotten slightly better in the past five years.  While both populations still hold negative stereotypes of each other, Westerners (i.e. US residents and Western Europeans) are less likely to say that they had bad relations with Muslim countries than in 2006.  Muslims, however, aren’t as optimistic.

Ironically, each population characterized the other as “fanatical and violent.”  Muslims in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia were likely to say that Westerners were “selfish, immoral and greedy,” while Westerners criticized the residents of Muslim countries for refusing to tolerate or respect women.

Even though Westerners think that relations are getting better, while Muslims say that their impressions of Westerners are as bad as they were five years ago, there may be more of a consensus on whose fault it is.  Muslims overwhelmingly blamed the West for tensions, and while many Westerners did blame Muslim countries, a sizable percentage were also willing to point the finger at themselves.

In a change that perhaps reflects the general mood surrounding the Arab Spring, “Muslims and Westerners believe corrupt governments and inadequate education in Muslim nations are at least partly responsible for the lack of prosperity.”  And both Muslims and Westerners are concerned about Islamic extremism.

What the report highlights is the extent to which assumptions about relations between Muslim and Western countries shape the stereotypes that the two populations assign to each other.  It’s important, also, to break down these monolithic categories into area-specific groups. 

For example, Indonesian Muslims are more likely to associate positive traits with Westerners, while Pakistani Muslims (for obvious reasons) have increasingly negative feelings about Western relations.

Identity is also a slippery category.  While Muslims overwhelmingly identify with their religion, rather than their country of origin, European Christians are equally likely to say that their national identity is more important than their religious identity.  There is a palpable divide in the United States, although 7 in 10 evangelical Christians identify first with their religion.  Unsurprisingly, there was a strong consensus among Westerners that Muslims living in the West did not want to assimilate into Western culture.  People without college degrees were more likely to “believe that Muslims want to remain distinct from the broader society.”

While the report does not provide answers to mending the rift between Western and European countries, it does break down some of the complexities in fascinating ways.

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Syrian Singer Abu Ratib Pleads “Not Guilty”

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Michigan Islamic Examiner/Heather Laird

Abu Ratib January 26, 2010. In a Federal court hearing in Detroit on Monday January 25, 2010, singer Abu Raitb pleaded not guilty to the charges of making false statements to the FBI, false oath in a matter relating to naturalization and attempted unlawful procurement of naturalization.

Abu Ratib also known as Mohammed Masfaka is a beloved singer of Islamic songs. He has millions of fans throughout the Arab and Muslim world, and is respected by not only the common person but by government diplomats as well. He is considered by some Michigan residents to be one of the leading Islamic singers of all times, and is believed to have written more songs than the also popular Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) and Sami Yusuf.  He is the Chair of the International Union for Islamic Art.

After reading the nine-page indictment put forth by the FBI, one wonders what this case is really concerned with achieving. The document states questions asked and answered and some discrepancies in the answers. More specifically, the case mentions that Abu Ratib left off of his immigration papers a low-level job that he held for a short period of time. How many people in the United States everyday leave off previous employment on job applications. His other offense was not mentioning or mentioning incorrectly compensation. I am quite confident this happens everyday in the US as well. In fact, can everyone say Treasury Secretary?

All sarcasm aside, this is serious when it comes to immigration, and I would be on the first line of defense for my Country if you told me an immigrant left off their application that they were affiliated with some group that would harm United States citizens. But, this is not the case here. The government is saying that they knew he worked for an entity that was approved a 501(c)3 status – meaning an organization that already had some governmental scrutiny.  And, he did so here in the United States, so it was not covert or anything. How would or could he know that the government, because of its policies with Israel would change their opinion about their foreign policy? Holy Land Foundation was prosecuted and the first trial was declared a mistrial, the second received a conviction and now it is currently on appeal. So, we are prosecuting an individual because of guilt by association with a group that may or may not be considered affiliated with terrorism, but that the US Courts have not yet decided on, and not because we think “he” was a terrorist, but because he left off information from an application.

Why would we do this? The immigrant story is one that most of us are familiar with in folklore. People come to America to build a better life. They believe the will have certain unalienable rights that they do not have elsewhere. I am positive that the Masfaka family believed they would have in America what they could not find elsewhere. But, the reality for some immigrants is of another nature. Some immigrants are targeted as assets for the government. And because they are immigrants or of immigrant status can be intimidated or coerced into becoming informants or spies for the United States or have their citizenship revoked. They trust their new government. Aren’t we all raised to trust the authority in our midst – our police officers, our government. If you are a minority in the United States, a different reality exists. However, the majority is taught to trust government.

So, if you are an immigrant likely your first language is not English. You come to America wanting to be an American, and fill out your paperwork and then you are a citizen. The process is only not that simple. If the government at any time deems it necessary to use you, then they can very meticulously scrutinize every piece of paper and every conversation you have had to find a small detail left out here, a mistranslation there, etc., until an error is found or omission which to the government translates as a lie and you have now become a defendant.

What Masfaka seems to really be guilty of is not having legal representation with him at critical junctures in his immigration process. But, how many immigrants do not, and are not being prosecuted? We can presume many. This man was targeted, because of an Islamaphobic attitude that has been allowed to prevail in the United States. It is forbidden for Muslims to spy. For a man to take the stance of refusing to commit a sin in his faith is to stand for his freedom of religion. This is one of the positive rights that Americans are supposed to enjoy. It seems in this case, Masfaka may have taken that stand and is now being punished for it.

The result of this case has two very negative implications for the United States. First, it seems to tear at and shred our Constitution a little more. Not providing that blanket of freedoms that we promote as being unique to us. Second, this particular Defendant is Internationally known and beloved. And here we are again, post the Obama Cairo speech being seen as double-speak on the International scene. You say you want peace, but your actions appear to be targeting  and punishing people who do not fit the bill of terrorist.

Muslims will help their Country. No one wants corruption in the Muslim community. Why can’t we ask American Muslims to help in cleansing this Country of corruption instead of thinking the only way to do so is through seeming coercion and intimidation.

The Muslim community is praying for the Masfaka family that these charges are dropped. The American Muslim community prays for its Country in hopes that America can find a new approach and fight for all its citizens.

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