Thursday, November 24, 2005

More on Islam, the riots and the economy

Been meaning to share a few articles I'd read for a while. Seems to me they have a slightly better grasp of what's going on than the "All Muslims are evil let's send them away" kind of stuff.

Here's a news report from yesterday's Zenit: Coexistence with Islam is possible.

A journalist who covers the Vatican has written a book showing 150 episodes that reflect the good relations with Muslims in Italy. "Good coexistence is frequent, but rarely does anyone talk about it," commented Luigi Accattoli, a reporter for the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera.

His book "Islam: Italian Stories of Good Coexistence" was published by Dehonian Publications of Bologna. The Italian bishops' National Service for the Cultural Plan contributed to the volume. "I would say that the stories came to me spontaneously," the journalist recalled. "It was enough for me ask, for example, when arriving in a city or a parish of Rome for a conference: 'Do you know a Muslim who lives peacefully and is well integrated?' The response was immediate: 'Go to this association, speak with that Caritas volunteer, visit this bookstore,' etc."


"For example," he said, "the discovery of seven Muslims who study at the Gregorian University, of a Muslim who works in the Vatican, of another who is sacristan in a Milan parish, of Muslim immigrants who have become directors of Caritas; mayors; heads of ACLI [Christian Associations of Italian Workers] departments."

Accattoli insisted that "four Muslim interlocutors must be distinguished: prayerful Islam, Muslim fundamentalism, political Islamism, and Muslim terrorism."
The aftermath (latest Economist, full text available online):

As France picks itself up after the riots, hard questions are being asked. Nobody can agree on the riots' underlying causes, which include joblessness, segregation, hard-line policing, discrimination, drug mafias and a lack of parental control—especially, according to one outspoken minister, in polygamous families. But all recognise that something must change. Even President Jacques Chirac, invisible during most of the rioting, acknowledged on television this week that there was a “profound malaise” in France.


Usually, politicians on the left and right dismiss calls for more ethnic representation—on television, in debating chambers, in the police or in boardrooms—as a dangerous step towards multiculturalism. Few distinguish between a system of quotas and a voluntary approach that relies on peer pressure and self-interest. This week, however, Mr Chirac spoke of the need to recognise “the diversity of French society”, adding that companies, unions, political parties and the media should “better reflect the reality of today's France.”
An American Imam: From Time (full text available to subscribers only).

IT WAS ON SEPT. 10, A DAY SHY OF THE fourth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, that Imam Mohamed Magid met terrorism's victims face to face. He was presiding at the funeral on Long Island for the daughter and son-in-law of Bangladeshi Americans from his Sterling, Va., mosque. The children, who were at work in the North Tower, perished in the Sept. 11 attack, but not until this past August had medical examiners identified enough of their charred tissue and bone fragments for the parents to hold a funeral. Staring at the two wooden boxes covered with green embroidered cloth and surrounded by grieving family members, the Muslim cleric was gripped by both sadness and rage. "The terrorists who kill in the name of Islam claim they are the martyrs," Magid told TIME later, the anger still roiling him. "But the victims are the martyrs. The terrorists are the murderers, and God will deal with them on Judgment Day."


Born 40 years ago in the northern Sudanese village of Alrakabih along the Nile River, he studied Islam under African Sunni scholars, who included his father. Magid immigrated to the U.S. in 1987, when his ailing father came seeking medical treatment. Unlike many foreign imams, who find America's open society too jolting and withdraw to their mosques, he reveled in the cultural diversity. "I never had a Jewish friend until I came to the U.S.," says the gregarious imam. "And the questioning of all religions here helped me strengthen my own beliefs."


Magid has no qualms about grappling with problems that Muslim families often don't deal with openly. He has organized mosque programs to treat depression among Muslim teens and stocks the women's restroom at ADAMS with brochures on where to get help if they have an abusive husband. Teenagers and young adults come to him with questions about everything from underage drinking to premarital sex to whether the Koran allows a woman to have a bikini wax. He advises abstaining from alcohol and sex before marriage but knows his advice won't always be followed, so he also counsels on safe sex and the health dangers of binge drinking. As for the bikini wax, Islam's rules on female modesty allow it, he decided--if a wife's husband will be the only one to see the result. "He's not some big, scary imam sitting in his office passing judgment," says Zohra Atmar, a 25-year-old legal assistant who is a mosque member.


But progressive imams like Magid realize they are on the front line between the Muslim community and a country awakening--often fearfully--to the knowledge that it has a Muslim community. "It's time for Islam in America to be American," he says. For the FBI, that kind of thinking may be one of its best weapons in the war on terrorism.
(I must say, that while I get what he's saying about Islam in America being American, that kind of language makes me uncomfortable. Especially when it's used in a sense of criticising, say, the Catholic Church for being too un-democratic, and therefore un-American, or what have you.)

And finally, the Economist again, on the assimilation of Arab-Americans in the US. Hyephenating beats Segregating.

Mr Ahmed, the executive director of ACCESS, a social-services agency for Arab immigrants, reckons there are clear reasons why the sorts of immigrant-driven riots that have recently shocked and shamed France seem hard to imagine in Dearborn, or in other ethnic Arab communities across America. In contrast to the situation in France and in many other European countries, he points out, the children and grandchildren of Arab immigrants to America, both Muslim and Christian, climb the same ladder of education, income and advancement that other immigrant groups have scaled successfully, from Asians to the Irish.

That does not mean that most Arab-Americans, even in well-integrated third- or fourth-generation families, feel at ease these days. The new museum in Dearborn highlights many of their worries and frustrations. Its main exhibits—which look at how Arab immigrants come to America, and how they and their descendants have contributed to American life—make strenuous efforts to dispel stereotypes and point out discrimination, especially since the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

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