Commentary Magazine

Muslims in America

To the Editor:

Though he makes a few passing remarks about mainstream Islam, Daniel Pipes [“America’s Muslims Against America’s Jews,” May] suggests that Muslims are a single bloc, intrinsically anti-Semitic and driven by hatred. This is offensive to Muslim sensitivities and contributes to the demonization of Muslims.

There are extremist groups in all religions, but one should not generalize from these cases. After all, many Jews expelled from Spain migrated to the Ottoman empire, where they were welcomed, protected, and never forced to convert The modern Turkish Republic has continued this Islamic tradition of religious pluralism. Hundreds of Jews who fled from Nazi oppression found a tolerant attitude in Turkey, and today Jews and Christians are equal citizens with Muslim Turks and succeed in trade and industry.

One should not equate fanatic Arab nationalism with Islam itself. The use of religious discourse and sacred images to support violent crimes can be found in all religions, but that does not make all their followers extremists.

Talip Kuçukcan
Center for Islamic Studies
Istanbul, Turkey



To the Editor:

Congratulations to Daniel Pipes for his survey of the overwhelming influence of extremists in the American Muslim community. I would offer a minor but significant correction. Mr. Pipes rendered part of the misspelled letter found in the terrorist Abu Maizar’s apartment in 1997 as follows: “Alljeihd [the jihad] for all agssa [ages] movement.” I believe, however, that the movement’s correct name is “Jihad for Al-Aqsa”—that is, a movement against alleged Jewish threats to the security of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

On a broader point, I would suggest that Mr. Pipes has failed to distinguish adequately between Arab Islam in the U.S., which is totally dominated by the extremist mentality, and non-Arab Islam in the U.S. This division has been dramatically illustrated by the varying responses to the U.S.-NATO action in Kosovo. Numerous Arab advocates joined in the chorus of attacks on the intervention, claiming a secret NATO agenda, identifying Serbia with Israel, attempting to suppress Muslim awareness of Israel’s outreach to the Kosovar Albanian refugees, and, in many cases, joining anti-NATO demonstrations. By contrast, Pakistani and Southeast Asian Muslims in America joined their Balkan co-religionists in supporting the basic goals, if not the details, of the intervention and in rushing to assist the victims.

Stephen Schwartz
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco, California



Daniel Pipes writes:

Talip Kuçukcan accuses me of thinking that “Muslims are a single bloc.” Not at all. If he were to look at my article again, he would note this sentence: “It is a fortunate fact that [radical] Muslims do not represent all Muslims in the United States,” followed by two paragraphs discussing moderate Muslims. I am very aware that moderate Muslims tend to get overlooked, and I do what I can to argue on their behalf. As for Turks being different, I agree. Again, Mr. Kuçukcan should look closely at the article, which, after describing the one-sided, Islamist-dominated discussion in the United States, continues: “[I]n startling contrast to countries like Turkey and Egypt, where a lively debate is taking place between moderates and fundamentalists, here, in the land of the free, the moderate majority hardly has a voice.”

I thank Stephen Schwartz for his kind words and accept his suggestion about “Jihad for Al-Aqsa.” His distinction between the politics of Arabic-speakers and non-Arabic-speakers in the United States is an interesting one. A couple of points in response.

  • Arabs are not, in fact, “totally dominated by the extremist mentality.” To cite just a few prominent examples, Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, the leading anti-Islamist figure I quote in my article, is of Lebanese origin, as is Riad Nachef of the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, while the late Saif al-Ashmawy of the Voice of Peace came from Egypt.
  • On the other hand, Iranians and Pakistanis, to take two groups of non-Arabs, are at least as widely conspiracy-minded and as anti-Semitic as, say, Tunisians and Kuwaitis. The only ethnic group that really stands out as different, I say with a nod to Mr. Kuçukcan, is the Turks, who are less suspicious of the United States, more secular, and distinctly more politically moderate than other Muslims.

This said, there is also some truth to Mr. Schwartz’s observation, in that Arabs have disproportionately tended to use violence in the United States. Although several Pakistanis and American black converts to Islam were indicted in the World Trade Center trials and Osama bin Laden prosecutions, the overwhelming majority of those involved were Arab. Further, while Pakistani groups like Jama’at-i Islami are radical, they are distinctly less violent here than are Hezbollah, Hamas, and Egypt’s Jam’at al-Islamiya.


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