9/11 wrongly lumped a whole group of people with terrorism

Published in The News Tribune, September 9, 2011

As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11,  let’s reflect on a group that may prefer to remain unnoticed.

And let’s notice them.

It’s pretty easy for most of us to associate Islam with terrorism.  While 9/11 is the most obvious cause for this, other events also spring to mind.

But in the spirit of reflection that 9/11 evokes, let’s consider this association.

Two months ago a Norwegian madman went on a horrifying murderous rampage in Norway that will likely linger in his countrymen’s collective consciousness as long as 9/11 does in ours.  Anders Behring Breivik claims to be inspired by his Christian faith.

Two years ago the born-again Christian, Scott Roeder, also inspired by his faith (which came to him via an evangelical TV show) murdered a Kansas abortion doctor.  The list of terrorist acts across the world and throughout history in which the perpetrators have claimed Christianity as their motive goes on.

But I’ll bet almost none of us would take seriously the premise that Christianity provoked Breivik or Roeder’s terrorist acts. When you live in a society surrounded by Christians who are (mostly) normal human beings like yourself, it’s easy to see these two for what they are:  deranged, crazy, psychotic…however we each come to explain their actions.

But Christian?  Surely not.  In fact many of us object to the terms “right-wing Christian fundamentalist” or “born-again Christian” that have been used to describe Breivik and Roeder.

By contrast, most of us probably rely on the news or other media for what we know about Muslims because of the relatively few Muslims among us.  And it isn’t that the media is biased so much as normal life just doesn’t get portrayed or reported.  Normalcy doesn’t sell well.

So what we don’t hear is that Muslims in America by and large lead extremely normal lives, marked by the same assimilation and tendencies we have witnessed in other immigrant groups from which most of us in this country descend.

And assimilate they have:   Muslims are more likely to believe in the American Dream that hard work gets rewarded than are other Americans.  The role that religion plays in their lives is not all that different from the role it plays in the lives of those of Christian or Jewish faith.  And like other Americans, they reject religious extremism.

Most American Muslims were born in other countries, and have come here quite recently.  Like almost all immigrants who have sought our shores, they come seeking economic and educational opportunities, as well as unification with other family members.

And they have been very successful.  In fact, as a group you could say they are thriving.  More than one in ten is employed in engineering and computer professions.  Income among American Muslims matches that among non-Muslims — although the poverty rates among Muslims is noticeably lower than among other Americans.

The other day a former student stopped by my office to say goodbye as he headed to Spokane to pursue two graduate degrees.  Born in Egypt, Mohammed has now lived in the US for six years.  During this time he earned a college degree while working full time at Wells Fargo.

I asked Mohammed if he’d think about returning home after completing his graduate degrees.  He hesitated a second before my question registered.  “Maybe”, he responded, with a warm smile.  “But my family moved here for the opportunity, and I love it here”.  I had obviously misidentified the country that Mohammed considers home.  Like tens of millions before him, Mohammed has chosen our country to be his as well.

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is a good time to reflect not just on that day’s tragedies and the wars that have followed, but also to reflect on beliefs we may hold about people who share the same religion as the perpetrators of 9/11.