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Two Moral Obligations of Muslim Immigrants in the United States

By Nader Habibi


Ever since the Second World War millions of people from predominantly Muslim countries have migrated to Europe and North America. They have come to the West with the same hopes and aspiration as other third world immigrants: economic prosperity, political freedom and a better future for their children. If they had any idea that one day, they or their children will be caught in the middle of an international conflict between their host countries and the Muslim world, many of them would have had second thought about immigration. The September 11 attacks, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Madrid and London bombings, the anti-Muslim riots in Australia and more recently the arrest of several Muslim immigrants in Canada, clearly demonstrate the difficult condition of Muslim immigrants in Western countries.


By far the most difficult experience of Muslim immigrants in the West has been the aftermath of Muslim acts of political violence in their countries of residence. Almost no Muslim immigrant community has escaped this experience. These events have had an adverse effect on the public image of Muslim groups. The majority of people in Western countries that have been the targets of terrorist attacks by Muslim groups look at their Muslim minorities with fear and suspicion. Many have doubts about the loyalties of Muslim minorities and fear that some members of these ethnic groups will join terror groups against their host societies. Western governments and political leaders have called on Muslim community leaders to condemn the violent and Jihadist ideologies that inspire the acts of terror.


What are the moral responsibilities of Muslim minorities under these difficult circumstances? Clearly the first and most important duty of these ethnic groups is to condemn terrorism and do whatever they can to prevent any member of their community from engaging in religiously motivated acts of terror against their host country. Indeed loyalty to his new homeland is the duty of any immigrant. Even if an immigrant feels attachment to the culture or well being of the motherland from which he or his parents have emigrated, he can not betray his new homeland because of these attachments. Under the worst circumstance where the immigrant's motherland and host country are engaged in a heated conflict, the immigrant can not betray his new homeland. If he believes that in this conflict his new country of residence is at fault his only moral option is to leave for another country or engage in non-violent political opposition to his host country's policy.


The intellectual and political leaders of Muslim minority groups must educate the members of their community to this moral responsibility. There is no doubt that many Muslims are unhappy about the United States support for Israel in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The U.S. policy toward Iraq is also perceived as unjust by many Muslims. Yet a Muslim living in the United States has a moral obligation to the safety and well being of his new homeland that limits his options for reacting to the U.S. foreign policy.  He cannot engage in acts of terror or espionage on behalf of a foreign country or Islamic Jihadists who are intent on fighting the United States. If his frustration with the U.S. policies is so strong that he feels totally alienated from his new home then his only morally acceptable option is to leave the United States.   




The second moral duty of Muslim minorities is to engage in peaceful and non-violent protest against the unfair aspects of the United States foreign policy and call for an ethical American foreign policy. By far the most troubling aspect of the United States' Middle East policy is its continuous support for Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The U.S. support for Israel has made this occupation possible and this support lies at the root of Muslim anger toward the United States. While the rest of the world is exposed to the images of Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation, the American media offers a pro-Israeli coverage that has resulted in strong public support for Israel. The American Muslims must engage in a non-violent political and public relations campaign on behalf of Palestinian struggle for independence and use every available peaceful venue to call for a fair and balanced U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The United States is the only country that can force Israel to end the occupation. Muslim activism in support of the Palestinian cause can help change the U.S. public opinion and hopefully change U.S. policy. For Muslim campaign to be successful it must choose a moral and defendable position on Arab-Israeli conflict. The only defendable position in this conflict is a two-state solution, which allows for a Palestinian state in Gaza and West Bank (based on 1967 borders) living next to Israel.


To support the Palestinian cause in post-September 11 America is no easy task and those who embark on this path might be accused of anti-Semitism and supporting terrorism. They might face social hostility, violence and even government persecution. Muslim immigrants must dedicate themselves to this cause despite these potential costs. If this non-violent campaign can make a difference in American foreign policy and contribute to the just resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is well worth the effort of Muslim immigrants. As mentioned earlier this conflict has destabilized the entire Middle East and has become an excuse for terrorist attacks against the West. These terror attacks, in turn,  have caused so much hardship for the Muslim immigrant communities. By working to end this occupation the Muslim activists will help end terrorist attacks against the United States that have resulted in a backlash against the their own (Muslim) communities.


Even if this non-violent movement does not succeed in changing the U.S. foreign policy, the immigrants who take part in it will achieve a feeling of dignity and self-respect. Those Muslim immigrants that watch the suffering of Palestinians and keep silent often feel guilty about their inability to help end this occupation. Some even, feel ashamed of their self-censorship and public silence.   By participating in an active non-violent movement in support of a just solution for this conflict, Muslim immigrants can turn these negative emotions into positive action and live more meaningful lives.


Opportunities for non-violent political activism in Muslim immigrant communities, have the added benefit of reducing the susceptibility of younger members of the community to violent groups such as al-Qaeda. By providing a positive and peaceful channel for expression of their opposition to the U.S. foreign policy, an active political movement reduces the frustrations of the youth and channels their energy into productive activism. The non-violent Civil Rights Movement of Dr. Martin Luther King played an important role in ending the institutional racism and discrimination that was inflicted on African Americans for centuries. This movement attracted thousands of frustrated African American youth, who otherwise, might have joined more radical and violent black liberation groups. 


To summarize, two moral burdens fall on the shoulders of Muslim Immigrants in the United States. First, similar to all other American citizens, they must remain loyal to the United States and refrain from any behavior that betrays this loyalty. Second, Muslim Americans have a moral duty to engage in non-violent political activism in support of a just solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Israeli side of this conflict is supported by the Jewish-Americans, who have successfully lobbied the U.S. government to support Israel ever since 1967. By actively supporting the Arab/Palestinian side of this conflict the Muslim-Americans can help create a balance in U.S. foreign policy that could help end this conflict. If Muslim-Americans neglect this obligation they have to watch the suffering and humiliation of Palestinians from distance as they have done in the past four decades.  They will also have to pay a heavy price for the occasional violent reaction of Muslim World to the U.S. foreign policy.


About the author: Nader Habibi is an Iranian economist who received his training in the United States. He currently works as a Middle East economist in an economic consulting firm in the United States. Prior to his current job he taught economics in Iran, Turkey and the United States.   He has published numerous commentaries on Middle Eastern economic and political affairs in various online websites. He is also the author of a 2003 novel about immigrant communities titled "Atul's Quest".

... Payvand News - 7/26/06 ... --

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