State Department outreach

07 September 2005
Muslims Integrating and Finding Acceptance in American Society
Ihsan Alkhatib discusses U.S., European Muslims in September 7 Internet chat
By Tim ReceveurWashington File Staff Writer
Washington – Ihsan Alkhatib, a Michigan lawyer who is deeply involved in civil rights issues, believes that the U.S. government’s policy of tolerance and acceptance is largely responsible for the successful integration of Arab Americans and Muslims into American society.
These groups are successful economically, with above-average education and income levels -- even though half were born outside the United States, Alkhatib said during an Internet chat September 7.
Alkhatib, who is president of the Detroit chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), pointed out that “anti-discrimination is U.S. government policy. The government actively encourages inclusion. While there is discrimination, it is not widespread and systemic. Discrimination goes against the civic religion of this country.”
The greater Detroit area has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States, led by Lebanese, he said. There are also many Iraqis and Yemenis. Other cities with the large concentrations of Arab Americans include Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.
Alkhatib sees a large contrast between the economic status of Muslims in the United States and Europe.
“In Europe the picture is bleak,” he said. “A significant proportion of European Arabs are Muslims, and they are worse off economically and educationally than the rest of society.”
He said acceptance of Muslims into the larger society is the key to helping to improving their social condition in Europe.
“Europe has to understand that once you open the door for guest workers, human beings come. Acceptance and integration come hand in hand,” Alkhatib said.
“As long as Muslims in Europe are thought of as guests and European countries think of themselves as not immigration countries, there are going to be problems,” he added.
In the United States, he said, there are laws that bar discrimination, “and the emphasis [is] on diversity. Discrimination in employment is very costly for employers in the U.S.”
The scarf/hijab debate is a good example of the differences in American and European integration of Muslims, Alkhatib said.
“Nashala Hearn an 11-year-old sixth-grade student at Ben Franklin Science Academy in Oklahoma was suspended twice for wearing the scarf/hijab. She did what all Americans do when wronged: she sued. The Justice Department joined the suit and accused the Muskogee School District of violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. This is stark contrast to French policy,” he said.
According to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, there is to be no prohibition on the exercise of religion, and “wearing the scarf is an exercise of religion,” he said.

Asked how Muslims can maintain their identity as Muslims in a country so big and changing as the United States, Alkhatib said, “The rule is acceptance of the other. Obeying the law is the benchmark for acceptance. If the Amish and the Lubavitch Jews can thrive in the U.S., Muslims should have no problem.”
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Alkhatib said, “There were a number of acts of bigotry, but far more acts of kindness shown by non-Arab non-Muslim Americans to Muslim and Arab Americans.”
“There were numerous incidents of discrimination against women who wear clothes that identify them as Muslim. A number suffered rude stares and insults. However, that was not the response of 99 percent of the population. Tolerance and acceptance is the policy of the country and is widely accepted as the American way,” he said.
After September 11 “the government sent clear messages that Muslim Americans are Americans and are not to be mistreated. President Bush visited a mosque in the Washington area and said those who want to mistreat Muslim Americans do not represent America.”
Alkhatib added that while every society has some intolerant individuals, “the U.S. public looks down on bigotry, and even bigoted individuals do not wish to be identified as intolerant.”
Detroit was a magnet for many Muslim immigrants because of the employment opportunities in the automobile industry, according to Alkhatib. He said that many Southern Lebanese immigrants who escaped the war in Lebanon also ended up in the Detroit area.
He concluded by saying, “We are at home in the U.S.”
Alkhatib also serves as director of legal services for a nonprofit organization, Life for Relief and Development (see Web site). Currently, Life is helping provide aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. In conjunction with a number of Muslim organizations, Life and its coalition partners pledged $10 million in relief. (See related article.)
ADC is also encouraging donations to relief organizations for the hurricane victims. Details are available on the ADC Web site.
More Web chats are upcoming including:
• Victor Davis Hanson, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, on the spread of freedom (September 21)
• Gary Weaver, American University, on immigrant identity and integration into a multi-cultural society (September 28).
If you want to ask a question or make a comment, please register at iipchat@state.gov. If you already have participated in one of our previous discussions, there is no need to register again. Just use the same user name and password. You may identify yourself by the user name of your choice. We look forward to getting your views and questions.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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