Does U.S. bigotry cause Muslim madness

Posted: Aug 16, 2006 12:00 AM
Does U.S. bigotry cause Muslim madness

What’s the matter with the Muslims in our midst?

The arrests in the British bombing plot of some 24 homegrown Jihadists – including at least three recent converts to Islam—suggest a persistent problem that won’t yield to the normal processes of acculturation and assimilation.

Is there some innate element in Islamic identity itself that makes devout believers dysfunctional and dangerous? Or, as suggested by several papers recently presented to the American Psychological Association, are troubled Muslims merely responding to the groundless bigotry of their host societies in the West?

Psychologist Mona Amer of Yale University Medical School studied 611 Arab-American adults and found that they “had much worse mental health than Americans overall.” In particular, the people in her sample showed alarming levels of clinical depression, with about one half of those she studied showing serious symptoms of this disorder, compared to only 20% of a similar group in the general population. In an interview with USA TODAY, Dr. Amer blamed discriminatory attitudes from the public at large for the deep problems of the Arab-American and Muslim communities. “Muslims may have different kinds of names or dress differently and, especially since 9/11, they’re ostracized more,” she said. According to her study, “verbal harassment and discrimination correlate with worse mental health.”

Concluding that prejudice causes these obvious psychological problems, however, violates one of the fundamental principles of social science: correlation does not prove causation. It’s just as reasonable to assume that Muslims who suffer from depression and other disorders would provoke more discrimination and wariness, as it is to conclude that the verbal harassment or social exclusion provokes more mental illness.

Moreover, some the alleged “bigotry” highlighted by USA TODAY actually represents an altogether rational response to recent developments in the war on Islamo-Nazi terror. No one should feel surprised – or disapproving – that some 31% of respondents to a Gallup Poll said they would feel “more nervous flying if a Muslim man was on the plane.” Considering the fact that nearly 100% of deadly airline incidents over the last twenty years have, in fact, involved Muslim men, this hardly constitutes an unreasonable fear. Nor does it seem unforgivably bigoted that 44% of the public thinks that U.S. Muslims are “too extreme in their religious beliefs,” or that 52% don’t see them as “respectful to women.”

Rather than debating the substance of these concerns, apologists for the Islamic community attempt to persuade the nation at large that Muslims constitute an innocent, unfairly targeted group of victims. In May, “The Journal of Muslim Mental Health” began publication, regularly blaming intolerance and misunderstanding for the troubles in Islamic communities. According to USA TODAY, “in surveys of Muslim spiritual leaders to be reported at the psychological association meeting, the imams report a surge in worshippers seeking help for anxiety and stress related to possible discrimination.”

At least the new discussion focuses on the obviously dysfunctional nature of many Muslim communities, even if it avoids the obvious and logical conclusion that these problems actually originate with self-destructive elements in Islamic beliefs, not in intolerant reactions to Islam. For instance, if you argue that Western prejudice against Islam, and insensitive social interactions with non-believers, account for the violent, suicidal and depressed status of so many Muslims, then one must conclude that the faithful “back home” in predominantly Islamic societies would display far fewer of these difficulties than their counterparts in London, Amsterdam, Paris or Dearborn. In fact, all-Muslim societies (Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, Algeria, and many others) remain the most violent, brutal, impoverished and benighted cultures on earth; immigrants from those nightmarish lands do vastly better when they resettle in the West, not worse.

If Western prejudice represents the core problem facing Islamic communities, then why do the two million (or more) Muslims in the United States count as the wealthiest, most successful believers anywhere on earth? Why do the one million Arab citizens of Israel enjoy by far the best standard of living and the highest levels of education (according to UN figures) of any Arabs in the Middle East? Logical analysis suggests that more devout Muslims who wear traditional robes and head coverings fare worse than their assimilated counterparts not because they provoke more prejudice from their neighbors, but because they have isolated themselves more fully in a deeply dysfunctional, even demented, medieval culture.

Consider the case of the recent British converts to Islam who, according to authorities, participated in the terrifying plot to bomb trans-Atlantic airliners. It makes little sense to conclude that in the brief time that they’ve lived as Muslims (in one case, less than six months) that they experienced such intense discrimination that it literally drove them mad. It’s far more plausible to conclude that their embrace of Islam itself facilitated their sick fascination with martyrdom, a sense of grudge, hatred for the society that raised them, and ancient dreams of world conquest.

Of course, none of these arguments can make a case for random cruelty or oppression aimed at the peaceful majority of Muslims, in America and elsewhere, who seek to mind their own business and honor the law of the land. Neither the recent arrests in Britain, nor the psychological papers highlighting epidemic psychiatric problems in the Muslim community, suggest that all Islamic believers display violent tendencies or mental illness. These developments do, however, suggest that it’s hardly irrational for airport security personnel, police officers, prospective employers, or casual acquaintances to display special wariness with those who express fervent commitment to their Islamic faith.

The core problem involves the Koran’s teaching that Mohammed represents the last prophet, that his revelations amount to the ultimate “seal of knowledge,” and that a just, well-ordered world will place his faithful followers in positions of greater power, prosperity and peacefulness than their infidel neighbors. For anyone who takes Islamic teaching seriously, the current state of the world offers a glaring, painful example of cognitive dissonance: the backwardness, poverty, and endemic misery of Muslim societies—particularly compared to the privilege and prosperity of the West—either undermines the validity of the Holy Koran, or proves that evil infidel conspirators have upset the natural, proper, and Godly order of things. In the 1930’s, the passion behind Nazism arose from a burning sense that the German people had been gypped, that the infamous “stab in the back” of the Versailles Treaty had deprived the nation of its rightful position of world leadership. Islamo-Nazis feel an even more galling sense of injustice, oppression and unfairness, since hostile forces have, in the view of the devout, denied them the chance to live out their divine endowment of world dominance.

Unlike the controversial “Chosen People” concept in Judaism (which I discussed in my column last week), the Islamic notion of seizing power and conquest for the believers has never been purely spiritual, and has always featured a practical, political and temporal component. During Mohammed’s own lifetime, his movement spread through ruthless military conquest and within a generation of his death his successors had built a major world empire. Despite anti-Semitic screeds that warn of Jewish plots to achieve international “control,” not even the most fervent religious Zionist has ever called for imposing halakha (Jewish law) on the nations of the world, while hundreds of millions of Muslims openly demand that governments everywhere should adapt sharia (Islamic religious law) as the law of the land.

The best way to respond to aggressive, triumphalist religiosity from the Muslim community isn’t to insist on more tolerance, or even acceptance, of Islamic demands; nor can we hope to counteract the allure of Jihadist ideology with ringing affirmations of easy-going secularism. Given the deep-seated human hunger for connection with a Supreme Being, the nearly universal yearning to draw closer to eternal truth, it’s not possible to beat something (radical Islam) with nothing (secular agnosticism). In this sense, the United States, with our robust movement of Christian revival, counts as far better equipped for the struggle ahead than our European allies where traditional faith of all kinds (except for Islam) has largely collapsed. Even skeptics and non-believers ought to welcome the vigor of Christian evangelism as the most effective counterweight to fundamentalist Islam. If those three British bomb plot suspects who converted to Islam had instead found their way to Pentecostal Christianity, or traditional Catholicism, or the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints, would they ever have considered killing themselves to blow planes out of the sky?

The problem with Muslim communities in the US and Europe isn’t that they face discrimination from their neighbors; it’s that they receive dysfunctional, delusional teaching in too many of their own mosques. And the way to overcome that teaching isn’t to demand more respect from infidel non-believers, but to respond to the Islamic challenge with an energetic assertion of more positive and productive religious alternatives.