Happy in the United States

Happy in the United States

August 31st, 2011 in Opinion Times

Though many Muslim Americans say government policies and community attitudes toward them and their faith often bring them unwanted attention, a significant majority still believe in the American dream and way of life. That's a tribute to Muslim Americans' depth of feeling for their homeland, to open hearts and minds of their neighbors and to the generally inclusive nature of U.S. society.

A survey released Tuesday indicates that 82 percent are satisfied with the way things are going in their lives and 79 percent highly rate their communities as good places to live. The survey by the Pew Research Center, perhaps the most thorough ever of the nation's Muslims, is illuminating for several reasons.

Respondents candidly admitted that some aspects of life in the United States is difficult. That's obvious. Escalating government anti-terrorism policies since 9/11 and the concomitant backlash against building mosques and wearing traditional Muslim dress have contributed to an atmosphere that is far from welcoming in many instances.

Just over half -- 52 percent -- of the respondents in the survey, based on telephone interviews conducted in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu from April to July with 1,033 Muslims in the United States, said they or their group had been singled out by the government for terrorist surveillance. More than 40 percent said they had personally been harassed -- cursed or called offensive names by individuals or singled out by law enforcement -- in the last year. Despite such unwanted and unwarranted attention and other forms of harassment, most Muslim Americans remain relatively content with life here.

Indeed, the survey indicates Muslim Americans, a majority of whom are foreign-born, express a willingness and desire to fully embrace American customs rather than live in isolation. They demonstrate that desire in many ways.

They are just as likely as the rest of Americans to seek higher education and to earn a college degree. And in many communities, Muslims are increasingly active participants in civic, economic and social life. That's the tried-and-true road to acceptance that previous generations of immigrants to the United States have followed. American Muslims are in general agreement that they have a far better quality of life here than Muslims who live elsewhere. That, of course, is the reason people of all creeds and nationalities have sought new homes in this country.

That good feeling is reflected in rising approval among American Muslims for U.S. anti-terrorism efforts and in the community's stated abhorrence and condemnation of Islamic extremism and the acts of violence that often accompany it. Indeed, many American Muslims want their local and national leaders to be more vocal in their condemnation of extremists and terrorist acts. Doing so, they believe, would make clear their acceptance of U.S. values and policies and their understandable desire to be just plain Americans rather than Americans with a descriptive word preceding the name.

The survey is not all positive. While a large majority of Muslim Americans feel increasingly comfortable and accepted in the United States, some still do not. There is hope for improvement, though. The fact that so many Muslims in the United States are happy in their country -- despite significant pressure from a variety of sources -- suggests that growing acceptance for U.S. Muslims is not only possible but increasingly likely.