A large hand, that of an adult’s, gripped my shoulder, shaking me. My head darted up. I had been asleep, in my sleeping bag, in a tent somewhere in the mountains of western North Carolina. “Your turn to guard,” I was told, as the man waved a flashlight before my face.
Our mosque in Raleigh, North Carolina, had organized a camping trip for the young Muslim boys during spring break. The men who took it upon themselves to lead the young Muslims of our community all hailed from the Middle East. I was excited to go, but that was before the trip.
I slithered out of my sleeping bag, taking the flashlight. The man led me to the edge of the campground, and gave me specific instructions: I was not to let anyone enter the campground unless he would say a certain passphrase. And then my instructor abandoned me there. Daybreak was still some hours away. I turned the flashlight on, watching the tree branches sway in the cool brisk air.
“This is stupid,” I thought to myself. The grown up men had been routinely shouting at us kids the whole weekend. When we went hiking, they had us shout and repeat words that sounded like those of military cadences, as though they were drill instructors. One of my friends, the step-son of one of the organizers, had partially left the tent open during the previous night when it had rained, so that it got partially flooded. One of the instructors (a Sunday school teacher of mine with a fierce temper) had struck my friend for this, right in front of me. “Who are we at war with anyway?” I wondered to myself while guarding the campground from imaginary enemies.
After some time had elapsed, my watch shift was over. Another young Muslim had been woken up to relieve me of my duties. No phantom enemies had overrun the camp during my watch.
When the camping trip was coming to a close, one of the instructors thoughtfully explained to me and my peers that yes, they may have been strict, but that “this is how they treat you in the army.” To these men, piety meant obedience, and obedience to them. I vowed never to go on a camping trip with this group again, and I never did.
I was ten years old at the time (in the early 1990’s), and it would be some years before I would wonder to myself: just what were our instructors trying to indoctrinate us with?
Our youth leaders at the time were men who had immigrated to the United States, mostly during the 1970’s. Several of them, and a fair number of my peers, believed that it was the destiny of our nation, and of all nations, to fall, in one way or another, under the banner of Islam. It was quite common for some of them display hostility toward the nation that had adopted them, as though being a good Muslim and a loyal American were mutually exclusive, that I sometimes wondered to myself: “then why did they even move here?”
It would be some years until I realized such men may have been Trojan Horses.
The last time I went to our mosque in Raleigh was in 2005, during a Friday prayer service, when a guest-speaker complained in the khutba (sermon) that the American government was preventing young American Muslims from serving their duty of jihad in Iraq. Sedition was crossing a line. I ceased to identify myself as a Muslim in 2006, having subscribed to the notion that all religions were superstitious and toxic. At the time I never imagined that in a short while I would be baptized as a Christian, or that some years after that I would be confirmed in the Catholic Church. Over the years, figuring out just what attitudes to hold about the faith that I was raised in has been a personal challenge. How much wariness does wisdom call for? At what point does warranted wariness turn into unwarranted enmity? How can a charitable attitude be maintained on my part? What, if anything, is God calling me to do amid all of this? These are questions that I have had to grapple with in my own heart, and questions I continue to grapple with to this very day.
From my own memory, I can easily cite living examples of immigrant Muslims, of the sons and daughters of immigrant Muslims, or of convert Muslims, who actively contribute as citizens to our country, who wish to live their lives peacefully alongside their fellow Americans. I am related to many such Muslims, and also count many such Muslims as family-friends. A disproportionate number of Muslims serve as physicians in the United States. I am proud to say that a few Muslim relatives of mine have served in our armed forces and in law enforcement. Some are practicing Muslim, and some are simply culturally Muslim. To presume that all, or that even most, American Muslims are hostile to the United States is far off the mark.
From my own memory, I can easily cite living examples of American Muslims, whether immigrants, the children of immigrants, or converts, who have exhibited animosity toward our country, who view his or her kufar neighbors as sub-human; hopelessly depraved and destined for hell. And in the past, I have encountered such Muslims enough times that I highly doubt that such attitudes are held by a minority of Muslims so miniscule as to be practically insignificant. A “miniscule minority” insisted upon by advocates of political correctness are merely those people who would go so far as to actually commit acts of violence. Such people are, in fact, drawn from a much larger pool of men and women who have been conditioned to blame the West (and to especially blame Jews) for any and all of the failures of the Muslim World, and very often hold apocalyptic visions of Islam’s final victory (during which Jesus will return and admonish those who preached that he was the Son of God) prior to the Day of Judgment. And what many such Muslims would say in the company of non-Muslims can often be miles apart from what they may speak when surrounded only by fellow Muslims. Any politically correct insistence that only a “very tiny fraction” harbor such views is naïve, and can even be dangerously naïve.
From time to time, I have likewise spoken with well-meaning, and oftentimes Christian, friends who appear rather baffled at how little sympathy I have for political correctness. On several occasions I have been assured by such men and women that the violence we read so much about today has nothing to do with real Islam, that Islam is, in fact, thoroughly a religion of peace. But I am of the suspicion that most such friends know very little, if anything at all, of the biographies of Muhammad and the early Caliphs, whose careers were steeped in civil war (the Sunni-Shia divide remains very much alive today) and in wars of conquest. I am likewise of the suspicion that even if I were to ask such a well-meaning friend questions about the basics of Islam such as “what are the Five Pillars?” or “what event marks the beginning of the Islamic calander?” or “at what five times of the day are Muslims supposed to pray?” that I would be unable to get an answer, at least not without help from Wikipedia. Several such friends may be eager to remind us that extremism can be observed among followers in every religion, which is true, yet they would conveniently overlook that the rate at which followers adhere to problematic interpretations is significantly elevated in one of the major religions, so as not to appear “Islamophobic.” My experience has convinced me that notions such as “all religions are equal” are really just lazy answers. They would overlook that even today, in an era that we are accustomed to believing is more humane and reasonable than any in which our ancestors lived, Christians are being actively persecuted, and even slaughtered, throughout the Muslim World in alarming numbers, enduring trials that Muslims living within the borders of Christendom never have to worry about, trials that many Christians here would have trouble imagining. Eventually, politically correct sentiments expose themselves for what they really are: kind (and oftentimes cowardly) sentiments that are fairly easy to hold for those who live within the relative safety of Christendom.
There are indeed hadiths (sayings of Muhammad) and verses of the Quran that do call for peace and goodwill, as there are indeed hadiths and verses that call for war. There were times in Muhammad’s life during which it was expedient for him to be a peacemaker, and there were likewise times in his life when it was expedient for him to embrace the role of warlord. Along with plenty of people, his life and his legacy are complicated; he was only human, after all. The mystical tradition of Sufism often turns its focus upon the more moderate hadiths and verses, that jihad is often interpreted as an inner struggle. Advocates of terrorism often turn their focus upon those words that call for conquest, that jihad is interpreted as an external struggle. Both interpret the scriptures correctly; it is simply a matter of which scriptures they would choose to focus upon. I would say from experience that the spiritual discipline of the average Muslim, who is called to pray five times a day and fast during the month of Ramadan, floors that of the average Christian. I would also say that perceiving a wildly successful warlord as the “greatest example of how to live” yields wildly different outcomes, and typically in a less than preferable direction, on a civilization, or for an individual, than perceiving a Man who was killed at the hands of worldly authority (but Whom death could not overcome) as such, and that such differing outcomes become more prominent over the course of time; that natural and supernatural faith bear different fruits. The early success of Islam, and the absorption of the conquered cultures, was the catalyst for the rise of a very impressive civilization. Being enamored by “the good old days” of the Sahabah has done much to lead to the current (and at this point, several centuries old) stagnation of the Muslim World, and has led to interpretations (such as Wahabbism/Salafism) that inspire so much violence today, that Islam’s meteoric worldly rise can just as easily be interpreted as a curse rather than a blessing. It was the advent of Islam that largely put an end to the barbaric practice of female infanticide in pagan Arabia, that to this day abortion is not a matter up for public debate in much of the Muslim World as it is here in the West. It is the entrenched influence of Sharia Law, drawn from the hadiths and the Quran, that keeps alive many 7th Century Arab practices throughout the Muslim World, such as polygamy, cousin-marriage, draconian penal codes that include amputation and decapitation, and apostasy and blasphemy laws. Islam has introduced monotheism, the Biblical prophets, and the Virgin Mary to many people, in many parts of the world. That same monotheism is simplified that it denies the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and denies His saving Death on the Cross. Many Muslims who live in the West have no qualms with assimilating. Many Muslims who live in the West live as Trojan Horses.
There simply are no simple answers.
The Supreme Court has made plenty of news this past June. On June 4, the Justices voted 7-2 to uphold the free speech rights of Jack Phillips, and very rightfully so. On June 27, the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy was announced, potentially, and hopefully, tipping the balance in favor of a more conservative (i.e. less prone to judicial activism) court, should the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh pass through Congress. And on June 26, the Supreme Court narrowly voted to uphold Executive Order #13769, President Trump‘s infamous travel ban, in a 5-4 decision.
All of these tidbits of news come with their own controversies. I, for one, am of the belief that one of chief reasons that Jack Phillips’ case even made its way to the Supreme Court was the abysmal ruling of the Obergefell v. Hodges case in 2015, an instance of judicial activism (in the name of a “Living Constitution”) in which the Judicial branch once again (much like in Roe v. Wade) stepped out of its rightful bounds and into the domains of the Legislative branch, in which the interpretation of the 14th Amendment (concerning equality) was stretched so much as to disregard the 10th Amendment (concerning the discretion of state governments), and in which Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion was sweating with bleeding-heart sentimentality at the cost of reason. Chief Justice John Roberts himself explained in the dissenting opinion that that particular case would open the door for many future cases, ones that would be otherwise unnecessary, to appear before our highest court. I, for one, am pleased that a man quoted as saying that “a judge must interpret the law, not make it” has been nominated to replace Justice Kennedy, but also believe that a conservative court, which could always change in a few years time, may not be going far enough to correct a cardinal issue: that an amendment to limit the Judicial branch’s ability to legislate may be a necessary addition to the Bill of Rights. And for as fashionable as it has become to label our president as a “fascist,” a court that is more willing to honor and preserve the proper domains of state governments, and less willing to take it upon itself to concentrate power and decision-making into the hands of the federal government, is actually an important step in a direction that moves away from fascism.
These are asides. It is on the travel ban, and the June 26 ruling, that I would like to focus on.
Anyone with just a modest knowledge of Executive Order #13769 understands that it was controversial from the get-go. There is a strong chance that a seasoned politician, if a seasoned politician had been elected president, would never have had the courage, or perhaps audacity is the better word, to sign such an order. It was also a moment when I, a former Muslim, gained a fair amount of respect for President Trump; regardless of how one feels about him, he is actually willing to do what far too many politicians are far too timid to do: show a little backbone.
My biggest complaint about the travel ban at the time was that Saudi Arabia, the country where Wahabbism/Salafism has been official doctrine for decades, where it is strictly illegal to practice any religion besides Islam, whose royal family has exacerbated Syria’s refugee crisis by supporting the (largely terrorist) opposition, and where fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were born and brainwashed, was excluded from the list. My greatest, albeit distant, hope is that such a measure would compel moderate Muslims around the world to take note and to go on to ask: “Why?” If there are going to be favorable reforms in the Muslim World sometime in the near future, it is necessary for a critical number of moderate Muslims to recognize the urgency for reforms, the catalyst for which could be asking “why?” Changes do not just happen spontaneously.
It was not a particularly “nice” order to sign, as any advocate of political correctness would point out. But as thrilling as it would be to live in a world where no one ever gets their feelings hurt, always being “nice” is not apt for leaders in this imperfect world that we share.
In the eyes of many, the travel ban was going to an extreme. And from the other side of the Atlantic we can see another extreme in immigration policy: of having allowed Muslim immigrants to flood in, and in numbers far too great to realistically be capable of vetting out those who would pose a threat to security.
Too many of our politically correct friends exhibit street-smarts on par with the book-smarts of Cheech and Chong. The belief that multiculturalism is always a benign force is an illusion. A culture is far more than some museum piece to gaze at, more than the clothes a person wears, and more than the food a person eats. Culture (and subculture as well) is also a set of beliefs that people live their lives by. Our cultures affects our work ethic, our attitudes, the spoken and unspoken laws that we abide by. Culture matters. No two cultures are the same. Most cultures can indeed be peaceably transplanted in another host country. But some cultures will assert their own dominance, in any way possible, in a host country. This is something important to consider, especially when so many of our fellow citizens share utopian fantasies of every Western city becoming a United Nations. This is something many leaders in Europe have failed to consider.
I have no doubt that many of the Muslim immigrants in Europe are doing what they can to assimilate, to positively contribute to the culture that has welcomed them. Such men and women deserve citizenship, should they desire it. I have no doubt that plenty of the immigrants are genuine refugees; the Middle East is an unpleasant neighborhood. There have also been scattered reports of a dramatic rise in baptisms in several European churches: of Muslim immigrants who are converting to Christianity. Perhaps the Church will find new vitality in Europe from a most unexpected source. I can even very much sympathize with concerns shared by many Muslims, and likewise many Christians, about Western culture, particularly regarding sexual depravity and relativism. Western culture, just like any other culture, is not wanting for flaws.
What I refuse to sympathize with is a disregard for the Civil or Common Laws that have been developed throughout Europe over many centuries. There have been scattered reports of a sharp rise in violent crime in countries such as Sweden (though the Swedish government has thus far been squeamish about recording demographic data on the perpetrators), of a surge in sexual assaults (as Cologne highlighted) in countries such as Germany, and reports of highly problematic “no-go” zones in cities throughout Europe. Worst of all, there have already been perpetrators of terrorist attacks, such as Anis Amri and Rakhmot Akilov who entered into Europe posing as asylum seekers (although most Muslim terrorists in Europe, at least thus far, were already citizens). No nation has the capacity to take in an unlimited number of immigrants, much less ones who are hostile toward that nation’s values.
There was already plenty of readily-available data to suggest that allowing a million refugees to pour in would prove to be problematic. For several decades, ghetto areas in cities such as Paris, and throughout Europe, have indicated that, at least as a whole, Muslims have much greater difficulty assimilating in a non-Muslim host country than other migrant groups. For several decades Muslims have also been overrepresented on the welfare rolls in countries such as the United Kingdom and France. But still, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (perhaps in her desire to distance the German image from a past era) insisted on being “nice.” She may be very hated in the near future for it. Is it the case that in her determination not to appear judgmental, she forgot to discern?
The difference in birth rates among Muslims (who, for the most part, still believe that having children is worthwhile) and among native Europeans (many of whom have been conditioned to view their children as a drain on resources) suggest that a number of significant demographic shifts are in the mail. The prevalence of ideas akin to the theories of Malthus may have taken their toll upon Europe, that a reckless relaxing of immigration policy has become expedient for an aging population that has embraced ideas tantamount to the demographic suicide of a civilization. Even though, materially speaking, the Muslim World has been so outpaced by the West that it has not had a realistic prospect of conquering its neighboring civilization since John Sobieski’s daring countercharge at the gates of Vienna, that was on September 11, 1683, an increasingly secular Europe may have unwittingly handed a very new tactic to any Trojan Horses who would dream of the continent’s conquest: to just wait a little while for Europe to forfeit her own future. Europe has done much more, even if it was done passively, to weaken Europe than any outside force. It may be several decades until we finally see how this situation stabilizes.
All of this has been cause for concern for many native Europeans. Throughout the continent, we are now witnessing a political backlash: the ascent of right-wing parties, such as Holland’s Party of Freedom and France’s National Front, into the mainstream. The rise of such leaders may spell the end (at least politically) of the European Union. As concerning as the rise of nationalist parties may be in the eyes of many, having some sort of political vent for these frustrations may be very necessary, even if it is rather ugly, to prevent people from resorting to riots on the streets.
Still, there is little that a nationalist party can do in the long run to preserve their old cultures in the face of these pending demographic shifts, at least not without resorting to very dubious means. As the Muslim voting bloc becomes a larger share in the nations of Europe, gradual changes in the laws are likewise very plausible. Future generations of native Europeans may live in countries that in many ways would be unrecognizable to the ones their ancestors once knew, when what began with bans on vices and evils such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and red-light districts eventually led to it becoming rather difficult to get ahold of such fine things as beer and bacon, which eventually turned into an erosion of free speech when it became illegal to criticize Muhammad in public. If such a future is in Europe’s cards, our own nation may be on the receiving end of a future migrant wave (and also a brain drain) in a few decades: of Europeans who feel they have lost their countries.
I, for one, am convinced that it would be far healthier for Europeans, and also healthier for immigrants living in Europe, if Europeans would remember their spiritual heritage, the Church that for many centuries has been the health and sanity of the continent, rather than to go about looking for the states to function as saviors by embracing nationalist parties. At this point, irreligion has proven itself to be more toxic for a civilization than any religion. But if many millions are determined not to, little can be done. The Faith cannot be forced and still properly be called faith. Bad ideas often have to run their courses, and usually over the course of many years, until their consequences become common knowledge. It may be that, in stubbornness, the situation will have to get worse before it will get any better. God alone knows what the future holds.
Immigration has historically done very much to build, and to positively impact, our own nation. Immigration, in fact, continues to build and renew our nation to this very day. We are Americans, not because of the blood running through our veins, but because of the ideals that we share.
In a previous era, it would not have been considered inappropriate to collect data on how immigrants from various countries performed in their host society: economically, educationally, and socially. But such a practice would be considered taboo today. Ironically, political correctness, in an effort to “humanize” all immigrants has also done so much to abstract all immigrants, that expressing wariness of people pouring in from one country is somehow considered a rejection of all immigrants.
Before determining any immigration policy, it is perfectly fair to raise such questions as: Who wants to be an American? Who just wants their turf on American soil?
But we do not yet have a reliable method of answering such questions. Our immigration policies must, as a result, rely on much guesswork. Shall we be more liberal in our policies? Or shall we be more cautious?
Perhaps there is no completely “right” answer, nor a completely “wrong” answer.
It is not “wrong” to acknowledge when a particular culture would be incompatible with a host culture, just as it is not “wrong” to for a boyfriend and a girlfriend to acknowledge when they are not compatible. A person can say “it’s just not a good fit” without being hateful, or without casting any villains. It may be hurtful to one or both parties at first, but it may in the long run prove itself to be the opposite of cruelty.
There simply are no simple answers.
As critical as some of my previous words concerning Chancellor Merkel may have been, I find no fault in a person’s willingness to welcome others, most especially others who are in need. What I have found tremendous fault in was the recklessness of her policies; of opening the floodgates so that Trojan Horses cannot be vetted out, and with a mountain of readily-available data to warn her of potentially destabilizing effects. But she can rest assured that in the future, no matter what else anyone will say of her, no one will accuse her of being racist.
Welcoming a person into one’s home is indeed an expression of love. The instinct to protect is, likewise, an expression of love.
I likewise find no fault in President Trump’s cautiousness when he signed Executive Order #13769. The recent German model has shown all of us that there exists plenty of reason for him to exercise caution. To say even this much would upset millions of my fellow Americans. But we must face it: our president can sneeze, and his detractors will take to the streets in protest, and they might even claim that the Russians put him up to it. The oath which he swore was to protect American citizens, not the citizens of other countries. The experiences of a ten-year-old are enough to teach that there are indeed Trojan Horses who ought to be kept out.
The duty of the Supreme Court was not to determine whether Executive Order #13769 was “nice,” but to determine whether it was illegal. It was, in fact, legal. The order may have been unpleasant, just as there are truths that are unpleasant, but it was still legal. And our highest court did, at least in this particular case, detach itself (at least enough) from sentimentality, as it is supposed to do.
How much wariness does wisdom call for? At what point does warranted wariness turn into unwarranted enmity? How can a charitable attitude be maintained?
Wisdom is a balancing act.