The Three Lies Michele Bachmann Tells about American Muslims (Saunders)

Doug Saunders writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:

The Three Myths About Muslims That Have Poisoned American Politics

The attacks on two of the most prominent Muslims in American public life last week seemed to have come out of the blue. It appeared as if five Republican Representatives had arbitrarily chosen this moment to lash out at Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Representative Keith Ellison for no reason other than their religion, in a bid to discredit the entire concept of Muslims taking part in national politics and government.

A sequence of letters and public denunciations, led by Rep. Michele Bachman and backed by four other Representatives, accused the two of being somehow indirectly affiliated with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The charges were so devoid of substance that senior Republican leaders and many members of Congress were quick to condemn them as bizarre and inappropriate. Still, even though they came from a marginal corner of Congress (albeit one representing millions of Americans), the language of the attacks was drawn from an increasingly mainstream set of claims about Muslims in the West. The letters from the Representatives argued that Muslims in the U.S. government are part of a wide plot involving numerous ordinary Muslim-Americans to "impose shariah worldwide," to "undermine the U.S. Constitution," and to advocate "that Muslims not integrate into the cultures of non-Muslim countries." For a surprising number of Americans, these phrases represent commonsense thought about the Muslims in their midst.

These myths are strikingly similar to the set of charges that were commonly directed toward Roman Catholic and East European Jewish immigrants between the 1890s and the 1960s – that these groups are disloyal, supportive of violence, unwilling to integrate into Western values, driven by a religion that is actually an ideology of conquest, and poised to swamp our society through high reproduction rates. The people who hold these ideas, then as now, are not simply racists or xenophobes but often liberals who have come to believe – – based on misleading or distorted information – – that religious-minority outsiders are a threat to their freedoms and liberties.

In the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, these ideas came to be applied to Muslims in the West in a sequence of bestselling books, YouTube videos, websites, op-eds and activist campaigns organized by a small circle of anti-immigration authors and activists, increasingly often with funding from conservative foundations. The notion of a "Muslim tide" penetrated the American imagination. The millions of people who bought their books and watched their videos may not have subscribed to the movement’s full idea of an Islamic plot to take over Western civilization through immigration. In many cases they were simply trying to understand the different and sometimes strange-looking newcomers in their midst, and the simultaneous emergence of Islamic terrorism – – but the effect has been to popularize an interlocking set of myths about Muslim immigration.

In my book The Myth of the Muslim Tide, I explain the history of these ideas and trace their emergence in twenty-first century popular and political thought, and provide a detailed, research-based examination of the realities behind them. Luckily, the past five years have seen a number of very large-scale international studies and surveys that have revolutionized our understanding of the beliefs, views, behaviours and loyalties of Muslim immigrants and their offspring. What emerges is a picture of a set of communities undergoing the classic experience of immigration and integration – – with the same difficulties and challenges experienced by poor Catholics and Jews in their time —  but burdened with a set of popular myths that are leading them increasingly to be rejected and marginalized by the wider population.

I have identified three nested groups of myths that together have created a widespread misunderstanding of Muslims in the West and poisoned our political environment.

1. The Myth of Extremism

Core to the “Muslim tide” ideology is the belief that the jihadist terror attacks of the past decade are the result of the immigration of Muslims to the countries of Europe and North America. It has become popular to believe that violent jihad is simply an extension – – or perhaps the essence – – of ordinary Islamic belief. “It’s not merely that there’s a global jihad lurking within this religion,” the popular “Muslim tide” author Mark Steyn wrote in a typical passage, “but that the religion itself is a political project – – and in fact an imperial project.”

Is Islamic extremism simply a more explicit extension of ordinary Islamic belief? Is it cheered, even if not actively supported, by Muslims throughout the West?

Our belief that Western Muslims are cheering terrorism is often based on a few misleading statistics. True, one survey showed that 7 per cent of U.S. Muslims feel that acts of violence against civilian targets are “sometimes justified” and an additional 1 per cent feel they are “often justified.” That’s a chilling figure, until you learn that, in the same survey, 24 per cent of non-Muslim Americans said that such attacks are “sometimes justified” and 6 per cent feel they are “always justified.”

In fact, numerous other studies show that support for violence, death penalties and “honour” killings among Western Muslims is usually similar to, and sometimes lower than, that of the general population. And support for figures such as Osama bin Laden has dwindled to the point of being barely above the levels in the general population.

It’s the same when it comes to support for sharia law (which is simply the Islamic name for religious law, as with the Ten Commandments received by Moses and also used in Jewish and Christian holy law). In the United States, Gallup found that 46 per cent of citizens say they believe scripture should be “a source” of laws, while another 9 per cent feel it should be “the only source” of law – – numbers that don’t differ much between Christians and Muslims – – and other studies show that Muslims in the United States and their community leaders have no measurable desire or ambition to make this reality. In France, where people are more secular, studies show that three-quarters of Muslims are actively opposed to sharia, almost half of them support the ban on headscarves in schools, and their rates of atheism and non-attendance of weekly prayers is about the same as that among Catholics. In other words, Muslims tend to adjust quickly to the level of religious observance around them.

mso-ansi-language:EN-CA’>But what about the terrorists themselves? There have been a number of major studies of their beliefs and motives in recent years, and what is clear is that almost none of them are motivated by religious faith or a desire to impose their beliefs on the world around them. Quite the contrary: it has repeatedly been shown that more religious Muslims are the least inclined to terrorism, and that those drawn to extremism are propelled by political, territorial and very often personal motives unrelated to faith. Not only that, but those Muslims who are living in tight-knit, religious-conservative communities and Islamic “ghettoes” are the least likely to go into political extremism or terrorism: Extremism tends be the preserve or fairly wealthy, educated Muslims who are isolated from other Muslims in relatively well-off neighborhoods. It’s not the “Muslim tide” that is creating extremism, but rather the political beliefs of a few middle-class loners.

Indeed, a large-scale new study conducted by a group of U.S. researchers who examined the Koran passages quoted by 2,000 Islamic terrorists and supporters found no suggestion that any of them want to convert the West to Islam – – rather, their messages are of a nationalistic nature, based on preserving the separation of Islamic and non-Islamic worlds. It’s no coincidence that “Muslim tide” figures such as Thilo Sarrazin in Germany and Christopher Caldwell in the United States express admiration for the “civilizational strength” of Muslim fundamentalist believers: They share the same core belief in independent and divergent civilizations.

2 – The myth of non-integration

Underlying the belief that every Western Muslim is a potential terrorist is the larger idea that Muslim immigrants and their offspring are opposed to Western values and lifestyles and are seeking non-integrated “parallel societies.”

In terms of loyalties, Muslim immigrants express levels of support for their new countries that are similar – – and often higher – – than those of the native-born population.  Yes, almost half of all American Muslims say they feel “Muslim first and American second” and 69% say religion is “very important in their lives.” But that’s almost exactly the same as with American Christians, 46% of whom see themselves as “Christian first and American second” and 70% say religion is very important in their lives.

All data point to Muslim immigrants and their children integrating into their surrounding societies as fast as, and sometimes faster than, the poor Catholics and Jews of the last century. In education, Muslims are leaders: 40% of American Muslims have earned a post-secondary degree, making them the second most educated religious group after Jews (61%) and far ahead of average Americans (29%).

In political beliefs, Muslims differ little: an impressive 62% of American Muslims say that Israel and Palestine can be reconciled, a rate nearly identical to the larger American population (67%). And even on heated issues of gender and sexuality, Muslims are becoming notably integrated: In the U.S., 90% of Muslims say women should be allowed to work outside the home, and 7 our of 10 say there is no difference between male and female politicians – – views little different from those of Americans in general. And 39% of U.S. Muslims (and 41% of those born in America) said in 2009 that homosexuality should be accepted – – lower than the 58% acceptance rate among Americans in general, but considerably higher than the 27% response given by U.S. Muslims four years earlier. In other words, they are falling into the patterns of mainstream American belief at an astonishingly rapid rate.  These are not the patterns of a self-isolating “parallel society,” but of people struggling to become as American as the people around them.

3.  – The myth of population

Wrapped around these images of violence and separatism is a gnawing sense that the Muslims are arriving in droves and will soon outnumber the rest of us. Even people who don’t subscribe to the notion of “stealth sharia” and theological conquest tend to believe that Muslims have inherently larger family sizes and therefore are poised – – perhaps deliberately – – to become majorities in European countries and American states, if not everywhere. Every author of “Muslim tide” literature expresses this idea in more or less dramatic form, and it is probably the reason why this movement has quickly become so popular.

Yet this is the most misleading myth of them all. Muslim family sizes and population growth rates are falling faster than among any other population in the world. Even in the most religious Islamic countries, family sizes are fast falling below the population-growth rate of 2.1 children per family. In Iran, where the average number had 7 children in the 1980s, it has fallen to 1.7 – – lower than in France. In Turkey, it is 2.1 children; in Lebanon, 1.9; in Tunisia, 2.0; in Indonesia, 2.19 and falling fast. Bosnian Muslims, at the heart of so many of the “Eurabia” theories of population takeover,  have 1.23 children per family – – the very lowest rate in Europe.

What happens when they emigrate? Some observers have noted that Muslims have larger families when they immigrate to the West than they did in their home countries, fuelling theories of conquest by reproduction. Yet these are misleading: Because immigrants have most of their children within a few years of arrival, their official fertility rates are skewed unnaturally high. And Muslim immigrants overwhelmingly tend to come from rural regions, leading to higher family sizes than their originating country’s general population.

There have been a number of very large-scale projections of Muslim populations conducted by respected organizations over the past few years. All of them show that the population-growth rate among Muslim immigrants and their offspring is falling extremely fast in every Western country, and is poised to converge with the native-born fertility rates by mid-century.

In the United States, Muslims tend to be very new immigrants – 63% of them were born in another country, and 71% of those immigrants arrived after 1990 – – so they have a comparatively high population-growth rate. In 20 years, there will be 6.3 million Muslims in the United States, making them, at 1.7% of the population, almost as numerous ad Jews and Episcopalians. American Muslims currently have 2.5 children per family, higher than the U.S. average of 2.1. But that rate is falling, so that their population in 20 years is likely to be close to a peak: The children of these immigrants appear to be having about the same number of children that average Americans do.

Declining family sizes are a clear indicator of social, economic and educational integration: When people are adopting a host society’s values, their family sizes converge, and their use of birth control increases. This is demonstrably happening throughout the West.

Whatever problems are plaguing Muslim communities – – and they are numerous – – a secret desire to impose an alien religion upon an uncomprehending West is not one of them. The Muslims in our midst are following a path taken by millions of religious minorities who have arrived, adjusted, struggled against popular myths, and become integral parts of our societies. A simple examination of the facts shows this to be the case. We just have to take the time to look. 


Doug Saunders is the European bureau chief of The Globe and Mail. He is the author of Arrival City, which won or was a finalist for several prizes and was published in eight languages around the world. His most recent book is The Myth of the Muslim Tide (New York: Vintage, 2012)

Posted in Islamophobia | 22 Responses | Print |

22 Responses

    • Sharia is law derived from interpretations of the Quran & the Hadith that are NOT set in stone. The article is incorrect to compare it to the 10 commandments as thou shall nots are more like ‘thou shalt not,however..’in Sharia.

      Primitive, patriarchal societies have a natural leaning towards conservative versions of sharia but the fact is, Islam accomodates the development of sharia to facilitate progress and enlightenment, unfavourable conditions (ill educated societies) have handicapped this movement up till now. As an example, it can be strongly argued, based on the Quran (the final authority on these matters), that sharia should not include any laws that punish homosexuals or apostates or that cutting off hands for thieves is the only method of enforcing justice.
      That some Muslim countries have not evolved to favour these enlightened perspectives is testament to the relative dark ages present day Muslim countries have been festering in for the past 150 years and the type of men who have ruled over these countries. Self inflicted or not (imperial history suggests not), this regressive dynamic will change.It already is and a glimpse into the possibilities can be seen taking shape in the first rounds of the Arab Spring. When Saudi falls, it will be a great day for Muslims and the world as it is singlehandedly responsible for disabling the progress of Muslims wordlwide by exporting the most perverse version of Islam to the third world.

      I really do not understand why Sharia scares people. Egyptian Sharia is different from Malaysian Sharia as is the Saudi version to the Iranian one. British sharia or American sharia can easily be constructed without need to compromise most liberal democratic ideals but the bottom line is most Muslim do not want Sharia, either for themselves or for others.This is an outrageous and moreover, comical, myth.

    • Sorry, but Saunders didn’t say that sharia law is the Islamic name for the Ten Commandments. He said that sharia law is the Islamic name for religious law, just as the ten commandments are the Christian name for religious law. It is amazing how leaving words out of direct quotes can change the meaning of the quote.

  1. Muslims in America ate not the 2d best educated. Ever heatd of Hindus? I am gifting the VHP bc you just said this.

  2. I meant, it is a myth that Muslims want sharia not that they do not.

  3. All this background rumble going on while Romney and his supporters are decrying their belief that Obama doesn’t know how to be an American. I’m afraid I can see where this campaign is heading.

  4. I have a problem with the expression “Islamic terrorist”. Do we say Christian terrorist or Jewish terrorist when it is factually true? They are terrorists who happen to be Muslims.

    Is there cause religious or political? Is this not parallel to what happened when Africa and elsewhere as they threw off the old European colonial powers 50 years ago? In India it was “Hindu extremists”, in Africa it was “Communist revolutionaries”. The Islamic world has long been held down and not always by the West. Indonesia too has its “Islamic problem”.

    Let’s recognize that what is happening in the Middle East is the natural throwing off foreign domination. They are using their most powerful motivating ideology. In this case it is Islam, in the past it was Communism.

    The Communists who did take over are looking a lot less like the Communist bogyman that we grew up fearing. Some Islamic revolutions are already looking less Islamic than we feared.

    If we are smart, when it is over we can have proper cordial relations with these new governments in much the same way that we have good relations with the bogymen of old.

    • History’s echo;

      “It’s not the “Muslim tide” that is creating extremism, but rather the political beliefs of a few middle-class loners.”

      Was it not the comfortable middle class that spawned the Communist insurgencies of the past? Che Guevara was a medical student. Lenin was a law student. Mao attended college and was a school head master.

    • As you say, it’s not just offensive but the grossly incorrect babble of those who refuse to understand. Iraq’s insurgency was a nationalist one against a foreign occupier as was that of the Afghan Mujaheddin again the USSR. When the French were still fighting to retain French Algeria, and all the torture and execution that went with it, they invoked anti-communist mantras. When in 1991 a French-backed and newly independent Algeria fought it’s own uprising, it cited Islamic fundamentalism as the enemy. Yet, by most rational non-pejorative accounts, these struggles were personal and nationalist before they were anything else.

      One thing Doug leaves out here when defusing the myth of extremism is the simple fact that the most suicide bombings are carried out by the Tamil Tigers, a secular Marxist NATIONALIST group.

  5. It´s disgustng how Michelle Bachmann is using these racist steretypes against Muslims and now against the Democratic Party.But the Tea Party Movement was also accuisng Barack Hussein Obama being a Muslim and part of an Islamic plot and coup d´etat against the USA.Nothing new. However: Do Americans believe this racist crap?

    • I recall a theory that people belonging to faith-based groups are especially attentive to their comrades mouthing the same mindless slogans because whatever their personal agendas are, the group cannot win without unity. In other words, dogma and slogans are the members’ way of continually proving to each other their commitment. No one wants to find when the going gets tough he’s been left the lone sucker.

      So “believing” may be a sophisticated form of voluntary self-brainwashing. At some level, no, I don’t believe, but I still want to win and obtain benefits thereby. At any point, it’s easier to mouth the lies than face defeat by my enemies.

      • In case you haven’t run across it, there’s a telling exposition of how that whole “faith-based” thing works, including Ted Hagee’s giant CUFI-AIPAC scam machine: Matt Taibbi’s “The Great Derangement.” Interesting how his well-fleeced flock just blows right past, in their mass-delusion “bible studies,” all the Biblical warnings against False Prophets and pseudo-Messiahs.

        Given the way us humans work, I kind of despair of anything ever getting what I would consider “better.”

  6. Sounds like the literature from the Second Era of the KKK about Catholics aka Papists. For a hoot read Alma Bridwell White’s KKK propaganda. But as it turns out, there are a lot of Catholics today, the Klan was right about that.

    Consider Jews. Are Orthodox Jews integrating into American society? How about Amish? American Indians were integrating until it became profitable to operate Indian casinos. Is there a Chinatown near you? In general the US seems to be fracturing along ethnic lines with South American, Asians, Blacks, Jews, and Whites looking to their own ethnic areas as ideal. There are no true ethic areas in the US as law forbids it so most areas are both class and race divided. My opinion in the current America integration no longer pays off, so fewer people of all strips are doing it. So the fracturing is real and even measurable in my view. I think it is integration that is dying.

    • @GF

      “American Indians were integrating until it became profitable to operate Indian casinos.”

      That isn’t really at all correct: For one thing, profitable casino tribes are a small minority in Indian Country, (450 plus nations) and even then, do more for the surrounding communities then the contrary–I’d argue that that casino tribes tend to integrate their fellow communities rather than be integrated, mostly through good will gestures, but mostly by the example of having an integral ethic of sharing. The relationships of American Indians is really different than the experience of other ethnic communities.

    • America’s immigrant populations are no more fractured now than 100 years ago. Back then, cities had major newspapers in Yiddish or any number of other languages, and theater as well. What is striking to me in Houston is that young people of every ethnicity have assimilated into a stew comprising both corporate materialism and the culture that arose from hip-hop. The differences between young blacks and Mexican-Americans are hard to discern besides the latter being fluently bilingual. A lot of the Asian kids seem to be orbiting that from a greater distance.

      But out in the exurbs, you have an alien landscape of Christian fundamentalist indoctrination, with their own TV, radio, books, schools, and versions of every form of history and even science. I don’t think even the antebellum North and South were this disunited over what constitutes fact.

      That’s the fracturing. And it’s not new. 100 years ago WASP rural America was in a war against the evil immigrant cities. Prohibition and women’s suffrage, ironically, were linked movements attempting to punish immigrants and their behavior. The immigrants were the engine of the new popular culture of the 20th century: mass-market newspapers, nickelodeons, and jazz music. Eventually, they led the victory of progressive politics.

      Difference is, America was on the way up then, and the cities had the upper hand. Now America is descending into senile nostalgia, and old white people are aggregating to offset their dwindling numbers to carry out some great blow against democracy. The robber barons never had it this easy.

  7. If you talk about German Herrenmensch Thilo Sarrazin, I cannot discover any admiration by Sarrazin for Muslims. In his views Muslims are stupid, dumb underdogs with no intelligence. Even worse: Sarrazin says that Muslims genetically have a lower IQ while Jews have a higher one.Sarrazin is a social darwinist with biological racism. He compares Muslims and Germans with horse races–the Muslims being the inferior race. Therefore I would like to know from which source you quoted the statement that Sarrazin is admirng Islamic fundamentalists.

  8. Thilo Sarrazin: “In his views Muslims are stupid, dumb underdogs with no intelligence”, writes Jakobiner.

    If it is true what Sarazin is saying, he is proving himself ignorant & stupid.

    How intelligent was it to slaughter 6 million people by a fellow Catholic Nazi German?

    The only shining place in Europe was Al Andalus under Muslim Islamic rule, while whole Europe was in the Dark Ages.

    Cordoba was the Ornament of the World. It had paved lighted roads, running water, 900 public baths, and 70 public libraries, according to Maria Rosa Menocal. Just one Caliph’s library has more than 400,000 books while the biggest library in all of Europe could hardly had 400.

    As students come to USA for higher education these days, Europe used to come to Al Andalus. Even few popes got education in Islamic institutes of Higher learning in Al Andalus.

  9. If you follow these modern anti-Muslim strands of thought, you’ll find that some of them lead back to Steve Emerson.

  10. It wasn’t just Catholics and Jews who had trouble as immigrants. Remember “No Irish need apply”? We’ve always tended to exclude people who look, speak, or worship differently from us WASPs.

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