Immigration, Islam and terrorism

Scott Richert, the Executive Editor of Chronicles Magazine, a hard-hitting paleo-conservative journal which published my article on US-Syria relations in its October issue, recently commented on a black Muslim convert named Derrick Shareef, touching upon issues related to terrorism and immigration as they relate to Islam and Muslims in America. I disagreed with several of his assertions, which led to a fruitful discussion - I will highlight bits of it here.

First, Mr. Richert stated:

"I'll wager now that, when the next terrorist attack occurs on American soil, we'll find out that the perpetrators had already arrived—legally—before the end of 2006. Or, like Derrick Shareef, they will be native-born converts to Islam—whose conversion was made easier by the growing Muslim presence in the United States."

I then disputed his logic, because I don't believe "easier" is a relevant factor:

"While no sane person would dispute the obvious reasoning that more Muslims in America will increase the exposure of Islam and therefore its accessibility (as witnessed by the local news broadcast on which you appeared), the fact remains that Muslims have settled in America, and in fact in the Heartland, for over a century.

Isn't it logical to conclude, therefore, that those individuals willing to go to the disturbing lengths of John Walker Lindh or Rockford's own Derrick Shareef, would manage to seek out and contact, within a reasonable driving distance that wouldn't require a passport, a physical presence of 'an ideology such as Islam that provides such a strong motivating force', even if the immigration measures you advocate to curtail the presence of Muslims in America were enacted?"

(Mr. Richert believes that "the only sensible policy to treat adherence to Islam as grounds for an automatic denial of entry to the United States.)

Mr. Richert responded, citing concerns of 1) accessibility and 2) rate of conversion.
"The constant drumbeat by the Bush administration and the media that 'Islam is a religion of peace' has made conversion (or even simply inquiry) much more socially acceptable.

...if the presence of Muslims in America today is helping to drive conversions (as Mr. Ajjan concedes), why wouldn't we expect that increasing numbers of immigrants (and the increasing number of mosques and schools that accompany them) would drive increasing numbers of conversions?

...if American immigration policy treated adherence to Islam as grounds for automatic denial of entry to the United States, wouldn't that be likely to counter the social acceptability of conversion to Islam, and thus decrease the number of converts and inquirers?"
My reply tackled both the accessibility and the rate issues as raised by Mr. Richert:

"In a nation of nearly 300 million – on second thought, to illustrate my point let's count only native-born Americans from European Christian heritage (like John Walker Lindh) and call it 180 million – finding a dozen disaffected individuals looking for an outlet for their frustrations, who convert to Islam and ultimately manifest violent behavior because of that conversion, will not be impeded because of the distance they will have to drive to visit a mosque or any other factor related to the accessibility of Islam in America today.

Basically, in terms of Derrick Shareef-type threats, which I believe should be classified as a separate phenomenon from Mohammad Atta-type threats, "passing fancy" is not the issue. Mr. Richert cites statistics about the dramatic increase in the number of mosques since 1990, however, in terms of accessibility in the past 15 years, there is another factor far, far more important than the number of mosques constructed: the internet. Even the tiniest Islamic terrorist group seems to have a website by which they can broadcast their horrible deeds, an action that could conceivably attract "a dozen" curious people like Derrick Shareef or John Walker Lindh.

Furthermore, Mr. Richert, in 2 contexts, mentions "social acceptability". While I am not an expert on what might make disturbed individuals like Lindh or Shareef wish to kill other people, I would venture to guess that the factors affecting their choice of how to manifest that destructive urge, in this case militant Islam, would not include "social acceptability". In fact, wouldn't a greedy, oil-rich, insert-your-favorite-liberal-cliché-here Republican President telling America that Islam itself is the enemy likely only further motivate misfits like Lindh to sign up for a violent manifestation of jihad?

Fundamentally, the damage that can be done to America's well-being by militant homegrown Muslims does not require a large infrastructure and therefore is not predicated upon the rate of conversions to Islam. So concerning the threat of "a dozen" native-born American converts to Islam acting alone and committing terrorism because of their conversion, the presence of other Muslims in America is not the major issue.

While Mr. Richert's suggested course of action (ending immigration of Muslims) might manage to keep out the likes of Mohammad Atta, he does recognize that protecting Americans from Derrick Shareef, or for that matter the London Subway bombers, is a much more difficult proposition."

The discussion continued from there, I invite you to read the rest of it. While Mr. Richert and his colleagues at Chronicles take positions that may be distasteful to many of my readers (I often disagree with them as well), I encourage everyone to participate in the discussion, either here at Chronicles website, which frequently covers Islamic issues. You will find that the paleo-conservative commentators may adopt hard-line stances, but they do so based upon a strong set of principles, not ignorance or hatred. Engage them.