CHICAGO - Muslim Americans must meld into U.S. society before suspicion and mistrust lingering since the attacks on New York and Washington isolates them and sparks radicalism in their ranks, a study said on Tuesday.
For the first time since World War Two when the U.S. government rounded up and interred Japanese, many are questioning the loyalty "of a largely unfamiliar and largely immigrant American community," said the report written by a task force of 32 individuals from business, government and academia.
Six years after the September 11 attacks focused attention on them, Muslim Americans remain "largely outside the U.S. mainstream," the report said, even though they are an often well-educated and diverse group with the potential to make important contributions to civic life.
"The Muslim American community lacks strong institutions and recognizable public or political voices to gain regular access to government and media circles," the report's executive summary said.
"Some existing Muslim American institutions have avoided foreign policy issues for fear of drawing unfavorable scrutiny," it added.
While independent studies found little evidence of widespread extremist activity with links to al Qaeda or similar organizations, efforts to counter perceptions to the contrary have not been effective, it said.
THREATEN TO MARGINALIZE MUSLIMS
"Many Americans perceive Muslim Americans as not having fully and readily acknowledged the potential for radicalism within their community," added the report prepared after a year's study under the sponsorship by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Washington's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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"The climate of suspicion and mistrust and the lack of engagement threaten to marginalize and alienate some elements among Muslim Americans to the point that the danger of radicalization becomes a real possibility," it concluded.
Farooq Kathwari, co-chair of the task force, said in an interview that a radical response is always possible, "especially among the young. They are hot blooded and they don't want to be alienated."
"Fortunately in America there is more chance to be integrated," he said, but "a pro-active engagement makes a lot of sense. We need to be extra careful that we don't create a situation that is a self-fulfilling prophecy..."
The Kashmir-born, Brooklyn-raised Kathwari is the president and chief executive officer of furniture maker Ethan Allen Interiors Inc. Others on the task force included former congressman Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group, and former labor secretary Lynn Martin.
Kathwari said the historic pattern of assimilation for immigrants that sees later generations woven into the fabric of society was disrupted for Muslim Americans by September 11.
"This process of integration has to be accelerated," he told Reuters, to counteract both the perception that Muslims are one monolithic force and to ease fears among Muslims, some of whom have become targets of violence.
A recent Pew Research Center poll estimated there are 2.35 million Muslims living in the United States, a tiny fraction of the U.S. population of more than 300 million. Other estimates range as high as 7 million.
That same survey, based on a sample of 1,050 Muslims and released in May, drew a contrasting picture of U.S. Muslims, saying they were largely assimilated, happy with their lives and more moderate than Muslims in other countries.
But the Pew survey did find that 26 percent of younger Muslims believed suicide bombings are often, sometimes or rarely justified.
© Reuters 2007.