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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Muslims in the United States

 

Event Recap

Since 2001 Boston College political science professor Peter Skerry has studied the social, political and cultural impact on the American Muslim community of the 9/11 terror attacks. On January 30 the Boisi Center invited him to speak about his research, which will be published in a forthcoming book.

Popular media culture today tends to focus on the international influences on the American Muslim community, but Skerry is primarily interested in domestic considerations: how is the community affected by American politics, society and culture—and conversely, how does it affect American politics, society and culture? This relationship can be understood in two ways, he argued, which have important implications for the Muslim community’s assimilation into American culture. Understood as a racial minority, American Muslims (who are overwhelmingly non-white) become part of this country’s long history of racial discrimination. This would provide legitimacy for them (and their supporters) to draw upon the principles and practices of the 1960s civil rights movement against racial discrimination. Understood as a religious minority, however, American Muslims could look to American Jews and Catholics for common cause, since both of those communities have largely overcome their initial historical experience as targets of severe discrimination in the U.S. Skerry found the parallel with Catholics to be the most compelling. Indeed, like Catholics, American Muslims do not fit neatly into either liberal or conservative political categories in this country. While American Muslims have generally welcomed liberal/progressive efforts to protect civil rights and religious freedom, they tend to have deep reservations about the liberal social agenda. The political loyalties of this important group are thus up for grabs in a critical election year.