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The Land of the Free

Muslims are not under attack in America.

12:00 AM, Oct 1, 2010 • By GARY BAUER
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Perhaps the most basic measure of a country’s character is whether people, when given the chance, flood into the country or risk life and limb to escape from it. By this measure, Muslims are flourishing in America. Meanwhile, though Christianity predates Islam by centuries in the Middle East, intensifying persecution has prompted a mass Christian exodus from that region.

The Land of the Free

The New York Times recently published a piece with the headline, “American Muslims ask, ‘Will we ever belong?’” And Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Ground Zero mosque’s would-be imam, defended the mosque on ABC’s “This Week,” saying, “My major concern with moving it is that the headline in the Muslim world will be, ‘Islam is under attack in America.’” 

If America were such an unwelcoming country for Muslims, it stands to reason that the number of American Muslims would be decreasing, not increasing. But the opposite is true. Although the U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religion, both the Census and the Department of Homeland Security estimate that tens of thousands of immigrants from Muslim countries pour into the United States every year. 

The years of highest immigration from the Middle East, moreover, have occurred since 9/11. Nearly 96,000 people from Muslim countries became legal permanent U.S. residents in 2005, the highest number in any year in the previous twenty years.

Some immigrants from the Middle East are Christians escaping persecution (about which more later). But the vast majority are Muslims. Plausible estimates of the number of Muslims in America vary widely, from 1.3 million to five million. But there is a consensus that Muslim Americans’ share of the population is climbing.

According to a large survey by the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), the number of people in America who described themselves as Muslims more than doubled between 1990 and 2008, from 527,000 to 1.35 million.

By other measures, too, American Muslims are thriving. According to the ARIS study, 35 percent of American Muslims age 25 years and older have college degrees, a share equal to or higher than that of any other religion except Judaism and “Eastern religions.” And a Cornell University study found that Muslim Americans generally earn more money than Americans of other religions.

The deeper irony in the ongoing debates over religious liberty and freedom of speech in America is that these debates wouldn’t even be allowed to take place across most of the Muslim world.

A December 2009 Pew Forum survey on religious freedom found that 70 percent of the world lives in areas of high restrictions of religion. Many of those affected are Christians living in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of religion is defined as the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. No matter how it is defined, religious freedom is not a right enjoyed by most of the approximately 12 to 17 million Christians in the Middle East.

Consider Iraq. As America’s “combat mission” concludes there, life has improved for many Iraqis. Yet conditions have deteriorated for Iraq’s Christians, mostly Chaldean Catholics and Protestant Assyrians. They have seen their churches destroyed and their leaders kidnapped, murdered, or both.

Hundreds of Iraqi Christians have been killed because of their faith over the last seven years. They have been forced to pay higher taxes than Muslims and been barred from voting. Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk Emil Nona recently said, “We are seeing another, the umpteenth, attack against Christians. The violence continues without relief.”

The Iraqi constitution, ratified in 2005, institutionalizes discrimination against non-Muslims. It states, “Islam is the official religion of the state and is a foundation source of legislation” and that “No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.”

Conditions have worsened so much that the U.S. Congress recently passed a resolution calling on the Iraqi government to investigate and report on abuses against Iraq’s minority communities, including its Christians.

Though Iraq contains the most graphic example of Christian persecution, it is by no means the only one. Consider some recent examples:

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