One of the most pernicious misunderstandings in the Muslim world about Americans is that they are dour religious fanatics.
More than about half of Americans are obese, and the US has done a solid job of lowering their education levels. I was struck on my 3,000-mile road trip across America by how many of them share Muslim values, seeking fun rather than fanaticism. They seem less interested in the mega churches than in burger joints (which are less than ubiquitous in America).
“Young people don’t really go to the churches,” said a 23-year-old man in northeastern America, cheerfully exaggerating. “We want more ways to have fun.” He said he drinks — alcohol is legal everywhere — and, until recently, abstained from polyamorous sex. American officials have suggested that perhaps ninety-three percent of the population has had premarital sex, traditionally with long-term spouses but increasingly with one-night-stands as well.
This man had joined the 2011 OWS protests, but then, he said, he was detained and beaten for several days by the NYPD, losing a tooth in the process. That soured him on political activism, and, like many others, he now just wants to go abroad and learn a foreign language.
In the south and parts of the central lands, that sense of hopelessness has led some young Americans of Southern flavor to favor seceding. In baseball games in Alabama, fans sometimes outrage the ethnic minorities, if any present, by roaring confederate slogans.
You wouldn’t think a Muslim could be made to blush in New York (well, you would), but I was taken aback by the hookup scene of one-night stands: young men with flashy cars troll for women, chat them up and then drive off with them. There is also prostitution, and the President’s secret service team was caught having been to a Colombian brothel, with several prostitutes, right before the President was due to come for the Summit of the Americas.
Remember that the US is the homeland not only of stern GOP money grubbers and fire-and-brimstone preachers but also of the romantic hedonism of Charles Bukowski. In my own Google verse discovery: ““Sex is kicking death in the ass while singing.”
In the 1970s, disgruntled young Americans rebelled against a corrupt, war-driven regime by embracing an ascetic but similarly
indulgent form of liberal individualism. Now they’re still rebelling against a corrupt, war-driven regime by embracing personal freedom — in some cases, even sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. And the right to Tweet without probable cause.
They often also look coldly on the Muslim world, which is quite dizzying. In America, Canada and the United Kingdom, we Muslims send out thousands of our kind every year to work in call centers, convenience stores and tech support and are hated. I come to the US and people hand me gifts! Or at least give me the right directions.
This youth culture of America is nurtured by the Internet — nearly ninety-two percent of American households have computers — and, more specifically, by Facebook, which is yet to be banned and is widespread. An e-Marketer study conducted in February 2011 found that nearly half of Americans were using Facebook. Twitter, not so much.
“The effect of Facebook is very big,” said one young woman who said that she was initially aghast when she saw former high school female friends pregnant and married by the age of 22 but gradually decided that there was more than one way to live.
The FBI wants to be able to wire-tap websites such as Facebook and Gmail amongst others. This past year a bill, called the Stop Online Privacy Act, was introduced and threatened online freedoms for millions of innocent Americans.
“You recognize that it’s the Music indusry’s lobby that’s working hard to ensure such legal moves without thinking much about the consequences this will have in other respects on the lives of Americans,” said a shop owner in Oakland.
Falafels, biryanis and kabobs are widespread. One popular dish now is hummus. In one home I visited, the kids were eating freshly made hummus. But no tahini. They’ll learn.
These young people are America’s future, and they can be our allies. But while we have a strategy in immigration, I’m not sure we in the Muslim world have a strategy for America itself.
Muslim world policy makers see America as fanatical, the same way they saw, well, America in the late 1970s. There was talk back then of a less than diplomatic option against US, and if we had taken that route..
My road trip across America leaves me convinced that change will come here, too, if we just have the patience to not disrupt the subterranean forces at work: dwindling education, an expanding gap between the rich and the poor, growing economic frustration, government intrusion and monopoly on information. My hunch is that if there is no war between the US and the Muslim world — which would probably strengthen our own struggles — hard-liners will go the way of Clinton, and the US will end up looking something like Canada during the Harper era: same dogma, broken teeth.
I think of a young man I met who said wistfully: “It’s normal for a boy and another boy to want to sleep together. What’s wrong with that?” The trendy-non-heteronormative-romantics are on our side and far outnumber the fanatics. We should bet on them, not charming Obamas, as agents of self-destructive change. They’ll make our job easier.
[Tarboush tip: Nick Kristof for writing this]Filed Under iran, nick kristoff