Defending An Islamic Benedict Option
Some Muslim families in New York state tried to take an Islamic Benedict Option. It has been fraught with danger. Excerpt:
Deep in the dense woods near the Catskill Mountains, a settlement was started decades ago by Muslim families, many of them African-Americans from New York City, who were seeking to distance themselves from neighborhoods they saw as dangerous and laden with corrosive influences. Holy Islamberg was intended to be a refuge, a serene environment to pray and bring up children.
In the years since, the enclave’s residents have forged relationships with state and local law enforcement, and made connections with their non-Muslim neighbors from nearby towns. They work alongside each other in medical clinics and offices. Their children are teammates in youth football and basketball games.
But residents of Islamberg have found that there is no such thing as a safe haven in the internet age.
Conspiracy theorists and anti-Muslim groups have sketched a false portrayal of the community as a hidden-away den of Islamic extremism. Last week, the police in Greece, N.Y., roughly 200 miles away, arrested four young people who are accused of amassing a stockpile of firearms and homemade bombs with plans to target the community.
The plot was the second major one on Islamberg to be thwarted by the authorities in recent years.
The community has (or had) some ties with Islamic extremists, but these appear to have been negligible:
And an analysis published in 2008 in the CTC Sentinel, a journal published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, concluded that there was no evidence proving Islamberg was part of a covert training operation. Instead, the report said, neither “the presence of weapons (or even arsenals), nor weapons training are particularly unusual phenomena in rural America.”
The right-wing interest reflects “a certain amount of obsession that I don’t see how it’s possibly justified,” William Rosenau, one of the authors of the Sentinel analysis, said last week. “I think the fact that the members are Muslim and almost all African-American is a source of a lot of the anxiety. I think it’s straight up religious and racial fear.”
Major McEvoy, the State Police commander in the region, said the story of Islamberg reminded him of his own: His mother had moved their family from Brooklyn to Binghamton for a change.
“They believe in education,” Major McEvoy said. “They believe in hard work. They believe in raising their children with those goals in mind.”
This is the first time I’m hearing about the Islamberg communities, and I am aware that the Times is not an unbiased source of information. I am open to hearing more critical perspectives about this black Muslim community (but if you’re going to post conspiracy theory garbage, save yourself the trouble, because I’m not going to approve it).
What stands out to me about this story is how easy it is to imagine that thirty years from now, orthodox Christian communities will be treated the same way. Insofar as these intentional Islamic communities are truly peaceful, and not harbingers of violent radicalism, then I believe that orthodox Christians should stand up for them. Can you really blame these people for wanting to raise their children apart from what America has become? I can’t, and I don’t. In fact, unless it emerges that they have credible and meaningful ties to violent Islamic extremists, I want to encourage them.
If you have credible negative information about these folks, let me know, and I’m open to changing my opinion. (For the record, I certainly won’t defend Christian intentional communities that intend violence against others.) If there is no evidence that these people are training Muslim terrorists, then on what grounds do we condemn them? Because they are Muslim, and wish to live apart because they find mainstream society corrupt?
UPDATE: Just wanted to add that my views here are specific to the United States. I do not feel the same way about Europe.
UPDATE.2: For those who are wondering why I have so many caveats about Islamberg in this post, it’s because when I was living and working in Dallas, I had a number of nasty run-ins with local Muslim leaders who wanted to project an image that they were peaceful and civic-minded — that was for public and media consumption — but who in reality educated their community members in radical Islam, e.g., the works of Sayyid Qutb. I know from bitter experience how easily some of these people lie. But I also know from experience that there are good Muslims out there who are not like that.