Navigating American Individualism
As was stated earlier, Cruse brings to light for us one of the primary underlining social tenants of Americanism, that is to say, individualism. Islam as a religion certainly engages the individual on his or her place in the cosmos as well as other social themes, yet it would a far leap indeed to say that Islam supports individualism, the practice of making the individual the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood. What Cruse has to offer American Muslims is more than debating cosmologies, but rather a very critical and valuable investigation as to how American society works. Specifically speaking, the dynamic between the individual and society, between the group and society, and both of these in relation to the law [specifically the Constitution]. Cruse’s remarks about social imaginations are particularly useful:
On the face of it, this dilemma rests on the fact that America, which idealizes the rights of the individual above everything else, is in reality, a nation dominated by the social power of groups, classes, in-groups and cliques—both ethnic and religious. The individual in America has few rights that are not backed up by the political, economic and social power of one group or another. Hence, the individual Negro has, proportionately, very few rights indeed because his ethnic group [whether or not he actually identifies with it] has very little political, economic or social power [beyond moral grounds] to wield. Thus it can be said that those Negroes, and there are many of them, that have accepted the full essence of the Great American Ideal of individualism are in serious trouble of trying to function in America [Cruse 8].
What Cruse spells out here lines up in perfect harmony with the current dysfunction of American Muslims, who have fallen victim to a number of maladies, many of which are, if not self-inflicted, certainly seem self-perpetuated. Neither indigenous Blackamerican nor immigrant Muslims are free from this current social condition. In their efforts to assimilate, many immigrant Muslims have “idealized” the Great American Idea. While the spirit of this effort may not be blameworthy, its methodology is certainly open for examination. The result of this maneuver has been a schism within the immigrant Muslim community itself, which for the ease of this article, has left one group diving headlong into American culture with no heed for discernment, whilst the other has attempted a Mexican standoff of sorts. One group deems the whole of society and all its practices benign, whilst the other holds everything in American culture to be woefully malign. Neither approach has any chance of bringing to light a balanced practice and approach for American Muslims that would allow them to participate in society, having the power of mind to “see the playing field” and make intelligent choices of where and how to participate without running aground.
What is most crucial to take from this passage is the social reality that Cruse is trying to underpin here. Not dissimilar to the 1960’s Negro, the likelihood of the American Muslim to prosper and grow as an individual in society that in its reality places all power in the political, economic, and social group, is dubious at best. It is crucial that American Muslims come to see the necessity to put aside all small and non-critical arguments and deal with the very real danger and threat at hand; the threat of total erosion or complete irrelevance. If American Muslims are to be successful in striving to lead a life that is both pleasing to God as well as amicable to the general public, it will require the formation of a political, economic, and social clout on the part Muslims. This can only be achieved through cooperation versus dissension. I believe that differences of opinion can withstand this test; this is not a clarion call for uniformity masked as unity. The consequences are fairly clear: Muslims who capitulate to American individualism will either lose that which defines them in any distinct way as Muslim, or they will be branded an outsider, hostile, and socially irrelevant.
Part three to follow shortly. Part 1 is here.