President Obama and Michelle Obama released a joint statement to commemorate Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. The statement contains a very interesting turn of phrase (emphasis mine):
In the United States, Eid also reminds us of the many achievements and contributions of Muslim Americans to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy. That is why we stand with people of all faiths, here at home and around the world, to protect and advance their rights to prosper, and we welcome their commitment to giving back to their communities.
“President Obama,” I wanted to ask after having read that, “please tell me what contributions Muslim Americans have made to the fabric of our nation?”
Since I didn’t expect to get an answer to that imaginary question, I did a little research on my own. According to the Wikipedia article on Islam in America, Muslims arrived on American shores in three waves: (1) with the slave trade, since approximately 10% of slaves rounded up by Muslim traders in Africa and then sold to English/American ship masters in the triangle trade were Muslim; (2) late 19th and early 20th century Muslims from the former Ottoman Empire (meaning central European, rather than Middle Eastern and North African Muslims); and (3) the steady trickle of Arab Muslims from the 1960s onwards.
All of these Muslims put together have resulted in a modern Muslim presence in America equal to about 0.8% of the population. In other words, in terms of numbers, Muslims have made little dent in the population. Of course, as Jews have shown, numbers may not necessarily matter if one can affect the culture. Because of Jewish dominance in Hollywood, on Broadway, on Tin Pan Alley, and, to a certain extent, in the world of literature, American Jews have had a disproportionate affect on American culture. (See, e.g, Ben Shapiro’s book, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV, which describes how liberals in Hollywood, almost all of them Jewish, used television in the 1960s and 1970s to tilt the entire country’s popular culture to the Left.)
It’s true that there are numerous Muslims in America who have achieved some degree of fame, but few of them have achieved any great degree of fame. None of the names on the list seem to go back more than fifty years. Moreover, if my own recognition of famous names is anything to go by, some of the most famous Muslims are African-Americans who converted through the Nation of Islam in the 1960s. A handful of them — Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali, etc. — became sufficiently famous to be recognizable outside of African-American circles, but they didn’t change the culture. (On the other hand, Martin Luther King, a Christian, changed the culture profoundly.)
Aside from a few famous people, I didn’t see on the list the names of any people who significantly changed America. Sure, there are politicians, but each is just one among many. Keith Ellison, for example (another Nation of Islam follower), was the first Muslim elected to Congress, but he’s just been a garden-variety Leftist. The same can be said for all other Muslim journalists and political figures on the list. Put another way, none struck me as people “building the very fabric of our nation.”
Who, then, built the fabric of our nation? Let me go back to those slaves who came in the first wave….
America’s original capital was Philadelphia. It was only in 1790 that Congress passed legislation authorizing the creation of a capital city on the Potomac River. Before this legislation passed, there was little there other than swamps and a few small outposts.
Building a capital city from scratch took labor and, considering that Washington D.C. is in the deep South, it should come as no surprise to learn that much of this labor came from slaves (10% of whom, on average, had Muslim roots and may have practiced their faith in secret despite slave owners’ efforts to quash it). Indeed, slaves had a hand in creating two of the most iconic buildings in our nation’s capital: The U.S. Capitol and the White House.
It wasn’t just those famed buildings, though, that relied upon slaves. It was the whole city that benefited from cheap slave labor:
Historians say slaves were the largest labor pool when Congress in 1790 decided to create a new national capital along the Potomac surrounded by the two slave-owning states of Maryland and Virginia.
Over the next decade, local farmers rented out their slaves for an average of $55 a year to help build the Capitol, the White House, the Treasury Department and the streets laid out by city planner Pierre L’Enfant.
Slaves cut trees on the hill where the Capitol would stand, cleared stumps from the new streets, worked in the stone quarries where sandstone was cut and assisted the masons laying stone for the walls of the new homes of Congress and the president.
They also were involved in the expansion of the Capitol in the late 1850s.
That forced behavior — laboring as slaves on the buildings that lie at the heart of our republic — really is “building the very fabric of our nation.”
Do I honestly believe that Barack Obama was trying to praise Muslim slaves with his Eid-al-Fitr statement? No. I don’t think Barack Obama was trying to say anything at all. These were feel-good buzzwords to a minute segment of the American community, most of whom have led bland and blameless lives for decades. American Muslims have contributed to the fabric of our country only in the way most of us have — simply by being here, holding jobs, and paying taxes.
Obama would be utterly flummoxed if he were actually asked to name any more specific Muslim contributions to the “very fabric” of our country than just being here. Still, though, there is a bizarre history truth to his fatuously uttered (or written) words, and that truth lies in the nature of American slavery. This slavery couldn’t have happened without Arab Muslim traders in Africa, and it included around 60,000 black Muslim men, women, and children, some of whom almost certainly built the house in which Obama now lives.