A Story of America

A young Muslim recognizes her immigrant community's struggle in

Asma Gull HasanAsma Gull Hasan admits she might not have seen "Gangs of New York" had we not asked her to be part of this year's Oscar series. She left the theater thinking the producers are marketing the movie all wrong: instead of "once upon a time in America," the posters should read "A drama for our times." At age 27, Hasan, the author of "American Muslims," has become one of the country's most recognized Muslim voices, dedicated to dispelling myths and stereotypes about the wildly diverse and quickly expanding Islamic community in the United States.

Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" recreates the infamous Five Points ghetto in lower Manhattan during the Civil War. There, Irish immigrants are forced to battle nativist thugs while being dragged into a war that would free the slaves and, they felt, threaten their economic survival.

What parallels did you find between the Irish immigrants in "Gangs of New York" and Muslim immigrants today?

The movie is very reflective of what's going on today. We even have a war that noone knows why we're fighting, and that we're not sure we want. Not only the war in Iraq, but the war on terror in general. The war on terror is really a war for Islam--I mean, it can be perceived as war against Islam, but it's a war against the terrorists' version of Islam, for the real Islam. As an American I want America to survive and as a Muslim, I want the real Islam to survive.


You also see the same anti-immigrant attitude. The Irish people were trying to escape the famine, just as a lot of Muslim immigrants are fleeing negative situations in their own home countries. They didn't come to stick it to the natives here. The Irish came because they had to eat. Muslims are fleeing political persecution. So they are coming to America not just for the necessities, but for ideological reasons. When Americans say, "You don't belong here and you should go back home," it's very jarring. Muslims' textbook understanding of what America is is upset by that.

Today, of course, the Irish basically have been accepted. It's a very American story. In the same way, the story of Islam in America is not that this ancient religion has come to the West. I don't believe that. It's a story of America. American history is about groups who come here and how they become American, how they remain true their culture and are true to their new American culture.

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