Of the few Middle Eastern students studying at American colleges and universities who returned to their home countries after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many have persuaded their families that they are perfectly safe in the U.S. and have returned to school here. That Muslim students feel safe here -- particularly in light of concerns that Americans would retaliate against them -- should be a reminder to those foreign interests who would portray the United States as hostile to Islam. America remains the land of opportunity to all -- regardless of their religion, race, sex or national origin. The same cannot be said for many of the nations those students have come from.
Increasingly, the United States has been the academic destination of choice for students from all over the world. U.S. Department of Education statistics show more than 500,000 international students enrolled in American colleges and universities. In the 1999-2000 academic year, the most recent for which data is available, 4,525 came from the Muslim nations of North Africa; 6,100 were from Pakistan; 11,300 from Indonesia; and 31,659 from Muslin states in the Middle East. There are probably many more Muslim students from nations where Islam is not the dominant religion.
All told then, 53,584 students have come to the United States from Islamic nations -- more than 10 percent of the international students in this country, more even than Western Europe's total of 52,754 students.
Excellent education: The "great Satan" may make wonderful propaganda for rabble-rousing, but thousands of Muslim families who have wanted their children to receive an excellent education have chosen American institutions.
And as well as that excellent education, international students are also learning what life in the United States is really like -- information they should share with friends and family back home.
Do their parents know that Muslim students have the freedom to worship as they choose -- a courtesy that would not be extended in many of their home nations to visiting Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist students? At Youngstown State University -- as at many U.S. colleges and universities -- the Muslim Student Association provides social and religious activities, some in conjunction with the community's two principal mosques.
The freedom of American society is manifested in other ways as well. Women students from Saudi Arabia, for example, could wear the all encompassing abaya, if they chose. But it is just as likely that freed from the oppression at home, some Saudi female students can be seen in jeans and a casual shirt, the same as any other American student. The choice is theirs, not that of the religious police.
But tha t may be what fundamentalists fear most: that given the opportunity to think for themselves free from coercion and threats of bodily harm, most people would embrace freedom and look for ways that they can follow the tenets of their religion without sacrificing their basic human rights.