"In Australia and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, the Muslim community is not necessarily known for its comparative wealth or relatively better education. So what makes the American Muslim community so different? Is it that American immigration policy has favoured the educated and affluent from the Muslim world or is there something intrinsic to the American system that has led to this?"
Policy does have quite a bit to do with who gets in and who doesn’t in the U.S.A. Not just immigration policy, H-4 visas and what not, but foreign policy. More than a few Muslims ended up on our shores due to the failures of US foreign policy.
When Iran had it’s lovely little revolution, the US got a whole bunch of the Iranian elite washed up on our shores. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, artists, etc., the cream of the Iranian Crop packed all their troubles in their old kit bag and got the hell out of Dodge (or Isfahan )
This has happened many other times in many other lands. The dissidents, the educated elite leave their oppressive homelands to live free or just to live.
Another possibility for the difference is that the USA has no history of direct colonial rule in Muslim lands. The colonial links are to the UK or France. So because the UK commonwealth started out with more Muslims (mainly from the Subcontinent) it gets more Muslims and a wider variety. (Correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t easier for a commonwealth Muslim to emigrate to other parts of the commonwealth?) So again, a combination of policy and human nature. If your going to leave the motherland you’re going to go where family and friends are. Because of the colonial history, family and friends are most likely to be somewhere in the commonwealth or the UK itself.
Prior to King George W, there was (please note the past tense) the shining city on the hill effect too. The USA was a beacon to intellectuals and free thinkers in the Muslim world. Our respect for the law and strict but fair secularism drew in many from less tolerant lands. But that was before extraordinary rendition and waterboarding and do we really need to go on?
In Europe the old colonialist powers had a totally different policy and agenda. Can you say “guest worker?” can you say “permanent underclass?” Muslims were “invited” to do the grunt work that was “beneath” the Europeans. Forty years on that is what they are STILL doing. In the USA we already had Mexicans for the dirty work, much closer, much cheaper, much easier to get across the borders. No need to get low skilled workers from far afield the Mexicans just literally walked in and showed up for the low skilled jobs.
Another point, again we are looking at policy and tradition. The policy is burned into constitution. In the USA anyone born in our fair country is a citizen. Game. Set. Match. We call these kids “anchor babies.” Time and time again immigrants have made a commitment to assimilation not because of their wants or needs but for their children. Their kids are in American schools, they have American friends and they are speaking American English. The public school system is the huge but stealthy acculturating institution of the American Way of Life. It sucks in Immigrant children and spits out US citizens. It only takes three generations for the “new arrivals” to loose all trace of difference including language. The clock starts ticking as soon as the child is born. The parents are much less likely to be deported because there is now a U.S. citizen involved, read the baby, and they are much more likely to want to stay in the USA. This happy little feedback loop is why we are scratching our heads about what to do with those 20,000,000 “undocumented immigrants.” Almost all of them have children who are US citizens.
So there is a push-me-pull-you with Muslim Immigrants. The low-skilled positions are already filled by people south of the border. Muslims being very thin on the ground in Latin America, not many if any come from that route. High-skill jobs on the other hand are available. Since there are more than enough IT workers and Engineers willing to come over to the USA to undercut US workers wages, they get head-of-the-line privileges. The H-4s get much higher pay than they would get in their homelands, the corporatist get to cut wages even more and the native born get to flip burgers at McDonald’s. Fun for everyone!
As the Immigrants mature, as the generations work there way though the American snake, Muslims will fill in all the rungs in economic ladder. By the time that happens though, more than likely we will be looking at the third generation. As outlined before by the third generation the Immigrants have been totally digested by the American snake. Only the Hummus will be left behind. So by the third generation the Immigrant Muslim will have much more in common with American Converts than with dear old grandma or grandpa. Or, shudder, they may default to the typical religiously indifferent American standard. ( Fear the great Monotheism lite that is the true American way. Fear the Muslim equivalant of Easter / Christmas Christianity)