It might be tempting to think that our renewed focus on the war on terror is just about protecting our borders and about military initiatives against the Islamic State. That is what it sounds like if one is following the news (and how can one not follow the news?). Talking points:
- Should we accept any more refugees from Syria?
- Should we put “boots on the ground” in Syria?
- Who should we work with in fighting IS?
All of these push us toward thinking we can keep the struggle with terrorism outside our borders, and certainly outside our state (look at all the governors who want Congress to keep Syrian refugees out of their states). Outside of our city, our schools, our neighborhoods.
That’s a fantasy.
The seed ground of radicalization is our own communities. It’s the way we talk, and the way we act, in relation to those who are Muslim, or (sorry, got to be blunt) “look” Muslim or “sound” Muslim.
We’ve all heard it. We’ve all seen it. And, though we may not want to admit it, most of us probably have felt it.
The appeal of the American Dream is that one can work one’s way into a better life, free of financial destitution, free of religious, social, cultural and political repression. Compared to the millions who seek admission to this country to achieve that dream, a tiny fraction simply want to live off of it . . . and an infinitesimally small number come to destroy it.
Our nation’s power globally is based as much on the image of the American Dream as it is our military might. It’s the model we present of what a society can be and the hope that other societies, other countries might someday be like that. That is what supports and sustains moderate political movements and democratic reforms around the globe, much more than the promise (or threat) of our military.
So when leaders in this country, and putative leaders, and ordinary citizens, act to give the lie to the dream, we gut our own capacity to serve as change agents, both at home and abroad.
And the forces of radicalization are watching, and re-tweeting, and promoting every misstep we take, to prove that we are liars, to prove that they are right.
- America cares about freedom? Only if you’re not Muslim.
- America uses its vast resources to ease the suffering of the people of the world? Only if you’re not Muslim.
- America isn’t at war with Islam and Muslims, only those who have perverted that faith tradition for their political purposes. Really? Then why won’t we accept refugees from that very perversion?
I’m not saying these bullet points are true. I’m saying that those are among the messages the forces of radicalization have used, are using and will continue to use to feed the fires of war.
Much more dangerous for our long-term security than the potential for IS terrorists to slip into this country in the trickle of 10,000 Syrian refugees is the fuel we give radicalizers when we treat Muslims like the enemy.
There is no evidence that the Muslim faithful in this country, as a group, pose a serious threat to our national security, any more than there was any evidence after Pearl Harbor that Japanese-Americans posed such a threat. None.
Are there dangerous individuals who are Muslim and who are in this country? Of course there are. And there are Christians who are dangerous.
Are there dangerous cells or small groups brought together, in part, by their particular twisted interpretation of Islam? Of course there are, as there are groups brought together by their twisted interpretation of Christianity.
The point is, the threat comes, not from the faithful of any tradition, but from the perversion of those traditions. Indeed, those who are dangerous are much less united with the brothers and sisters of their faith than they are with hate-mongers across religious traditions and ethnicities. Hate and violence are their religion; everything else is just peeling wallpaper on the façade of their hate.
We can win this war at home . . . as every war must be won.
Find a mosque. Contact them before you stop by (trust me, many Muslim congregations are living in fear in our country right now). Let them know that you are grateful for the good work they do.
Find a neighbor who is Muslim. Stop by and just let them know you are glad they are your neighbor.
And when you hear, see or read hatred and prejudice, stand up to it.
That’s what it means to be an American.
(This blog post has been edited to remove a reference to serial killers and mass murderers that was appropriately criticized by some readers. My apologies.)