I heard Donald Trump’s comments about banning Muslims from entering the United States “until our representatives can figure out what is going on” as a shameful overreaction, collectively punishing the many for the sins of the few. Trump should know that we’re aware of what is going on. There are terrorist attacks from people with a radically different worldview than we have, a desire to create a new Islamic Caliphate. Unfortunately, knowing that there are radical Muslims who seek to harm non-Muslims and those with western values will not make us able to stop each and every attack. We can work on doing a better job of monitoring those with suspicious loyalties but this is different than barring an entire religion from entering a country.
What disturbs me is how many people I have encountered who share Trump’s sentiments, believing that all Muslims are radical and that American Muslims in an ideal world would overthrow our western democracy and institute a country governed by Sharia law. The belief that all Muslims desire the creation of an Islamic Caliphate is simply not true. I have met so many moderate Muslims while working at the Inner City Muslim Action Network in Chicago, at the 92nd Street Mosque in Manhattan and through being in dialogue with the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. These organizations have issued statements decrying Muslim terrorist attacks, stating that radical Muslims are “friends of Satan,” that they radically take Jihad, a struggle against oneself, out of context as a holy war. They have marched against ISIS, condemned 9/11 and the Paris massacres. The reply I get is “there are not enough of them speaking out, which means they sympathize with the radicals.” We have a mosque in our backyard which has spoken out repeatedly against terrorism and yet we choose to ignore it. It is far too easy to play into Trump’s hand, seeing all Muslims as terrorists.
I wrote in a previous post that I believe we are at war with radical Islam, and I continue to believe that. However, to say that all of Islam is radical, that every Muslim believes we should “kill the infidel,” that a fundamental tenet of Islam is to be anti-Israel or that “the only good Arab is a dead one” is so vehemently wrong and deeply troubling. In seeing the world in such a black-and-white frame we let fear drive our every move, and we generalize an entire people over the deeds of a minority of the population.
Last night we had a debate on the Syrian Refugee situation, and the most popular opinion (or at least the one which got the most applause) was not to let in any refugees, not even a 5 year old orphan. “Let them move to Saudi Arabia” was what was suggested; “They’ll take over our country and we’ll become just like France.” Where is our responsibility in making a difference, in “being the change we want to see in the world”? Do we want to live in fear over the “what ifs,” locked away in our suburban palaces, or do we actually want to do something small albeit significant to support those in need? If we do the former, then the Trumpist attitude will prevail, and we will be back in the isolationist, “me first” attitude that our relatives found themselves in in 1930s America. Let’s not let our degree of comfort blind us from what it took to get there in the first place. For Trump first we’ll start with the Muslims, but the Jews are not far behind.