[editor’s note: this is a cross-post of an article I posted on the Huffington Post.]
When news arose that the killings in San Bernardino last Thursday was probably terrorist related – that the perpetrators Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik had praised “Allah” and pledged allegiance to ISIS moments before they started their rampage – attention quickly shifted to the Muslim communities for their reactions.
Soon enough, civic and religious leaders of the Muslim communities rolled forward to condemn the attack in no uncertain terms. They called the acts horrific and uncivilized and not in line with their religious or social values.
But talking to my Muslim friends privately, I also get a very real sense of fear.
What will their non-Muslim neighbors think of them now? With Obama calling terrorism “a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse,” just what special obligations do American Muslims now owe the nation in facing up to terrorism?
I can’t think of a time when such a great religion and tradition has been so maligned in such broad strokes.
When the Ku Klux Klan came forward in masks and robes to burn crosses and terrorize Blacks across the South, few looked to Christian communities as a whole to “confront” those acts even though some KKK members saw themselves as doing God’s work.
When we look back to the horrors of the Third Reich, we refer to them as Nazi, not German per se – even though many in the third Reich saw their main goal as reviving a pure German civilization.
So why do we insist on labeling ISIS or Al Qaeda terrorists Jihadists or Islamists and seeing them through religious, not political, lens? Isn’t it only natural that in all societies, especially those undergoing political upheavals, that various political actors would appeal to those societies’ most cherished ideals and values to bolster their cause?
Lest we forget: some of our own founding fathers had appealed to deeply held notions of God, civilization and values to justify brutal efforts to eradicate Native Americans. Abolitionists and slave owners alike appealed to religion and “rule of law” to justify abolishing and preserving slavery (with the former focusing on equality of all and the latter on the sanctity of property and individual owner’s right to choose).
Lest we forget: despite the pivotal role our Constitution played in the recent Civil Rights Movement, the Constitution had been enlisted time and time again throughout the long turbulent history of this nation to uphold racist laws and policies such as segregation, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Japanese internment.
We must learn to separate chaff from the wheat, the worldly affairs of politics from the noble ideals that stand the test of time. We must learn to see the terrorists as political actors that they are, not the crusaders that we imagine them to be.
Over the last few months, we have heard Mr. Trump pronounce how illegal immigration must be controlled because illegal immigrants bring drug, crimes and rapists into the country. Many seem all too eager to attribute the acts of the inevitable few to the whole.
In emphasizing the “Islamic” roots of terrorists, we also seem all too eager to attribute the political aspirations of an inevitable few to Islam as a whole.
Islam has been and will continue to be a great beacon of inspiration and pillar of strength for large swath of humanity for a long time to come. We must refrain from fighting the terrorists through demonizing Islam: we must avoid winning the battle only to lose the war.
I wish all my Muslim friends would walk with their back straight and head held high. It is not they who should carry a guilty conscience or shoulder fears of our reprisals. It should only be the terrorists themselves.