We have heard it before: "They are not like us." "They do not worship as we do." "They want to live by themselves and by different laws." "They are a threat to our way of life." "They should just leave ... or we'll deal with them our way."
Time and again these have been the refrains of people feeling threatened by a growing and increasingly influential minority that does not look like them, pray like them or speak like them.
Today these refrains manifest in reactionary, fear-fueled anti-Islamic hysteria. Whether it be Rep. Peter King’s hearings on the “threat of radical Islam,” the hate-filled verbal assault on Muslim residents attending a charity event in Yorba Linda, Calif., or the destruction of Islamic places of worship, the essence of the message is the same: Islam is the religion of terror; Islam poses a threat to America; we must defend America from Islam.
These and daily small but similar acts and messages drive fear and anxiety into the lives of millions of our Muslim brothers and sisters across the nation, including those here in the South Sound region.
As a Jew, I am scared. Substitute the nation; substitute the target group. We’ve seen it all before.
Yes, Muhammed Atta and the Sept. 11 principals, Capt. Nidal Hasan and Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab all identified as Muslims. But the acts of these or any others who self-identify as Muslims cannot make Islam a religion of terror any more than the acts of Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, Erik Rudolph, Christian Militia leaders in Michigan and Alaska and so many other perpetrators of domestic terrorist acts who self-identify as Christians make Christianity the religion of terror.
Nor do the numerous acts of domestic terror committed by Jewish Defense League over the past two decades define Judaism as a religion of terror.
Individuals commit acts of terror. Religions don’t.
Islam does not threaten our nation. The three million to seven million Muslims in the United States – 77 percent of whom are U.S. citizens – are our neighbors. They are our doctors, lawyers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, entrepreneurs and small-business owners. Muslim men and women bravely serve in our nation’s military.
As a nation we are right to be aware of, develop strategies to prevent individual and even coordinated acts of domestic terror. And we must do so vigilantly. But if we have learned anything from our history, it is that we must not be seduced by the temptation to assign collective guilt, responsibility and punishment.
We must beware of those who stir collectivize fear. Intentionally orchestrated fear breeds collective distrust and hatred. This in turn feeds and reinforces the fear itself, creating a mass psychological feedback loop that will tear our nation apart far more quickly than any individual act of terror. If you don’t believe me, watch the Yorba Linda “protest.” All that was missing were the hoods and ropes; or bricks and torches.
So, let’s think twice, Rep. King, before we hold Star Chamber-like hearings that single out Islam for special scrutiny and before we call upon “Muslim leaders” to “do more to stop the aspiring terrorists in their ranks.”
Let’s instead explore radicalism and extremism of all types, and the social, cultural, economic and other factors that drive them.
Let’s work together to expose intolerance, hatred and the like. And, let’s work together to find common cause in our identity as Americans – of all religions, races and creeds – and build the bridges of trust, understanding, inclusion and tolerance. In the end, these will prove to be the strongest bulwarks against organized terror of any type.
Jim Bamberger is a member of Temple Beth Hatfiloh. He is also a member of Olympia’s Jewish-Muslim Listening Group, an informal association of Jews and Muslims formed shortly after 9-11 who are committed to building a stronger community.