At­tack­ing Mus­lims is un-Amer­i­can

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY KHIZR KHAN The writer is a board mem­ber of Peo­ple For the Amer­i­can Way.

Dozens of events or­ga­nized un­der the banner “March Against Sharia” were held across the coun­try last month. Or­ga­niz­ers said that the ef­fort was not anti-Mus­lim, but there can be no ques­tion that the cam­paign to de­pict sharia as a threat to the Con­sti­tu­tion, and to pass “anti-sharia” laws at the state level, is about por­tray­ing Amer­i­can Mus­lims as un-Amer­i­can. Such views have had deadly con­se­quences. These anti-sharia marches — or­ga­nized by a group called ACT for Amer­ica, which the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter (SPLC) clas­si­fies as an ex­trem­ist anti-Mus­lim or­ga­ni­za­tion — did not take place in a vac­uum. They came shortly af­ter a hor­rific in­ci­dent in Port­land, Ore., in which a white na­tion­al­ist who was scream­ing anti-Mus­lim abuse at two teenage girls bru­tally stabbed three men who stepped in to de­fend them. U.S. Army vet­eran Ricky Best, 53, the fa­ther of four chil­dren, and re­cent col­lege grad­u­ate Taliesin Myrd­din Namkai Meche, 23, were killed.

Our sor­row over these events is com­pounded by know­ing that they are part of a broader real­ity in the United States since Pres­i­dent Trump’s elec­tion, in which ha­rass­ment, in­tim­i­da­tion and phys­i­cal vi­o­lence against Mus­lims, peo­ple wrongly per­ceived to be Mus­lims, and other re­li­gious and eth­nic mi­nori­ties have been on the rise.

Vi­o­lence grounded in ha­tred and ig­no­rance did not be­gin with Trump, of course. I re­mem­ber an in­ci­dent a few years ago when Prab­hjot Singh, a Sikh doc­tor, was knocked from his bike and beaten by a group of peo­ple call­ing him a “ter­ror­ist.”

But there is no ques­tion that things have got­ten worse since Trump took the na­tional spot­light. In the first 10 days af­ter his vic­tory, the SPLC re­ported 867 in­ci­dents of ha­rass­ment and in­tim­i­da­tion. The group also re­ported that the num­ber of anti-Mus­lim hate groups in the United States went from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016, while the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Is­lamic Re­la­tions re­ported a 57 per­cent in­crease in anti-Mus­lim in­ci­dents over the same year.

Be­hind these num­bers are real peo­ple, sa­cred sites and wounded com­mu­ni­ties. Hate crime charges have been filed against a man ac­cused of set­ting the fire that de­stroyed a mosque in Vic­to­ria, Tex., in Jan­uary. In Fe­bru­ary, a Jewish ceme­tery in St. Louis was van­dal­ized (Mus­lims stepped for­ward to raise funds for re­pairs). In May, African Amer­i­can Richard Collins, a newly com­mis­sioned U.S. Army sec­ond lieu­tenant on the verge of grad­u­at­ing from Bowie State University, was stabbed to death, al­legedly by an­other stu­dent who be­longed to an “alt-Re­ich” white-su­prem­a­cist on­line group.

Has our pres­i­dent paused to won­der why his cam­paign and elec­tion have co­in­cided with such at­tacks?

In Vir­ginia, where I live, a Mus­lim teenager was killed last month as she walked with friends near their mosque. It was a hor­rific and sense­less crime that has deeply shaken the com­mu­nity. Po­lice think the killing grew out of a “road rage” dis­pute, but how could you blame Mus­lims for fear­ing that she was tar­geted for her faith? And how could you blame Mus­lims for griev­ing that the Repub­li­can can­di­date for gov­er­nor of Vir­ginia has not been able to bring him­self to re­nounce the sup­port he had sought from a lo­cal Repub­li­can leader who works for ACT for Amer­ica?

The cam­paign against sharia re­flects, at best, a deep mis­un­der­stand­ing of what sharia is and, at worst, a will­ing­ness to blame all Mus­lims for the heinous acts of those few who bru­tal­ize oth­ers in the name of Is­lam. Such mis­placed blame can lead to pil­ing tragedy upon tragedy.

ACT for Amer­ica’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, had said that a prac­tic­ing Mus­lim who be­lieves the words of the Ko­ran “can­not be a loyal cit­i­zen of the United States.” Lest you think this view is rel­e­gated to the po­lit­i­cal ex­tremes, vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal lan­guage — “de­vout Mus­lims can­not truth­fully swear the oath to be­come ci­ti­zens of the United States of Amer­ica” — has been used by the Amer­i­can Cen­ter for Law and Jus­tice, whose founder, Jay Seku­low, is part of Trump’s per­sonal le­gal team. As a Mus­lim, a pa­tri­otic Amer­i­can and a Gold Star fa­ther, these false as­ser­tions of­fend me deeply.

Other con­ser­va­tive Chris­tians who rub shoul­ders with prom­i­nent Repub­li­can of­fi­cials have ar­gued that Is­lam is not a re­li­gion but a to­tal­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy, and that there­fore Amer­i­can Mus­lims are not pro­tected by the First Amend­ment’s guar­an­tees of re­li­gious lib­erty. Some of those who re­frain from say­ing such things de­cline to speak out against those who do.

This is a dan­ger­ous form of di­vi­sive­ness that is com­pletely con­trary to the spirit and let­ter of the Con­sti­tu­tion. In­tim­i­dat­ing and threat­en­ing com­mu­ni­ties on the ba­sis of their re­li­gion goes against the core val­ues of this coun­try.


Ac­tivists take part in the “March Against Sharia” in June in New York City.

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