There is a highly organized anti-Islamic movement in the United States. Its participants are aggressive, vocal and view all Muslims as a threat to liberal democracy. They are proactive on social media, and they are remarkably fast in adding hateful comments onto any piece of digital content that mentions Islam. They have come to Security Debrief on more than one occasion to empty their verbal trashcans in the comments section, and what they write is quite simply hate speech—cherry-picking religious passages to suit their arguments, making generalizations so broad they are outright lies, re-interpreting history to present a false narrative that pits people against one another.
Sounds a lot like what ISIS and other terrorist groups do in their recruitment efforts, doesn’t it?
Extremism threatens us all, whether it comes in the form of violence or in the form of intolerance and hate. It is the duty of every American to push back against extremism in all its manifestations. As John Stuart Mill said more than a century ago:
“Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”
It’s easy enough to counter the arguments of the anti-Islamic movement. They don’t have any real understanding of the religion—only rhetoric, faulty quotations, and fear- and hate-mongering messages. Yet, hundreds of learned people have rushed to the public square to argue against these extremist narratives and with little result. Debates against anti-Muslim extremists usually only serve to heighten their message.
This is not an academic problem. It has a real impact on Americans.
For example, when my fellow Security Debrief contributor Erroll Southers and I first began working with the Somali-American community in Minneapolis-St. Paul, we were offered a sobering insight: the Muslim community in the Twin Cities is afraid to talk about their religion, even within their own homes and their places of worship. More specifically, they are afraid to talk about (as well as critique) the notion of jihad, which is an Islamic concept (though not necessarily, or even usually, violent). Several sources reported that Imams are afraid to discuss violent jihad and why it is wrong for fear that their audience will say in a later conversation, “My Imam was talking about jihad and…” It does not matter what comes after “and;” the mere mention of the word jihad (even in the negative) strikes fear that the FBI will kick in someone’s door in the middle of the night. (And yes, they do that in Minneapolis, sometimes without much cause.)
Meanwhile, parents are afraid to discuss this topic with their children (at a time when ISIS and others are proactively targeting their children for radicalization) for fear they will go to school and say, “My mom and dad were talking about jihad and…” And here comes the FBI.
This environment of fear prohibits the necessary religious discussions that happen with every other religion in every household across the country. In a very real way, the anti-Islamic movement and the constant anti-Islamic sentiments that are emerging in this heated election cycle are depriving Muslim Americans of their right to liberty and freedom from oppression. Simply because someone is not legally precluded from a God-given right does not mean they aren’t oppressed. If you’re not Muslim, imagine being afraid to discuss your faith with your children. Is that the mark of a free country?
The anti-Islamic movement can and should receive responses from educated people who can pick apart the falsehoods in their narratives, but this is not enough. All Americans of every faith—no matter their knowledge of Islam—have an opportunity this month to show their fellow citizens that this country is still a land where people of all faiths can peacefully and respectfully live together. It’s simple to express this; it only takes two words: Happy Ramadan.
If there is an aspect to Islam that is undeniably good, it’s Ramadan. The annual practice of fasting during daylight hours is designed to remind all those who observe it that there are many people in this world who do not have the luxury of eating every day. The purpose of Ramadan is to be viscerally aware of how painful it is to go without food and water, and from that, extract the empathy needed to engender a proactive, faithful community that looks after those in need. This is an admirable act of faith. It cannot be twisted by the anti-Islamic movement. There is no message to spin. It is inherently good.
It is also an opportunity. The United States remains Christian majority, and during Christmas and Easter, it is common (if not expected) that Christians (and even secular folks) will exchange the greetings, Merry Christmas and Happy Easter. Think of the positivity, the connectedness, the sense of unity that is borne of wishing someone a happy holiday. It reaches beyond the everyday social exchanges; it touches something intensely personal. It is a point of bonding between citizens.
That is precisely what we need at a time when our fellow citizens who are Muslim feel that they are somehow distinct from the Nation, somehow not quite as American as non-Muslims. We, non-Muslim Americans, need to proactively show that we respect and encourage the beliefs of our countrymen and women; we need to express the unity that has made this country the greatest and freest in the history of the world. And we can do that in a way that is meaningful, respectful and does not require any knowledge of Islam by simply saying to our Muslim friends, colleagues, coworkers, and acquaintances, Happy Ramadan. For those who wish to use a more traditional phrase, you can say Ramadan Kareem or Ramadan Mubarak, which both basically mean Happy Ramadan. You can also say “salam,” which means peace.
In the United States, it does not matter what faith you espouse provided you agree that each of us is born with inalienable rights that must be preserved through law. That is what makes someone American. You can agree to this uniquely American sentiment no matter if you are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sheikh, Zoroastrian, following an indigenous belief—and yes, even if you are Muslim.
Beyond showing support for our fellow citizens (which is virtuous unto itself and needs no reason), fostering unity between people of all faiths is essential to the ongoing effort to combat violent extremism. To be sure, there are numerous extremist ideologies that drive violence and death, and only one of them claims some relation to Islam. Yet, ISIS and groups like it are highly skilled at luring young, ignorant people down a dangerous, evil path. The only long-term solution to this trend is to buttress American communities with the support and information they need to identify terrorist recruiters, counter their messages and protect their children. This is the case for communities of all faiths, but given the outsized threat ISIS poses today, it is particularly important that all Americans rally around our Muslim communities to help put an end to those who would corrupt our young people.
During the month of Ramadan, which began on the evening of June 5 and is expected to conclude on the evening of July 5, it is important that we all take the opportunity to wish peace and positivity to our fellow citizens who are Muslim. It lets everyone know that we will not be divided by hate, and we will not allow people of ill will to spread narratives that spark conflict within the American family. This is the United States, and we need to act like it.
And so, I happily say to my fellow citizens who are fasting for the next 30 days, Ramadan Kareem. (And if you’re having lamb for Iftar, give me a ring.)
Editor’s Note: Any comments posted below that are derogatory, hateful or obviously inflammatory will be deleted.