Anti-Muslim rhetoric is a threat to our democracy

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The United States has a rich history of defending and protecting its founding principle of religious freedom. Those who seek to undermine it do so with the aim of scoring cheap political points. These demagogues have made Muslim-Americans out to be the bogeyman in increasingly mainstream American political discourse. But their demagoguery has real consequences: both for the livelihoods of millions of Americans and for democracy itself.

Since the terror attacks in Paris, there have been more than 70 documented hate crimes against Muslim or those perceived to be Muslim in North America. In New York City, a sixth grade Muslim girl was assaulted and her headscarf was thrown off. In Pennsylvania, a pig head was thrown at a mosque. In Texas, extremists with assault rifles paraded outside of a mosque. In Northern Virginia, a mosque was attacked with Molotov cocktails. And in Dearborn, Michigan, home to America’s largest Arab American community, the FBI was tasked to investigate threats the city’s Muslim community received.

These are undoubtedly some of the effects of the pervasive Islamophobic climate engendered by some of our elected officials. When a presidential candidate says Muslims should be banned from the country and registered in databases, he is fanning the flames of Islamophobia, and in some cases turning them towards violence against ordinary Muslim-Americans. This rhetoric is not only hateful, but it in fact makes the individual complicit in these acts of hate.

American Muslims in the wake of a terror attack are anguished twice – grief-stricken at the loss of life, and then discriminated against for crimes that they had absolutely nothing to do with. Within a week of the Paris attacks, pundits, commentators, candidates, and elected officials were advocating to end the resettlement of Syrian refugees. And the U.S. House of Representatives, with less than a 48-hour consideration, voted for a dangerous measure that would immediately bring to a screeching halt the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. It’s misguided and immoral for the United States to turn away women, men, and children fleeing violence and persecution because of their religion or national origin. This is not who we are as a country. We are not a country that discriminates based on religion, ethnicity, national origin, or any other protected class. We are better than this. We need to rise above the hateful rhetoric directed against Muslim-Americans.

It’s disheartening to once again see Congress pass short-sighted legislation that discriminates against those from Muslim-majority countries. As part of the omnibus spending bill, congressional leaders have included a discriminatory provision that bans dual nationals from Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan from our Visa Waiver Program. This program allows millions of visitors from 38 countries to travel to the United States without securing a visa in advance and those countries are mandated to grant reciprocal treatment to our citizens. By including this provision, we’re sending a very dangerous message to our international allies by supporting policies that discriminate against their citizens solely based on their national origin. This could result in our allies discriminating against our citizens in the same fashion.   

Such demonization of a minority group has often led to harsh discrimination, widespread unrest, and even bloodshed. If the wishes of anti-Muslim demagogues are to be fulfilled, the profiling of Muslim-Americans would set a precedent that would erode the very tenets of American democracy. The stage would be set for ever-increasing discrimination on the basis of race, creed, and nationality.   

It is time for Americans of all political stripes to stand up for our values and denounce the bigoted comments coming from presidential candidates and some of our elected officials. It is time for every elected leader to speak out against these policies of hate. It is vital for all calls for state-sanctioned prejudice against Muslims to be stamped out. The future of pluralistic America is at stake.

Taeb is a legislative representative for human rights and civil liberties at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.