Civil Rights

Counter violent extremism, but don’t stereotype Muslims

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The Senate Homeland Security Committee convened a hearing this week to discuss violent extremism, but lawmakers must avoid the temptation to throw the entire Muslim community under the bus like protesters attempted to do last weekend at rallies nationwide.

On June 10th, anti-Muslim protesters held rallies in dozens of cities nationwide to spread fear and stereotypes about Muslims. As a peace activist, I worry that rallies and congressional hearings like these increase the risk of hate crimes against our fellow Americans.

{mosads}I am a Muslim – one of more than a billion worldwide. I have dedicated my life to empowering women, gender equality, celebrating religious pluralism, and building bridges among interfaith communities. I join my fellow Americans in mourning the lives and loved ones lost to terrorism by criminal organizations that cloak themselves in faith. Fringe organizations like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda do not represent my religion any more than the KKK represents Christianity, and they must be defeated.


At the same time, we must ensure that Muslim Americans do not live under a cloud of suspicion. According to Brigitte Gabriel, the organizer of the June 10th rallies, a practicing Muslim like me “cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a witness at this week’s Senate hearing, has called my religion a “cult of death.” Another witness – Asra Nomani – has openly supported racial and religious profiling of Muslims in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

There are several organizations dedicated to promoting conspiracy theories about Islam. One of the most ludicrous is the idea that Muslims want to impose sharia law on the United States. These organizations know the U.S. Constitution affirms the supremacy of American law, but this does not deter them from smearing Muslims. Ms. Gabriel has even questioned the patriotism of Khizr Khan, whose Muslim American son — Capt. Humayun Khan — lost his life in the Iraq war while serving in the U.S. Army.

At its worse, this divisive rhetoric can lead to violence against our fellow Americans. The FBI has documented a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in its most recent data. Since 9/11, even Hindus and Sikhs have been targeted in hate crimes motivated by anti-Muslim bias.

Anti-Muslim bigots have a constitutional right to express themselves, but lawmakers should not allow people like them to monopolize the narrative about what it means to be an American. 

There are more constructive ways to live out our common ideals.

During the month of Ramadan, mosques around the country are inviting their fellow Americans to join them for Iftar – a meal that is shared each night after sundown. I encourage lawmakers to visit their local mosques. This is a simple way to dispel stereotypes and learn more about the people who live in our communities. Interfaith dialogue is an effective deterrent against hate and a positive reminder of the importance of religious freedom.

Lawmakers should also speak out for our constitutional values when their peers and supporters attempt to divide Americans on any basis. For example, as our nation grapples with a proposed travel ban targeting Muslims, we should remember that our nation had the moral courage to reject discriminatory immigration laws in the early 20th century that targeted Asian Americans and overcome bias against Mormons, Jews, and Catholics. All of us can summon this courage now and make nondiscrimination a top priority.

What makes America strong is our shared commitment to our constitutional values of liberty and justice for all. Our counterterrorism efforts should not undermine the very values we are fighting to protect. These values transcend our religious differences, and we should not allow hatred and prejudice to spoil the fabric of our nation.

Soraya Deen is founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement and co-founder of Peacemoms.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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