As a Muslim-American, I recognize and respect that the anti-Islam rallies planned last weekend in various states are protected by the Constitution as free speech. But as a Muslim-American who believes in the values of equality and peace, I believe we have a moral imperative to reject extremism and prejudice.
Here are three reasons anti-Islam rallies can prove dangerous:
1. Discrimination divides us at a time when we need unity.
These anti-Islam rallies come at a time when nations like Syria and Iraq are grappling with extremism and militancy. Their influence has caused some young people in America and other Western nations to completely abandon their values and join extremist groups like ISIS. At this time, it is vital that the Muslim community and its youth feel like they belong in the United States — and that they are entitled to call this place their home. If they cannot do that, Muslims are more likely to feel alienated and join militant groups looking to prey on their fears.
Recently, GOP presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson have issued discriminatory statements about the Muslim community. When such influential people use their power of oration to marginalize an entire people group, they slowly pave the way for a more divided nation. At this time, we as people need to be united against the threats of extremism and insurgent groups.
2. Anti-Islam rallies are counterproductive to healthy dialogue.
Democracy is built on the pillars of healthy and productive dialogue. When armed protestors rally in front of sacred places like mosques and churches, they create a climate of fear and shut down any possibility of healthy discourse. What we need more than ever today is a dialogue between the Muslim community and other Americans.
Muslims and people of other faiths should invest in interfaith dialogue that allows people of different religions to focus on similarities rather than differences. In fact, where there are differences, we should find ways to celebrate them. What healthy discourse can achieve is far more important than what armed rallies can ever hope to attain.
3. Muslim communities may face a decline in their culture and values.
Many Muslim women in the United States choose to wear the headscarf. But as I see it, many Islamic values can disappear because Muslims might be too afraid to practice their religion openly because of the fear of discrimination. This is a loss not just for the Muslim community, but also the United States — a nation that prides itself on promoting the values of diversity.
Muslim-Americans have the same rights and entitlements as other groups living in the United States. No armed rally should ever discourage us from practicing our beliefs and engaging in efforts to bring communities together. We must retain our cultural and religious values even as we face the growing threat of Islamophobia.
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The United States enjoys a special place in this world as nations across the globe look to it as an embodiment of peace and harmony. But the animosity between different races and ethnicities weakens us morally and politically. As an American, I humbly ask my fellow citizens: Are we ready to make the same mistakes our ancestors made? Have we learned nothing from history?
During World War II, the Japanese were our enemy, and later during the Cold War, it was the Russians we feared. The witch hunts and internment camps that ensued because of such prejudices tarnished the image of our nation. Let us not make the same mistake again with the Muslim community. We must learn to work through our differences and emerge stronger than ever as a nation.