By Nihad Awad
[Nihad Awad is national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
This Fourth of July weekend, friends and families around the country will gather together to celebrate the freedoms we cherish as Americans, those for which countless generations have struggled and sacrificed so much.
We celebrate our freedom from oppression, freedom to practice our religion, representation in our government, and self-determination.
Yet as recent events targeting African-Americans have made abundantly clear, we still have a long way to go to achieve full equality under the flag we will fly high this weekend.
The terror attack on an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the abuse of African-American teens by a police officer in McKinney, Texas, and police-involved shootings and mistreatment of men, women, and children of color across our nation point to the lingering structural racism in our society. These troubling incidents must be honestly addressed before we can truly be the nation President Abraham Lincoln described as “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
While much was accomplished through the Civil Rights Movement during the 50s and 60s, much still remains to be done.
No less corrosive to the American values on which our country was founded is the pervasive hate to which American Muslims have increasingly found themselves subjected.
Recent, and largely unreported, incidents of anti-Muslim hate include a Texas road rage shooting in which the alleged gunman reportedly shouted “Go back to Islam” before firing at and killing the victim, the “execution-style” killings of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., hate vandalism and threats targeting mosques and Islamic schools nationwide, a planned religiously-motivated attack on a Muslim community in New York, and the murder of a Muslim teen in Kansas city who was run down by a vehicle painted with anti-Islam slurs.
In one much-publicized incident, armed anti-Islam protesters recently harassed worshipers at an Arizona mosque; several of those present at the rally displayed Nazi-themed symbols.
Racism and Islamophobia are branches of the same poisonous tree: both rely on stereotypes and misinformation for their creation and continuation; both harm not only those targeted by bigotry, but also the society that allows hate to fester and pits one group against another.
Despite these terrible incidents, there are some clear signs of hope and optimism, particularly in the outpouring of love for the victims of the deadly shooting in Charleston and in the subsequent almost-universal repudiation of the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism and oppression, one to which CAIR added its voice.
We saw a similar outpouring of support for worshipers at the Arizona mosque assaulted by hate-speech, and even witnessed a neighborhood “love-in” for an Iowa Muslim-American whose house was painted with Islamophobic and threatening graffiti.
The American Muslim community will continue to stand with our fellow Americans of all beliefs and backgrounds as we together struggle to achieve true freedom and equality.
As Dr. Martin Luther King said in his 1965 Independence Day sermon delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., “Never before in the history of the world have so many racial groups and so many national backgrounds assembled together in one nation. And somehow if we can’t solve the problem in America the world can’t solve the problem, because America is the world in miniature and the world is America writ large.”
He added: “We have a great dream. It started way back in 1776, and God grant that America will be true to her dream.”
Amen to that.