It is true that no matter how many times we explain this, many bad actors will ignore us and continue to misuse Islamic terms. They know the truth about Muslims, but they don’t care. They hate Islam and they want the public to feel the same way.
Why, then, should Muslims continue to speak up against their nonsense? Because the average American who listens to this nonsense is still reachable. Years of interfaith dialogue has shown that we can change hearts and minds.
There’s another, more pressing reason we have to speak up right now. Thousands of Afghans have fled their homeland in recent weeks and are set to begin new lives in America.
The demonization of Muslims in general and Afghan refugees in particular can easily lead to violence against this vulnerable population as they resettle around the world. Anti-Muslim incidents are already on the rise this year, and the rhetoric of certain politicians and media pundits is furthering this trend. The Tree of Life synagogue shooting was perpetrated by a rightwing extremist who was furious with that house of worship’s support for refugees.
If elected officials wish to weigh in on the situation in Afghanistan, Islam, and Muslims generally, they must drop the bigoted rhetoric once and for all. Media outlets must do the same.
CAIR’s guide for journalists offers advice that everyone in the public sphere can use. We must ensure that the kind of propaganda and distortions that characterized discourse at the beginning of the failed ‘war on terror’ does not characterize discourse at its end.
If the past 20 years of public discourse should have taught us anything, it’s that engaging in Islamophobia and xenophobia is not only idiotic and offensive; it’s dangerous and deadly.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell is the deputy director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. He may be contacted at e-Mitchell@cair.com. Ismail Allison is National Communications Coordinator at CAIR.
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