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06.26.2016 ________________________________________

Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed, in June 1776, a resolution declaring the United States independent from Great Britain. The Lee Resolution was approved on July 2 and was followed by the approval of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, Independence Day.

It was also, it should be remembered, Richard Henry Lee who wrote, “True freedom embraces the Mahometan and Gentoo (Hindu) as well as the Christian religion,” an affirmation, one of many, of the aspirational nature of our beginnings and testimony to the extraordinary vision and broad-mindedness of our Founding Fathers.

The Fourth can’t come soon enough because I think many Americans need to be reminded of what it means to be American — to be American means to be inclusive of the Other, including Muslim, Hindu, Native American, African-American and LGBTQIA peoples — there are no exclusions — none.

It can’t come soon enough because I think it’s important to be reminded that we must be vigilant in repudiating the demagogues and nativists who’re putting our families, friends and neighbors at risk.

Because we must repudiate those who, in pursuit of power, have hijacked America’s Party of Lincoln and turned it into a white, exclusivist party.

Sadly, today, much right-wing post-Orlando commentary has focused not just on condemning, rightly, Omar Mateen’s terrorism, but on reinforcing their favorite Islamophobic meme of blaming “Radical Islamic Terrorism.”

The party of exclusion seized on tragedy by trying to disenfranchise an entire religion — a whole segment of the American population.

As a Muslim I must admit that, unlike many of my co-religionists, I’m not offended when someone like Mateen is called a Muslim terrorist although I think to be consistent then you should refer to killers Robert Lewis Dear Jr. (Colorado Springs) and Dylan Roof (Charleston, South Carolina) as Christian terrorists.

Call Mateen a jihadist if you wish — although that misdefines what jihad is, or Islamist, which is a made-up word, like Christianist.

I’m offended, though, when such attacks are called manifestations of “Radical Islamic Terrorism” not because it offends me or my faith — ignorance doesn’t offend me — but because it lacks nuance, offends reason, offends common sense — and it endangers Americans.

“Radical Islamic Terrorism” only exists within the twisted reasoning of today’s Islamophobes — people who clearly know nothing about language, Islam, religion or American strategic interests.

To paraphrase Edward Said, I believe Islamophobia rests upon the supposed positional superiority of Americans, which has very close ties to the enabling socio-economic and political institutions that profit from the resulting tensions between Islam and the West — in this case both Donald Trump and ISIS — equally.

A recent study on domestic hatred of Muslims from the UC Berkeley Center for Race and Gender and the Council on American Islamic Relations identified 74 groups actively promoting hatred of Muslims, 33 of which having been founded specifically to advance Islamophobia — to question the loyalty and commitment to American values of this nation’s Muslim community, one that has been present on this continent long before we celebrated our first Independence Day.  

A key finding was “In 2015, there were 78 recorded incidents in which mosques were targeted; more incidents than ever reported in a single year since tracking began in 2009. Incidents in 2015 have more than tripled compared to the past two years,” in part because of the rhetoric of people like Donald Trump and his fellow travelers who’ve convinced, I believe, many self-righteous non-Muslim Americans that all Muslims are terrorists and therefore legitimate targets.

33 hate groups funded over the past eight years (coinciding with Barack Obama’s rise to political prominence and election as President) with well over $200 million from donors.

This election cycle a frightening truth has become clear: if one’s loud enough, resonant with hate enough, has pockets deep enough and followers gullible enough one can become a presumptive nominee for president and, regardless of the sentiments of Founders like Richard Henry Lee and others that the Constitution was designed to ensure “the most ample of liberty of conscience” for “Deists, Mahometans, Jews and Christians,” one can do it on the backs of immigrants, the poor and the dispossessed.

On the backs of The Other. 

Being loud enough means never having to recognize the overwhelming evidence and the academic, intellectual and experiential narratives that clearly refute the myth of a monolithic “Muslim community” — especially in America.

Being loud enough means never having to say you’re sorry.

If one aligns with Trump’s approach (marginalize and expel Islam from the Public Square) one ends up both alienating 3.3 million American Muslims whose well-being is essential for our security and conceding victory to radicals and terrorists.

With such concessions Trump and Da’esh win — America loses.

Most Muslims, especially in the West, respect the tension between religion and secularism, just as many Christians recognize the tension between Christian evangelicalism and American secular liberalism.

Many Americans appear unable to extend that recognition to the Other because of bias; they falsely assume that practices other than their own must be either expelled or forced to coexist in a multicultural space that’ll be controlled by them, the nativists.

There are consequences to such marginalization. In trying to expel the Other they risk nullifying the Lee Resolution, the Declaration of Independence and the aspirations of all who came to America seeking life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — all that truly makes America great.

Will they then say they’re sorry?

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