By Asma Uddin and Rabbi Jack Moline
What is the purpose of terror attacks against civilians, like what we saw recently in New York, Minnesota and New Jersey? They don’t just aim to harm innocent life, they also aim to inflict spiritual harm against our nation as a whole. They seek to weaken us, provoke fear and cause neighbor to turn against neighbor. We pray for those injured in the attacks and we renew our resolve to not fall prey to the greater aim of the attackers.
Sadly, the attackers are not alone in seeking to divide. Some politicians and media outlets seek to exploit these types of attacks to justify the targeting of an entire group of Americans based on their religious beliefs. Attempts to blame an entire religious group in the wake of these attacks are not only un-American — they don’t make us any safer as a country.
The fact of the matter is, we are strongest and safest as a nation when we stand united across faiths, ethnicities, and backgrounds and against all forms of hate and violence. While we must bring those responsible to justice and use evidence to go after other people planning attacks, we cannot let these incidents justify bigotry directed toward Americans who are Muslims or those who are mistakenly perceived to be Muslim.
Hateful rhetoric may score points and drive up ratings in some quarters, but the better nature of our character should reject this type of fear mongering. We must investigate these incidents and bring those responsible to justice, but stand together against hate and violence. That is our commitment to each other as neighbors, friends, coworkers and congregants. That is our commitment to each other as fellow Americans. There is no justification for singling out anyone based upon the free exercise of his or her religious beliefs.
Two recent examples paint a stark portrait of how we can respond as Americans.
In Minnesota, a local business owner put up a “Muslims Get Out” sign in front of his Treats Family Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. If there’s a disconnect in the preceding sentence, it’s because while his restaurant sounds very American, targeting an entire faith most certainly is not. Anyone who shouts, “Muslims get out” should ask themselves: How is responding to violence with hate not giving in to the aims of the attackers themselves? Even if the storeowner meant to go after extremists, his words target all Muslims.But thankfully, we’ve also seen the best of our common humanity in response to these events.
In New Jersey, a local business owner named Hardiner Bains identified the suspect in the New York and New Jersey bombings and led police to him. Bains is assuredly a hero, but he is also a hero who prays differently than most of his fellow Americans. Bains practices Sikhism, and there has been backlash against Sikhs since 9/11, in large part because they have been mistaken as Muslim. But how he prays had little effect on what he did as an American hero.
“I did what I think every American would have done,” Bains said on CNN. “My neighbor would have done the same thing. Any Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Muslim. Anybody would have done the same thing. I’m from Sikh faith and I’ve been taught, always stand up against the atrocities, any kind of persecution.”
Americans all of faith traditions want the same things for their lives: the liberty to go about their daily lives with their families and freedom to practice their beliefs. We strive together to make our communities and neighborhoods places where all people can thrive and live peaceful lives.
We ask that you join us in prayer or contemplation for the victims and first responders, law enforcement and our elected officials. We ask that you also join us for our nation. Let us remember that our strength comes from unity. The Great Seal of the United States says, “E pluribus unum,” Latin for “from many, one.” This founding principle guides us as much in times of peace as in these times of fear and uncertainty.
We must not abandon this commitment we make to each other as Americans. We can and must reject violence and bigotry, fear in all its forms, and come together as Americans to defend and protect the nation and ideals we all hold dear.
Asma Uddin is founder and editor-in-chief of altmuslimah.com, which is unaffiliated with Altmuslim. Rabbi Jack Moline is president of Interfaith Alliance.