We are either pessimists or optimists. Or just plain apathetic. We accept the world as a place where communities will always be diametrically opposed or believe that co-existence is entirely possible. Then again, we might see everything as a giant mass of confusion not worth our thoughts or energy … and occasionally give in to offering the sporadic opinion or two when hateful media spectacles hit the airwaves. We are American Muslim Voters. And the recent hatred being spewed against us in American politics is not making it any easier to explore where we could or should belong in the political spectrum. So, we tend to retreat into "safe mode."
Over the span of our country's history, Germans, Catholics, Jews, and countless others strived to earn their place in the American political narrative. The American Muslim story isn't a new one; it's a path that all communities must travel if they wish to participate. But how we navigate our path now is very pivotal to a future with a lasting, integrated outcome.
Do we get lured into that "safe mode" characterized by a victim mentality, always finding ourselves being defensive and reactive in demanding that our voices be heard? Do we instead choose to proactively engage from grassroots municipal to important presidential elections, consistently reconciling our Islamic identity and values with those core social, economic, and ethical issues that define American law and politics? Does "safe mode" mean catering to those who may or may not share our same value system but who support our immediate need for acceptance in an atmosphere of rejection, skepticism, and downright hatred? That will keep us safe … for now.
The American Muslim reality is this: as relative newcomers of mostly Eastern heritage, it is going to be an uphill climb to assimilate into Western politics just as with Western culture. Not impossible. Just difficult. But the fruits of the struggle to belong yet remain distinct can be incrementally solid and sweet with every milestone. That is unless we Muslims continue to shy away from actively immersing ourselves in indigenous American political issues around such things as gun control; same-sex marriage; taxation, jobs, and the economy; education, healthcare, and even foreign policy. Not engaging in divergent discourse around all matters American will leave us irrelevant as shapers of political thought, which should ideally engender just about as diverse a set of views as the rest of America.
Basically, we have yet to create a cohort of critical American Muslim political thinkers who can easily and readily accept and define where the tenets of our faith and American values converge. Professionals who will resist running right at that red matador cape of Islam-the-evil-monolith that hatemongers love to wave before Muslims these days. People who will not simply react after the fact, but proactively put forth tangible evidence of congruency between our American-ness and Islamic identity. It is not enough to verbalize in passing statements that Islam and the American Constitution are in alignment. There must be a sophisticated movement among American Muslims to dissect and discuss core areas of governance in America that affect all communities and how these can be reconciled with a value system that is to them just as Islamic as it is American.
Much energy has been expended on tackling the vitriol of the Trumps, Carsons, and Cruzes of America. They only prove that you can be "really rich" and still chase the cheap thrills of a reality show, that you can be a neurosurgeon with not much grey matter to consider, and that you can be of immigrant descent yourself yet hypocritically advocate the denial of migration to others. When facing aspiring politicians who have never held office to know how leaders of arguably the world's most pluralistic society must behave or when dealing with over the top statements from Tea Party regulars, do American Muslims really need to take things so seriously? Perhaps. One approach is to blast the credibility of such individuals as upholders of the American Constitution and our Founding Father's principles—indeed, this is being done across the nation by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
But the other, longer lasting approach is for American Muslims to actually have a presence amongst those who tend to steal the discourse from us. To spread our wings in terms of political diversity. To tackle issues that all Americans face and want solutions to, and take on leadership roles in politics without fearing the challenges and personal investments that come with it. No group in history has ever advanced its cause without the hard work and sacrifices of the few who had the power to act and bravely chose to capitalize on that opportunity. Time for us to embrace this country and not complacently see it as a temporary pit stop to the wealth and freedom denied us in our native lands. And time to accept that American Muslim political diversity can only serve to strengthen this nation, whether we choose the path of Liberals, Conservatives, Independents, Libertarians, Environmentalists, or whatever else defines our reality. Only then can hatred begin to be a thing of the past.