Obama’s speech to the nation last night was only his third from the Oval Office. The need was there to use everything at hand, including any impressive props he could access, to be heard through the din of terror mongering by elected officials and candidates alike.
It’s no longer exactly a stretch to feel threatened by the prevalence of mass shootings here and abroad. The media is filled with reports of increased gun sales after each U.S.-based incident. Now, instead of being trained to cower in terror under our desks in case of a nuclear attack, there is a healthy market for consultants who train people to run from, hide from, or fight fellow members of our communities who have gone off the rails.
For those of us working in nonprofits, it probably has not escaped notice that the last two of these incomprehensible attacks have been at nonprofit sites, and that both attacks were apparently committed by people affected by extremist religious thinking. In San Bernardino, the couple was attracted to but not necessarily in touch with ISIL, but they had, as Obama put it, embraced “a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West.” In Colorado Springs, the shooter, according to his ex-wife in the court papers she filed in their divorce proceedings, was similarly perverse in his Christianity, in that he “[claimed] to be a Christian and…extremely evangelistic, but [did] not follow the Bible in his actions. […] He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end.” But one observes that the politicians who are so quick to see this as an opportunity to vote to surveil all Muslims in this country more closely are not making the same noises about disaffected white men, a group that has certainly dominated the mass shooting landscape.
Increasing the sense of feared or despised “otherness” among community members at such time as this is a strategy doomed to failure. So, while President Obama spent the first half of his speech last night talking about foreign policy, he soon turned to the climate inside this country.
We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world—including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.
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That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.
But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans—of every faith—to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL. Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes—and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.
My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history. We were founded upon a belief in human dignity—that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.
NPQ would like to hear what nonprofits can do, and what they are doing locally and nationally, in the face of these dynamics.