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The Lantern

Filed under Editorial/Opinion

Only light, only love

Muslim Americans haven't found the light promised by the Statue of Liberty

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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.” Mounted on the base of America’s famed Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” enshrines the mantra of our nation. Just like the Colossus of Rhodes, Lady Liberty has stood on America’s shores, acting as a beacon of hope to the disillusioned, disenfranchised, and distressed. And yet all too often, this beacon’s light has been eclipsed to those who don’t fit the mold of the european-christian identity. Today we find a new community of disaffected relegated to the shadows: Muslim Americans. Treated as second class citizenry, these Americans have felt the promise of Lady Liberty to be broken. This betrayal has led to feelings of animosity, anonymity, and feeling “other”; not American. Minnesota harbors the nation’s highest concentration of Muslim-Americans in the Twin Cities alone, making us the perfect candidate for at-home radicalization. The Star Tribune in 2015 stated that Minnesotans make up over one-fourth of ISIS recruits from the United States, with over 25,000 leaving for Syria. If we do not become inclusive of these shadowed populations, it could breed greater darkness for all Americans. It becomes our duty as one America to welcome our neighbors all back into the light. This can be done by first understanding where this darkness may lead by examining the situation abroad, where our own darkness may be coming from, and how we can finally cast our light back onto the disaffected millions.

Despite recent efforts, the shadow of terrorism still looms large over Europe – in fact, The Brookings Institution stated on April 5, 2016, that Europeans view the practice of Islam specifically as a threat. They suggest that European Muslims feel as if they’re being pushed away or exiled from society, treated as non-citizen, yet non-foreign “others”. Peter Newman, director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, stated that the discrimination felt in the descendants of recent muslim immigrants is causing a “conflict of identity”, which makes them increasingly susceptible to radicalization. This outward exclusion is the first and most crucial step to radicalizing a population. Terror cells are utilizing this excluded population in their latest tactic of Remote Terrorism. Aspiring jihadis are contacted over an encrypted messaging app and provided with everything needed to carry out a fully fledged terror attack – from partners to ammunition. One such attack was the 2015 attack on Paris, in which 128 innocent civilians were reported killed. Foreign Affairs stated on April 26, 2016 that “The cause of this failure of integration is twofold: Islamophobia on the part of French society and Muslim immigrants’ tendency to identify more with their home communities in response.” They continue on to explain that the discrimination felt by the European Muslim community has left the population feeling, at most, little connection to European society. This exclusion, this feeling of “other” is at the heart of the growing terror dilemma in Europe – it is the reason they are so susceptible to recruitment, and it is the same path America is moving towards at an increasingly alarming rate.

America’s toxic fears have cast a shadow in which we hide what we don’t care to see”

— Jordynn Zier

However, things haven’t gotten quite that dark yet in America. CNN stated on March 6, 2017, that an American has only a 0.00003% chance of being injured or killed by another citizen in a terror attack. This isn’t to say that things are going particularly well – “lone wolf jihadists” such as Omar Mateen of the Pulse Massacre, the Tsarnaev brothers that carried out the Boston Bombings, and the San Bernardino Shooters, who all felt the same disenfranchisement as citizens in the EU, have only heightened America’s fear of Islam. The Boston Globe in 2016 claimed that the US has shown greater success in assimilating Muslims into our culture than have our European counterparts. Exclusionary policy and talk thereof is another critical component of American radicalization. CNN stated on January 30th, 2017 that hate crimes against muslims have increased by 67% since Trump took office. In fact, on March 12, 2016, The Atlantic claimed that Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” pseudo-patriotic rhetoric is actually hyper-nationalistic and promotes the exclusion of minority groups and, by extension, aids radicalization. According to the Washington Post on February 11, Ka Joog, a Minneapolis based organization dedicated to the integration of Somali Americans, has turned down the $500,000 Countering Violent Extremism grant from the US Government Administration due to President Trump’s rhetoric and recent refugee ban. Ka Joog is the exact type of organization needed to integrate Muslim Americans into society more successfully. However, The Huffington Post on January 27, 2017 claimed that Trump has handed ISIS “a path to rebirth” with his rhetoric and policies, making his war on so-called ‘Radical Islamic Terror’ nothing more than an unjust and unwise descent into darkness.

There is still a ray of hope – the one thing that we need to do as a nation is we need to be inclusive of Muslim Americans; we must reach out. First, we must be inclusive of the Muslims that are already in America as citizens. If we alienate this population, it will lead to the same issues that are currently plaguing Europe – whether it be Chicago, L.A, Seattle, or Minneapolis, if we do not become inclusive, we will create our own Paris. Next, turning away refugees will not make our nation any safer – According to CNN on January 29th, 2017, no person accepted as a refugee in America has been involved in a fatal terror attack since the 1980 Refugee Act. It is this racist exclusion – the belief that every refugee is a risk – that is driving America down the same self-destructive path as our European counterparts. We must not only accept refugees with open arms, but provide them with the services needed to make them both safe and welcome in America. This can be done by holding English language classes and job training to provide the economic opportunity that many European countries lack, like Belgium, that makes so many young Muslims open to radicalization. According to the Brookings Institution in 2006, these refugee assistance programs promote soft power, which is described by Joseph Nye in his 2004 book “Soft Power” as “getting others to want what you want – it co-ops rather than coerces.” Nye explains that exclusionary or nationalistic policies undermine a nation’s soft power resources at home and abroad.  Project Syndicate extends that the utilization of soft power is critical to halting recruitment by terror cells as well as drying up resources for terrorism abroad. With this in mind, it is crucial to rebuild our nation’s soft power with the intent to foster humanitarian efforts, hone our national security, and defeat terrorism abroad. Individually, we need to stand up to any exclusionary rhetoric in our lunchrooms, in our classrooms, in our communities, and even to our politicians, including the President.  It is our job as American citizens to be the beacon and uphold the promise etched onto our lady liberty – the very promise of safety and acceptance that our nation was founded upon.

Once a nation where it was believed that the light belonged to all, America’s toxic fears have cast a shadow in which we hide what we don’t care to see; the desperate, the war-torn, the misunderstood, and the misrepresented. If America has any hope of transcending our cultural shortcomings, it cannot be found in the fear and hate we so readily display. Muslim Americans are, in fact, Americans, and treating them as Americans and being inclusive is not only the best path to national security, it is just right. For as Martin Luther King Jr. had warned: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. And hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

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