Again, President Trump has instigated another melodramatic partisan debate over one of the most divisive issues in American life today: immigration. He used the Nov. 1 terrorist attack in New York to enhance his agenda on immigration discrimination and national security while blaming his adversaries for “endangering the country.” But if anyone is jeopardizing the security of the United States, it is Trump himself. This is a man who uses hate speech to accompany the laws he makes up as he goes along. He professes to act in the defense of the country, yet it’s his own words that create a clear and present danger to this nation.
The shooter in New York, Sayfollo Saipov, orchestrated a horrific event through a commission of an act of terrorism, and no Muslim with an ounce of ethics should dispute this. But Trump’s effort to seize the event as an opportunity to promote his agenda to ban Muslim immigrants, and simultaneously make Islam suspect, serves only to embolden hate crimes against Muslims, make many Muslims in the United States fearful, and deny immigrants an opportunity to enter this country. Arab Americans are being forced to live on the outskirts of hope, mostly because of their religious beliefs. Despite a daily dose of rhetoric, Trump’s war on terrorism is no war at all and it was never intended to be. At best, it is social incivility. The effect is to primarily further his administrative war against those in society who already feel defeated.
Trump’s uncompromising reaction is not astonishing, but it still continues to be demoralizing. It is just as demoralizing as when Trump officials spoke about enforcing a Muslim registry, denouncing an entire faith. Or when Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, said that the fear of Muslims is rational. Or what about Katherine Gorka, Trump’s national security analyst who has been definitive about her contempt for Islam? Her commitment to bring the Department of Homeland Security to “new leadership” was preceded by her distorted editorials for Breitbart News, which characterized Muslims as a threat and Islam as evil. Shouldn’t those who endorsed democracy ask, “Where is the chain of command in all of this?”
This is the type of leadership that has crafted the state-sanctioned paranoia plaguing our public discourse today. Trump’s crusade for a Muslim ban is dependent on where a person comes from and what religion they practice. The very minute we agree to use a person’s religion as a litmus test for terrorism is the minute that terrorism turns us into racists.
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On Nov. 5, when a gunman with a military-style assault rifle in his hands murdered 26 parishioners at a Sunday church service in Texas, the media failed to confine this latest act of mass horror as a crime of terrorism. The worst mass shooting in America occurred just weeks before, on Oct. 1. Terrorism is not the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Terrorism is the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence. Terrorism is about hatred and instilling fear. Terrorism is about causing pain that is never short-lived. Ask those who have lost loved ones to violence and the depravity that inspires it. Let us not deflect from the real problem by pretending this is a mental health issue. Whether it is a BB gun or an AK-47 rifle, when you unleash a plot to murder innocent people, you have serious problems with anger and evil. Everyone who has felt the force of a killer’s rage has been terrorized.
We all fear the threat of terrorism – Anglos and Arabs, Muslims and Christians – and the fact is that it has changed all of our lives. However, what we do with that fear will ultimately define our strengths. Do we let it overcome us until we become so consumed with the fear of what might be that we no longer give thought to what should be or what this nation stands for? Racism does not make you a patriot, just like mental illness does not make you a killer. Do not let this presidency instigate hatred; not when people have struggled and died only to replace hatred with humanity.
Khalilah Sabra is the national executive director of the Muslim American Society Immigrant Justice Center in Cary.