Limiting Islamophobia in America’s antiterrorist response

January 25, 2016 — by Derek Chen and Kyle Wang

Former U.S. President George W. Bush is perhaps best remembered for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, whether he was explaining how single mothers worked hard to “put food on [their] families” or pointing out why tax cuts could “make the pie higher.”

Yet in his response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, at a time when fears of so-called “radical Islam” ran high across the United States, he managed to say something that struck a chord with many Americans of all backgrounds.

He declared that “the enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.”

Nearly a decade later, many citizens seem to have forgotten the tolerance President Bush exhorted in the weeks following 9/11. GOP presidential candidates such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have maintained their popularity in spite of their ridiculous proposals to ban all Muslim travel to the U.S..

Islamophobia has wrongfully taken hold of the hearts of many American citizens. And replacing that fear with tolerance will be an important battle in the next several decades.

The recent rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly known as ISIS, as well as the Western antiterrorist response, has only fueled Islamophobia in America.

The extremist group is notorious for using bombings and videos of beheadings to spread fear among Westerners. The main goal behind these acts of terror is to establish a radical Sunni Islamic state. Thus far, they have claimed responsibility for many major terrorist attacks, including the recent attacks on Paris that resulted in 130 deaths.

Unfortunately, in their campaigns against ISIS, many of those who hold influence in the United States have been doing exactly what ISIS wants: confirming that the U.S, and in a larger sense, Western nations, fundamentally misunderstand and despise Islam as a whole. And an overwhelming number of xenophobic fanatics have shown support for these ridiculous suggestions.

For instance, Cruz has proposed cutting federal funding for refugee resettlement. He has also said he supports governors who close their borders to refugees, stating that “it doesn’t make any sense for us to bring potential terrorists into this country.”

Ethnic profiling to this degree undermines the nation’s core values. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, and the thousands of vulnerable Syrian refugees deserve a safe haven. As President Barack Obama tweeted, “Slamming the door in the face of refugees would betray our deepest values.”

Of course, some migrants have committed high-profile crimes in cities such as Cologne, Germany, but their behavior cannot be extrapolated to the vast majority of refugees who are only fleeing conflict. If anything, these incidents signify a greater need for cultural and legal integration to ensure that migrants receive protection but are also held accountable for their actions.

Although most Muslims are peaceful individuals, the unfortunate truth is that fundamentalists can always take a holy text, be it the Qur’an or the Bible, and use a literal interpretation of that ideology to vindicate terrible crimes against humanity.

And whenever that happens, the U.S. government must make it clear that it is waging a war not against the ideology itself but rather against the individual who propagates that ideology. Stating that the U.S. is at war with religion would directly contradict the spirit of the First Amendment, which permits the free exercise of any and every strain of moderate — even radical — religion.

The truth is that politicians must focus on combating the individuals who use ideology to justify their heinous acts, not waging a battle against a religion per se. The spiritual fight should be left to the hundreds, if not thousands of ordinary Muslims citizens and clerics who have already denounced ISIS fundamentalism.

By differentiating religious doctrine from military policy, politicians can pave the way for a more tolerant America, one that will also be safer in the long run.