Places of worship burn to the ground and families threatened with violence flee their homes.
Sounds like something out of Iraq or Syria, yet this was actually Philadelphia during the Bible Riots of 1844. Fear and hatred of Irish Catholic immigrants in 1844 follows an all too familiar narrative. During this period, Irish Catholic immigrants, and even Irish-American citizens, were viewed as lazy, uneducated, dirty, disease-ridden, criminals who stole American jobs and threatened the American way of life. Today, the Irish-American Catholic heritage is a celebrated and proud part of the American experience.
Seeing as Catholics are no strangers to feeling like aliens within their own country, it’s critically important for us to defend Muslim Americans, immigrants and refugees from all forms of extremism; whether it originates overseas or among fellow citizens.
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Speaking of extremism, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for the closing of mosques preaching hate, anational database for Muslims and temporarily banning incoming travel from Muslims — whether they be citizens (he later backtracked on this), immigrants or refugees.
Additionally, let’s not forget Trump has proposed building up the military and sending more ground troops to the Middle East, somehow securing oil fields held by ISIS in Iraq to pay for veteran services and most recently entertained the idea of using nuclear weapons against ISIS.
Due to the recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, these measures outlined by Trump may seem like a logical course of action to some conservatives. However, respect for the rule of law and religious freedom, coupled with fresh memories of costly military intervention over the last decade, tells us otherwise. In short, these reactionary stances by Trump only encourage further fear and violence at home and abroad.
First and foremost, even if a designated place of worship preaches hate, the United States Constitution blocks the government from closing it down. The government can investigate (but not act) unless an individual or group threatens or advocates force and has the ability to carry out such force.
It should be noted that since 9/11, more people have been killed by white supremacists, anti-government fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by self-described jihadists in the US.
Second, a national database for Muslims harkens back to the internment of Japanese during World War II. Such a database would essentially tell 2.7 million Muslim-Americans they’re second-class citizens.
The third stance by Trump about a temporary ban on Muslims merits little response. No serious plan to address terrorism would suggest, even if it were only temporary, the closing off of travel to an entire religious group into the US. Doing so would likely further instigate terrorist recruitment and endanger American and ally lives overseas.
Aside from bleeding out the US both physically and monetarily, one of Osama bin Laden’s main strategic goals wasto paint the war with the US in religious terms. To religiously separate, as Bin Laden once said,“The camp of belief and the camp of disbelief.”
Donald Trump, if allowed to do so, would fall straight into Osama Bin Laden’s trap. A trap that encourages the US to deploy more troops, bomb more countries and spend a trillion or more dollars overseas.
In 2010, the UK’s former MI5 chief (comparable to head of the FBI) heavily criticized the 2003 invasion of Iraq, believing it served to only radicalize Muslims in Iraq, the UK and across the globe. Eliza Manningham-Buller, the MI5 chief from 2002 to 2007, stated, “Arguably, we gave Osama bin Laden his Iraqi jihad, so that he was able tomove into Iraq in a way that he was not before.”
That same year, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found “strong evidence for a revenge effect” when civilian casualties are caused in US-led military operations in Afghanistan.
Before jumping into another conflict the US doesn’t completely understand, let us reflect on the past and how it shaped the world today.
I have no doubt Donald Trump loves the United States. Yet his divisive rhetoric about the Islamic faith puts US citizens, law enforcement, military personnel and our allies in even greater danger. Calm and patience, not panic and fear, is what’s needed to properly combat terror. Trump doesn’t seem to have these qualities.
In short, Donald Trump teaches fellow citizens to share only a common fear and mistrust of each other. Instead of trying to create a culture of encounter and dialogue, Trump is telling citizens to shut themselves off from the world.
As William Penn, the famous Quaker of Pennsylvania, once said, “True religion does not draw men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.” Clearly, whatever misconceptions Trump has about Islam, he’s equally confused about the core tenants of Christianity.
Penn’s words remind me of someone in my life who upheld the core tenants of Christianity despite experiencing racial injustice throughout his life. If you ever happen to be around the University City section of Philadelphia, visit the second story lobby of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). There, you’ll find a portrait dedicated to my late friend, mentor and godfather. Inscribed beside the portrait is a Quaker quote he tried to live his life by:
“I shall pass this way but once;
Any good therefore that I can do,
Or any kindness that I can show –
Let me not defer nor neglect it,
For I shall not pass this way again.”
Whether it be the Quaker values that formed the bedrock of religious freedom in Pennsylvania, or the Catholic values I grew up with, Trump’s ideas have nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with the kind of nativism of the past. A dark past in which Americans burned down churches, drove families from their homes and ultimately preventing fellow citizens from fully participating in a democratic system of government.
My advice to people of goodwill and peace: Go out and seek encounter with your neighbors. Foster a thirst for knowledge and brotherhood. This, more than our immense wealth and military strength, is our most valuable weaponagainst extremism and terror.