So it happened again. After months of relative quiet, another radicalized (and likely mentally ill) individual has picked up a gun and started murdering people as part of a twisted ideology. Though last weekend's tragedy in Florida is another in a small handful of incidents which have reached America's shores, this one was especially brutal. So far, it seems this attack was more likely inspired by ISIS than actually planned and directed by it. Sure, they were quick to claim responsibility (which they do at nearly every opportunity). But so far (despite unfounded declarations that terrorists are pouring into our borders), the only attacks that have been carried out have been by American citizens who radicalize themselves. In the aftermath of this weekend's tragedy we saw a wide variety of responses. In these, we have seen both the best and worst of the human condition. Let's compare the compassionate response with the hateful response this week. Please note: we typically try to keep this blog apolitical (focusing instead on policy ideas rather than partisan politics). Unfortunately, the extreme rhetoric and tenacity of discrimination against those who had nothing to do with this attack compels us to speak out.
Anger at the person who did this is certainly justified. Blind hatred of an entire group of people, on the other hand, is not. Some have regrettably decided to react to this by demonizing Islam, others by renewing calls for sweeping discriminatory policies against Muslims. Still others blame guns (either too many or too few). And others have decided to call for the president to resign simply for not using the words "Islamic terrorism" (as though these two words will magically allow us to defeat them once and for all). This particular idea is especially ridiculous. Let's think about this for a second. If the president of the United States resigned because he didn't call a terrorist attack an act of "Islamic terrorism," what message would that send to ISIS? They would suddenly be emboldened by the idea that a lone, mentally unstable gunman could bring down the most powerful person in the world. Do we really want to send ISIS a message that America is that weak?
Of course not. We are not weak, but those who react with misguided hatred are. They cower behind their computer screens while spewing hatred and intolerance of Muslims and immigrants. In the safety and comfort of their own homes, they are far removed from the actual terror experienced by millions throughout the world, and likewise removed from the pain and suffering their proposed policies would cause to millions of innocent people in this country. They foolishly believe that banning groups of people, building walls, indiscriminately bombing insurgent strongholds, or condoning torture are being "tough on terror." They surrender to fear, quickly and shamefully selling out America's values for a moment of perceived safety from brown people with guns. There is always more that can be done to ensure that radicalism is prevented and that dangerous people do not enter the country. We can debate the effectiveness of current vetting programs and surveillance methods for days. But fear is no excuse for hatred and polarizing, discriminatory policies.
But for every person spouting their hatred on internet forums and presidential pulpits, there are even more people who actually went out and did something to help during this tragedy. Hundreds have volunteered to give blood, donate food and water, or donate to nonprofits for the LGBT community. Theirs is the strength that America needs to fight terrorism. They don't give in to fear. They respond with tolerance, respect, and an appreciation that not all members of a community can be represented by a single hateful voice. The LGBT community that was targeted know only too well what it feels like to be discriminated against by a label that society has imposed upon them. All across the country and all over the world, people are showing solidarity and remembering the victims of this hate crime. They condemn the man, but recognize that no single ideology can be reduced to and judged by its most violent and intolerant parts.
Perhaps no recent event embodies this more than the funeral for Muhammad Ali which was held last Friday. This event was truly a testament to the human spirit and our shared humanity. As a powerful fighter and social figure, Ali championed social causes for a variety of discriminated figures in recent American history. His memorial service included priests, rabbis, imams, and even Utah senator Orrin Hatch. They all spoke to the common desire of people from all groups for tolerance and understanding. This isn't tolerance for terrorists, this is tolerance for the innocent people that terrorists pretend to speak for. They reminded us that all religions have struggled with this at one time and that violence can come from the the oppressed and the oppressors alike. Were Ali still alive today, there is no doubt he would have seen this attack as the result of a mentally unstable individual who was possibly insecure of his own sexuality and was seduced by the ideas of groups that have hijacked the true message of his religion.
To be fair, the problem of radicalism IS more prevalent within Islam than it is with other religions right now. There is certainly no denying that. All faiths and ideologies have struggled with this, and now mainstream Islam must grapple with this as well. But the problem isn't the radicalization of Islam, it is the Islamization of radicalism. Nor is this about political correctness. Saying you want to ban all Muslims from entering the country is just short-sighted, reactionary policy that will not work and only further encourages violence against America. You can't fight radicalism with more radicalism. It requires a firm and steady response, but one that is patient, measured, and targets only the guilty among a group (not the whole group itself). We're not scared of a group of brown men with guns looking to harm and entire group of people, but we are worried about a group of white men with money and a political agenda looking to harm an entire group of people. If we give in to them, if we give in to hate and forsake our values, that's the moment these radicals have truly won.