(RNS) In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, there has been much talk about the need to strip away “political correctness” when discussing Muslims, Islam and Middle Eastern refugees.
The inference is that we, Americans, have given most Muslims a pass, but the horrific Paris attacks have finally made this fragile politeness impossible to sustain.
But earnestly considering other people’s faith is not just an empty show of political correctness. It is a critical step in the progress of America and the world.
ISIS is relatively small: murderous and destructive. Its one path to victory would be to divide those who oppose it, so division rather than conquest is the strategy the violent extremists employ.
ISIS wants the nations of the West to see themselves as being at war with all of Islam. In fact, ISIS warriors themselves are at war with much of Islam and the West. Their brutality angers and disgusts us, but it must not lure us into division.
In America now, some of the loudest voices are falling into this trap. They disparage Muslims and drive a wedge into American society, which, more than any other nation, is built on the contributions of its minorities and immigrants. Without these immigrants, we would not be the resilient society we have become.
It should be apparent that the Muslims who have long made America their home and those who have immigrated in recent decades live by an ethic that rejects the ISIS message.
Scattered but tragic acts of homegrown terrorism in America are products of a few alienated people. Those extremists are at least as repugnant to Muslims as they are to the rest of America.
The challenge to Americans is to recognize that Muslims, Christians, Jews — all of us — are on the same team in the fight against violent extremism. The challenge to American Muslims is to engage fully with the rest of the nation in identifying the safest and wisest paths forward.
The only way to fight ISIS is with a united front, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
We need a cohesive political strategy to counter ISIS, not merely a military strategy in the Middle East. The heightened prejudice witnessed over the past couple days in America — from football fans spouting hate during a moment of silence to xenophobic shouts to block Syrian refugees from settling in the West — will only serve ISIS in exploiting the fears of otherwise decent people.
As presidential candidate Martin O’Malley said 24 hours after the tragedies in Paris, “Let us not fall into the trap of thinking all of our Muslim American neighbors are somehow enemies of this country.” Rather, he said, they “are the first line of defense against radical elements.”
American Muslims are the front line in the fight against terror by alerting and defending the nation from ISIS recruiters preying on alienated youth and by providing counsel on complex issues emanating from the Middle East.
What lies behind the savagery and nihilism of recent days — the murders in Paris, the downing of a Russian airliner, the bombings in Beirut — is, in part, the anticipation by the terrorists of an imminent apocalypse.
But a glimpse into the Quran’s message exposes the fraudulence of the doctrine of religious war. American Muslims know that, but other Americans need to be informed so they can amplify a voice of religious pluralism to counter the radicals’ message of religious separation.
Muslims in many Western nations are already coping with humiliation, harassment and alienation. The smattering of homegrown extremists makes that situation all the more volatile. Muslims and non-Muslims alike suffer the consequences.
That is why we must see through the anti-Muslim rhetoric. Solidifying Muslims’ place in Western society will destroy the doctrinal poison of ISIS. That should be our strategy and not merely asking Muslims to issue more press releases of condemnation.
ISIS wants to see a cultural divide in America to reinforce its argument that Muslims don’t belong in the West. ISIS is on the wrong side of history. Let’s be on the right side. God’s will of diversity and pluralism will prevail.
(Salam Al-Marayati is president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Bob Berger is a retired op-ed editor at the Los Angeles Times.)
YS END AL-MARAYATI-BERGER