(RNS) Just as our nation accepts its 10,000th Syrian refugee, calls to ban future Muslims from entering the country have reached a fevered pitch.
In recent weeks, the patriotism of an American Muslim soldier killed in Iraq has been called into question without cause; a New York-based imam and his associate were murdered in broad daylight; and a county commissioner in Georgia temporarily blocked the construction of a new mosque.
Thankfully, Americans of all political and religious backgrounds are pushing back, which is good news as we mark 15 years from the Sept. 11 attacks that led to deadly tensions between the U.S. and parts of the Muslim world.
Many Americans understand that hatred of Muslims is an assault on American ideals. We’ve spent our lives working in different spheres — one of us is an evangelical Christian pastor, the other a retired Marine general — but we’ve both seen firsthand how Islamophobia diminishes us all and weakens our country.
Of course, Muslims are the primary victims of Islamophobia, which prevents them from exercising their basic rights, including their right to religious freedom. It also threatens their lives.
Violence against Muslims spikes after high-profile incidents of terrorism, and a recent report by Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding found that an upsurge has coincided with the presidential race.
Between March 2015 and March 2016, 12 American Muslims were murdered in bias-motivated attacks.
Yet Islamophobia isn’t a “Muslim issue.” It is an issue for anyone who cares about the United States and the values that undergird it.
This shouldn’t need to be said, but lies have gained so much traction that we feel we need to to: Terrorist groups represent a minuscule fraction of Muslims worldwide who are, after all, both the primary victims and primary opponents of ISIS and al-Qaida.
According to the FBI, the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the United States are committed by non-Muslims. Terrorists speak for Muslims no more than the Ku Klux Klan speaks for Christians.
Nearly all Muslims are part of the American mainstream.
Five thousand Muslims are in the military, and thousands more serve their country in other ways: as teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers and public officials.
Muslims stand ready to combat extremism in their own communities, but the bigoted rhetoric of public officials and discriminatory policies may make them reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement. A similar dynamic takes place overseas, where American hostility toward Muslims alienates communities whose cooperation the United States needs to wage a smart and effective battle against terrorism.
Calls for a blanket ban on Muslim refugees appear to validate the clash-of-civilizations propaganda of ISIS, which uses such rhetoric to recruit followers. Conversely, openness to Muslim refugees puts the lie to ISIS propaganda and casts the United States in its proper, favorable light.
Make no mistake: Islamophobia weakens U.S. national security.
It’s also important to remember that while Christians are a majority in the U.S., they become a minority when they travel or move to many other countries. Treating Muslims with proper respect here improves America’s standing to defend the religious freedom of Christians and other religious minorities around the world.
In this sense, and in many others, hostility toward Muslims cuts against our own best interests.
These debates are understandably intense and full of emotion, but emotion should never lead us to turn our backs on the values that have made us strong as a people, and have made us a light for the world.
Millions of Americans share a passionate commitment to our founding ideals, and no ideal is more foundational than freedom of religion. It is this freedom that allows us to practice our faith free from government interference, and that has formed a society of astonishing religious pluralism.
That’s America, a place where people are free to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience.
(Bob Roberts is pastor of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, and retired Gen. Charles C. Krulak was commandant of the Marine Corps from 1995-1999)