Many Americans worry about the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. And they have reason for concern: most attacks in recent memory came at the hands of a few extremist groups who identify themselves as Muslim. We cannot ignore such data.
We also cannot allow emotions to prevent us from responding in accordance with our values. Terrorists by definition aim for fear; we need not give them such satisfaction.
We have a legacy of freedom to uphold as well. The US has long been known as a land of opportunity, where the law recognizes that everyone is created equal, presumes innocence until guilt is proven, and defends the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
When we find those freedoms threatened, we often respond with boldness and determination. In seeking speedy resolution, we may be tempted to seize on simplistic patterns. For example, many Americans who own guns have felt unjustly demonized when policymakers react to mass shootings. While these citizens certainly care about preventing violence, they also care about our values, and remind us not to automatically condemn an entire diverse group based on the actions of a few outliers.
Similarly, we can recognize dangerous ideologies within a few Islamic sects while not condemning the vast community of Muslims who have shown no propensity to such extremism. Muslim-Americans have even worked with law enforcement to help disrupt terrorist plots.
I certainly understand the priority of national security when crafting immigration policy, but many popular narratives about Islam paint an incomplete picture. Most Americans descend from immigrants, and the religious freedom secured by our ancestors was not meant solely for Jews and Christians. Our zeal to identify those who might abuse our generosity should not lead us to automatically deny opportunities for an entire religion.
To be sure, I oppose all attempts to destroy our freedoms or overthrow our democracy, whether they come from immigrants or citizens, Muslims or Christians. But my confidence in those freedoms and the principles of my own faith are precisely why I do not want to turn away immigrants simply because of their faith.
“More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.” President Ronald Reagan’s observation in 1981 preceded this declaration: “We shall continue America’s tradition as a land that welcomes peoples from other countries. We shall also, with other countries, continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression.”
We do face threats to our security and safety. But they do not come from greater religious or ethnic diversity. For those who honor the values that truly define our nation, even if they worship at a different altar, we must continue to lift our lamp beside the golden door.