By Arab News
By Rabbi Marc Schneier*
The US holiday season is defined by tradition, gratitude and family. It is a period to reflect on the blessings of life, celebrate communally with our neighbors, and spread the gifts of love and charity. No other time of year reminds us so strongly of our common faith and common fate.
But I am deeply concerned as Thanksgiving arrives over the next few days, with Chanukah and Christmas following soon after. For an already scarred America faces an extremist threat.
Earlier this month, the US Department of Homeland Security released a new threat bulletin warning that the country faces a heightened risk of attacks over the holidays from domestic violent extremists, or “DVEs,” as officials call them. Particularly shocking is the government’s assessment that violent perpetrators may try to exploit mass gatherings to conduct attacks on houses of worship, with Muslims, in particular, at risk.
Regardless of our faith, politics or personal beliefs, we should be alarmed that the state of the American union could give rise to such a potentiality in 2021.
The US is a nation built by people of different backgrounds, races, beliefs and identities, overwhelmingly made up of generations of descendants of immigrants and refugees who came to these shores to escape bigotry and discrimination. This holiday season should be the time for celebrating our diversity, mutual understanding and mutual respect.
Attacks on houses of worship are sadly not uncommon in today’s world. Recent atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq have served as reminders of the perils of post-conflict peace and reconciliation. But in the US, too, the past few years have seen horrific mass murders at churches and synagogues, and arson, bombings and vandalism at mosques and Islamic centers.
Perpetrators will always try to justify senseless acts of violence to new political controversies. As the Department of Homeland Security noted, extremists already have “attempted to use the relocation of Afghan nationals to the US to exacerbate historical DVE grievances over immigration and the American Muslim community.”
The idea of attacking Afghan refugees — or unrelated Muslims or anyone for that matter — as a response to America’s humanitarian acceptance of people whose lives were at stake is illogical and grotesque.
We must not let extremists use even the threat of violence to score political points.
Lamentably, the danger extremists pose to Muslims is very real. Andre Carson, the senior Muslim member of the US Congress, recounted at a recent counterterrorism hearing how one individual connected with the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol in Washington was arrested with not only an arsenal of illegal weapons in his possession, but also a list of potential targets. That list singled out Carson as a Muslim lawmaker.
It does not take a leap of the imagination to guess why an extremist would be so interested in the congressman’s religious identification.
We rely on law enforcement to prevent and respond to domestic terrorism. But Americans must all go further and become involved in countering the root causes of hatred and violence. We must counter disinformation and false narratives propagated through social media, and fight any efforts to stigmatize, alienate or demonize communities of faith or color.
In this holiday season, let us begin by reminding ourselves of some fundamental truths. That our differences are cause for celebration, not tension; that being American is not based on race, religion, ethnicity or political affiliation; that we are a nation with no official religion. We are — and always will be — a diverse, multicultural community of individuals who together, and only together, build America.
Afghan refugees who escaped religious persecution or threats of political retaliation after the Taliban’s takeover certainly deserve something better in the US. So, too, do all Muslims, whose contributions to American culture, medicine, science, economics and society have been immeasurable. We are all the beneficiaries because of their achievements, and a threat to them should be perceived as a threat to all.
As Benjamin Franklin said: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
Let us hope that this holiday season does not offer us any such source of outrage. Instead, let us pray that Muslims, too, can revel in the spirit of compassion and good cheer that should characterize this time of year for all Americans. And that, unperturbed by the extremists, they can enrich the celebrations for all of us.
- Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. He is the co-author with Imam Shamsi Ali of “Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation About the Issues that Divide and Unite Muslims and Jews.”