Guest Contributor: Drew Gibson
One of the more uncomfortable truths of history is that many of the unspeakable atrocities that have been carried out by one people against another have not been the sole responsibility of hateful and malicious individuals. Rather, much of the burden from the bulk of mankind’s self-inflicted injustices lies with the broad swaths of society that witnessed the rapid advance of prejudice and discrimination and responded with little more than silence. The existence of ethnic cleansings, apartheid states and holocausts rely as much on the quiet acquiescence of those who feel the pangs of moral discomfort at the sight of their fellows being robbed of their humanity yet do nothing as they do the foot soldiers who carry out the robbery.
In times of tumult such as these, in a nation such as this, it is all too easy to block out the injustices we see happening around us and retreat into the insularity of our private lives. Many of us may be tempted to look at the vicious, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric of Donald Trump and his surrogates and convince ourselves that it’s just bluster or that, regardless of intent, the abrogation of essential freedoms based upon one’s religion or ethnicity could never happen here in America. However, President-elect Trump’s appointment of white nationalists and avowed civil rights opponents like Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions to his cabinet has shown that he has every intention of following through on his horrifying campaign rhetoric and American history tells us that it has happened here before.
The story of America is riddled with instances of institutional discrimination against large sub-sections of the population based on their religious affiliation or race, a fact that is not lost on Carl Higbie, a spokesman for the pro-Trump Great America PAC. Earlier this week, Higbie appeared on Fox News’ The Kelly File and used past instances of US government sanctioned bigotry and oppression to justify the potential implementation of policies targeting Muslims in America, citing the implementation of internment camps for over 100,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II as precedent for the Muslim registry that has been floated by President-elect Trump and his surrogates. That someone so close to the ear of our next president would feel emboldened enough to use one of the most shameful and totalitarian chapters in America’s past as justification for future policy proposals should greatly disturb us, but it must not shock us into complacency.
On Friday, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Buddhist faith leaders gathered at Masjid Muhammad, the oldest mosque in our nation’s capital, to express solidarity with the Muslim community through a press conference and by joining in Friday prayers at the mosque. The occasion was marked by messages expressing concern at recent upswing in anti-Muslim hate crimes and the specter of the revival of a registry for immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, as well as a sense of hope in the ability of Americans to come together in a repudiation of religious hatred and bigotry.
In a statement that was delivered at a press conference on Friday, the faith leaders reiterated the vital importance of religious freedom in the maintenance of our core American values and implored President-elect Trump to reject the divisive rhetoric of his campaign and to follow through on the promise he delivered at his acceptance speech to represent all Americans:
“We call on the President-elect to forcefully denounce speech and actions negatively targeting the Muslim community, including the proposal to require the registration of Muslims in the country”, the statement read. “We invite him to join us at a mosque to meet our Muslim brothers and sisters, and in recognizing Muslims as vital members of society who are welcome alongside Christians and the unaffiliated, Jews and Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. We ask him to show through actions and words his commitment to the religious freedom upon which all faith communities in America rely. We have great hope for our nation’s ability to come together despite our divisions. We have seen fear and hate, but we have also seen outpourings of love and solidarity. This solidarity is our heritage and our future.”
The message that these faith leaders delivered to their fellow Americans on Friday was direct, but it was not simple: Now is not the time for equivocation. It is the time for action. In the coming weeks and months, we should hope and pray for the better angels of our nature to shine through even as we prepare for the continued resurgence of the bigoted vitriol that has accompanied President-elect Trump’s rise to power. This Sunday, November 20th, American Muslim and interfaith organizations all across the country are coming together in a show of solidarity by holding a National #IAmAmerica Vigil. Through this collective action, people of all colors and creeds will join together in a show of solidarity and support for the fundamental freedoms that are our birthright as American citizens and which should serve as a beacon of hope to those who are born abroad.
For more information on how to organize and/or attend a National #IamAmerica Vigil near you, click here.