Recent events in world history have brought to the forefront yet again the issue of radical Islamic terrorism. Last week, ISIS staged attacks in Paris and in Beirut that affected countless people and left the world asking why. Why would anyone do something so horrific? What would prompt a person to attach an explosive to their body and detonate it, killing themselves and dozens of others? How can events like this happen over and over in what we assume to be a civilized world? These are legitimate questions, and I pray that one day we'll be able to get to the bottom of them and find a solution for this problem.
But that's not what this post is about. Instead, I want to talk today about a certain type of response to these tragedies that I find extremely problematic. It seems that every time a terrorist attack is carried about by a Muslim group like ISIS, a wave of anti-Muslim ideology sweeps over our national dialogue, and suddenly it becomes perfectly acceptable to say whatever one likes about this entire group of people. A quick browse of a Facebook news feed shows how willing we are to blame the entire Muslim religion and each Muslim individually for the actions of ISIS. I find this problematic for a lot of reasons.
First of all, it's simply unfair. To say that an entire group of people is responsible for the actions of a small subset of that group that isn't even condoned by the majority is illogical and unethical. Groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS are called radical Muslim groups for a reason. They are fringe groups within the Islamic religion, a tiny minority that does not respresent the whole. In all honesty, they're really just militant groups that use their faith as an excuse for their reproachable deeds and as a recruitment technique. But they do not represent what Islam is. Islam is a peaceful religion, and Muslims are by and large peaceful people. But because we assume that groups like ISIS represent the whole, we never see beyond what the media tells us about Islam, and that's unfair to the millions of Muslims who have nothing but good intentions.
Blaming all Muslims for the actions of ISIS is also hypocritical. It's an example of what psychologists refer to as in-group bias. We tend to assume that the people within our own in-group (such as our own religion, nationality, or race) exhibit diversity, but people within out-groups are all the same. The truth is that every group is diverse and includes a range of different viewpoints. No one would ever try to argue that the attrocities committed during the Crusades or the Inquisition represent the whole of Christianity. And yet this is what we do with Muslims. We believe that actions committed by one subset of the group represent the group as a whole. This is simply unacceptable, and it must stop.
Now we are in a place where unwarranted fear of all Muslims is threatening to stop us from helping other people. The Syrian refugee crisis has been wreaking havoc on the lives of millions of people for far too long, and the United States is finally getting involved by allowing some of the refugees to relocate here. Unfortunately, those refugees are going to be met with a great deal of skepticism, bias, and even hatred when they arrive. I've already seen multiple posts online claiming that the refugee crisis is simply a front for radical Islamic groups to bring their members to the American shore, and now state after state is publicly declaring that Syrian refugees are not welcome within their borders. This is utterly ridiculous.
The Syrian refugees are not terrorists. They are simply people—men, women, and children—who are trying to find a home. They've been displaced by violence, and they are trying to escape the exact events that many Americans are accusing them of. How much sense does that make? We are at risk of letting bias and ignorance get in the way of humanitarian efforts, and that simply cannot be tolerated. The refugees need our help, not our hatred, so let's give it to them.
Because the truth is that blaming Islam as a whole for terrorist attacks only perpetuates the world's problems. What is the biggest recruitment method used by ISIS? They teach young Muslims that Americans hate them and are a threat to their faith. Every time someone posts an anti-Muslim post on Facebook or makes a snide remark about importing terrorists from Syria, they are giving ISIS a little more ammunition to use against us and to recruit new members. Let me be clear: If you are promoting Muslim hatred, then you are supporting the radical Islamic terrorist groups, the very groups that you claim to hate. Anti-Muslim sentiment is a part of the problem, and it has to stop.
But we're not just making the ISIS problem worse. We're burning every bridge we've built with Muslims in our country and abroad, people who could be valuable allies in trying to solve the problem of terrorism. There are good Muslims out there who want to see this violence end as much as we do. But we are pushing them away by blaming them for the very thing they're trying to prevent. And the truth is that we need as much conversation, collaboration, and fellowship between ourselves and Muslims as we can get. International, inter-cultural, and inter-faith dialogue, when done correctly, can do nothing but good for the world, and we need to be creating space for it instead of limiting it.
The source behind anti-Muslim sentiment is simply fear. And fear can be combatted easily by two things: education and exposure. When you take the time to actually learn about Islam and interact with Muslims, you learn that you have nothing to fear from the Muslim faith. In fact, I think we can learn a lot from interacting with our Muslim brothers and sisters, just as we have a lot that we can teach them. We live in an increasingly multicultural world, and we have to learn to adjust to that. The appropriate response is not fear but empathy and interest. So as we try to respond to the tragedy of terrorism, may we remember that Muslims are not the enemy. They are not out to get us. They are simply people who hate terrorism as much as we do. May we embrace our fellow human beings as we go through these experiences together, and may we learn to love those who are different from ourselves rather than fear them.