An open letter to Westerners by Guest Contributor Matthew Johnson
Muslims and Islam are not the enemy of the West.
I wish this statement was without controversy, but with the rising tide of Islamophobia (i.e. irrational fear of Muslims) in the United States and elsewhere, it is clear that it is not. There are many out there who cling tightly to the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ propaganda or otherwise insist that there is a notable difference between Islam and other religions, Muslims and the rest of us, and so on. I deplore you to reject this falsehood in the spirit of the holidays and think beyond your immediate family to the human family, which includes more than a billion Muslims who are not going anywhere. In fact, the United States and its allies should allow more to come and seek refuge from the violence their policies helped create, which would, in turn, provide ISIS with fewer potential recruits.
This is not just my opinion. It is shared by a French journalist named Nicolas Henin, who spent almost a year in ISIS captivity in Syria, as well as by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The best response to inhumanity is humanity. Shutting the door on Muslim refugees will only strengthen the so-called Islamic State itself, which needs more soldiers, clerics, and believers — if it is to be successful. There is no reason to fear a threat to Western values and civilization if those values are no longer deemed valuable and that civilization is no longer civilized.
For all the warranted condemnation of ISIS coming from the West, I am eager for the day when Westerners take a long, hard look at themselves and question why ignorance, fanaticism, and violence are wrong when the actors are Muslim but acceptable when they are Christian or Jewish or irreligious. Vile rhetoric that incites hatred and fear of all Muslims is no better than blanket condemnations of Western culture and values. As an insightful question posed by a college student in the recent Republican debate implied, it is dubious how a Donald Trump administration would set itself apart from ISIS or any like-minded extremists by seeking to murder noncombatant ISIS family members.
Remarks made at this debate make it seem as if the United States is at war with an entire civilization and that mass civilian deaths are inevitable. If I were not so concerned about NSA surveillance, I would carefully research the statements of ISIS leaders and likely find a similar sentiment. This is certainly how the Western media and policymakers portray ISIS. The important point is that there is little honest commentary on what makes us better than those we seek to destroy with our highly advanced weapons and even less on fighting terrorism without violence, which is not only possible but increasingly necessary. One idea is to fund, promote, and participate in exchange programs between Muslims and non-Muslims. Soliya is one shinning example.
While the war between ISIS and the West grabs the headlines, there is a different war buried in the middle of the broadsheet. Battle lines have been drawn in the United States, France, and elsewhere between those who hold fast to democracy, pluralism, and human rights while accepting that perfect security is impossible and that practicing self-control is far safer than attempting to control others — and those who lack mirrors and do not reflect on whether their actions match their values.
In short, all of us need a (metaphorical) mirror in our Christmas stocking.
Peace and love,
This article originally appeared on the Writing on the Wall blog.