You don’t have to look far to find examples of attacks on mosques in the United States.
I spent just a few minutes on Google recently and came across headlines like “Crimes Against Muslim Americans and Mosques Rise Sharply,” “Anti-Muslim attacks occurring in record numbers across U.S.” and “Hate Attacks on Muslims in U.S. Spike After Recent Acts of Terrorism.”
Hoping to temper some of this violence, President Barack Obama decided to visit a mosque in Baltimore last week. During the visit, Obama noted that Muslims have lived in this country since before it even existed as the United States. (Many were brought here in chains from Africa.)
“Recently, we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country,” Obama remarked. “We have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion.”
The president’s speech was a plea for tolerance, a principle that has been the bedrock of American life for more than 200 years. Yet some people had a problem with what he said.
Republican presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, accused Obama of seeking to divide the American people.
“I’m tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president’s done,” Rubio said during a campaign appearance in New Hampshire. “Always pitting people against each other. Always.
“Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque,” Rubio continued. “Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there’s going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam… [I]t’s this constant pitting people against each other – that I can’t stand that. It’s hurting our country badly.”
Let’s recap: Obama gave a call for tolerance and a plea that we all get along. He condemned violence against Muslims. Yet this was really an attempt at division? The crude partisanship of Rubio’s comments are bad enough; what’s worse is that he blithely dismissed the concerns raised by Muslims in America who have seen their mosques vandalized and their people harassed. Rubio seems to believe this is not a problem because there’s always going to be discrimination.
Yes, there will be – unless good people do something to stop it.
Rubio is also ignorant of the recent history of his own political party. President George W. Bush visited a mosque just days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. No one accused Bush of seeking to divide the American people. In fact, Bush, who referred to Islam as a religion of peace during his remarks, was commended for doing exactly what Obama did. At a time when Muslims – and even people perceived to be Muslim – were being attacked and in some cases murdered, Bush showed solidarity with besieged Muslims and called for calm, reminding Americans that Muslims aren’t the enemy, terrorists are.
But perhaps the worst thing about Rubio’s comments is that, knowingly or unknowingly, the Florida senator is guilty of employing the “either/or” fallacy, sometimes known as the false dilemma. It’s one of the most common – and dangerous – enemies to clear thinking.
It works like this: In the face of a dilemma, we are told we have two stark choices – when in fact we have other options.
Some who seek high office are telling Americans that we either must violate the rights of Muslims or give into terrorism. It’s a false choice. We can respect the rights of all law-abiding people in this nation no matter what religious or philosophical beliefs they hold and still battle terrorism. In fact, if we toss aside our core values, such as freedom of conscience and religious freedom, we have already lost the fight. Terrorists have won because they have forced us to be more like them.
Nor does protecting the rights of Muslims in America mean that we must accept extreme behaviors by fundamentalist Islamic zealots on these shores or abroad. Violence, honor killings, denial of education to girls, female genital mutilation, child marriages and other practices associated with some extreme interpretations of Islam find no safe harbor in American law, nor should they. We can eradicate these practices and still protect the rights of the vast majority of Muslims in America who don’t engage in them.
Donald Trump also said ill-informed things about the Obama mosque visit, but the bar for Trump is so low that one expects nothing less from him. Rubio by contrast poses as a serious candidate, not an attention-seeking narcissist looking for something to do between reality TV gigs.
Perhaps it’s time for someone to remind Rubio that if he is elected president, he’ll have to swear to uphold a Constitution that protects the rights of all Americans – and yes, that includes Muslims.