After the tragic mass shooting that took place last Friday in Colorado Springs, like so many times before we’ve been told to remain calm and not overreact. From Newton, Connecticut, to Charleston, South Carolina and so many other communities, after each heartless and vicious incident, many of our political leaders urge caution.
Even though the carnage seems unending, time and again we are reminded knee-jerk responses to such a complex social problem will hurt, rather than help, the situation. Overreaction, it has been said, is our enemy.
On the night of Nov. 13 and in the days following, these very same voices, so quick to urge caution and to eschew overreaction, threw such caution to the wind. Paris, France, you would have thought was Paris, Texas, or Paris, New York (actual U.S. cities).
The loss of 129 souls in a coordinated terrorist attack carried out by ISIS followers in the “City of Light” drew instant and emotional knee-jerk reactions from the very same leaders who seem to be more thoughtful and circumspect when it comes to mass killings domestically.
Soon after the attacks, our own Gov. Robert Bentley was quick and decisive: Alabama’s doors would be closed to Syrian refugees. Up to half of the nation’s governors, mostly Republican, followed suit.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne echoed similar sentiments in a demanding letter to President Barack Obama and in interviews with various media outlets. Others, like Donald Trump, even advocated closing down and monitoring mosques, or requiring Muslims to register with the federal government. Islam, it’s been asserted, is incompatible with democracy itself and our American political values. This mass shooting, half a world away, caused alarmist rhetoric to reach a pitched level.
Yet America and Europe are fighting two different kinds of battles. Europe’s is and has for some time been its inability to assimilate its Muslim population. Muslims began immigrating to Europe in large numbers starting in the 1950s.
Today, many of those who are alienated and disaffected are the second- and third-generation Muslims, like those, save one, who committed the Paris shootings.
These weren’t new arrivals to Europe; they were born and raised on the continent. Consider as well that, compared to the several hundred Americans who are estimated to have left to fight in Syria, around 5,000 Europeans have left for Syria, most of them from France, Germany and the U.K. Around 50 Americans are thought to have made their way back home, but Europe is dealing with an exponentially larger number that have found their way back to their European homelands. Europe has a serious crisis on its hands.
Is that to say the U.S. doesn’t have a problem with terrorism or should not be vigilant? Of course not. Yet, Europe’s problem is not America’s problem. Time and time again it has been pointed out and noted that America’s Muslim population is, largely, thoroughly integrated into society. Unlike in Europe, the vast majority of Muslims in America see themselves as exactly that — Americans!
Many law enforcement officials have noted this is one reason we’ve been able to thwart and prevent a large number of terrorist attacks since 9/11. The strong active cooperation and participation of the Muslim community in investigations is born of their strong allegiance to, and investment in, this land, which is as precious to them as to any other ethnicity.
To say that Islam is incompatible with democracy is ill-informed and foolish. In 1786, fearing the “tyranny” of state-sponsored religion, and having worked tirelessly to get a religious liberty bill passed in the Virginia assembly, Thomas Jefferson observed the measure was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Mohammedan], the Hindoo [Hindu] … of every denomination.”
The Koran read by Muslims during the time of the founding of our country is the very same one Muslims read today. Jefferson and other founders saw no incompatibility with it and the nascent democracy they were forming, nor is there any with it today. However, just like the Bible, the Koran can be twisted to undergird an abhorrent and destructive worldview. We should be smart enough to understand that.
In the U.S., for the last couple of decades, one of our biggest battles has been with individuals — with or without a political or ideological axe to grind — who don’t mind using a gun to take as many lives at one time as possible. Battling ISIS is important, but in America battling lone, bloodthirsty psychopaths appears to be equally important. It takes level-headed political leadership to help keep all this in perspective.
ISIS is a religious cult. Anyone, including other Muslims, who doesn’t follow its tenets in their eyes is worthy of elimination. A pair of ISIS suicide bombers in Beirut killed 43 and wounded 239 on the evening of Nov. 12, a week before the Paris attacks. The majority of the victims were Muslims. They’ve beheaded Muslims — Shiite and Sunni — with the same wantonness and barbarity as they have non-Muslims.
ISIS is not at war with Western civilization: it’s at war with civilization itself. From the top to the bottom, members of this “apocalyptic death cult” believe they’re ushering in the last days, the end of times. An oft-stated and major goal of this cult is to draw America into a big and bloody ground war in the heart of the Middle East. Its adherents believe this would be an ultimate acknowledgment of their caliphate’s legitimacy.
That’s why thoughtfulness and prudence from our leaders is so important right now. This embracing and spewing of intolerance and bigotry only serves to help ISIS. Mindless blustering plays right into their hands. A call to ignore our cherished political values only serves to buttress their message.
Effective political leadership calls out what’s best in its people, not what’s worst. It seeks to enlighten, not spread ignorance. It desires to maintain vigilance, but never at the expense of compassion.