To practice what is preached

Nov. 18, 2015, 11:59 p.m.

In a New York Times article published on Monday about the rising hostility toward Muslims in France, a scene is described in which Muslim women paying homage to the victims of last Friday’s horrific attacks were harassed for their faith. One of the women responded to the harasser, “The Quran says that nobody can take a life… [The killers] have nothing to do with us.” Another pleaded, “We are calling for peace and love.” Unfortunately, there was little they could say or do to combat the conflated perception of what is practiced by some terrorists under the guise of Islam and what is actually preached by the Islamic faith.

In the United States, we like to believe that we are above such unwarranted intolerance. According to a 2011 study titled “What It Means to Be American,” 88 percent of Americans agreed with the statement, “America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular.”

However, when asked about Islam in particular, the same study found that 41 percent of Americans were uncomfortable with Muslim elementary school teachers, 45 percent uncomfortable with Muslim men praying at an airport and 46 percent uncomfortable with a Mosque built near their home. Sadly, 47 percent in 2011 agreed with the statement: “the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life,” and according to data from the Public Religion Research Institute released on Tuesday of this week, the percentage of Americans today who agree that Islamic and American values are incompatible has risen to 55 percent.

According to a Bloomberg poll released Wednesday, 28 percent of Americans agree with the statement, “Islam is an inherently violent religion, which leads its followers to violent acts.” It seems to me that in the same way religious messages can be corrupted, many Americans may preach tolerance but practice the opposite.

In the last few days, waves of governors have issued statements objecting to the admission of Syrian refugees into their states, citing or implying a fear that among those refugees may be terrorists who aim to harm American citizens. Fifty-three percent of Americans agree that not accepting any Syrian refugees is the best approach for the United States to take. Not only are such trojan horse fears deeply misguided, but when we alienate those who are not part of the problem (Muslims make up the greatest share of the victims of Daesh’s horrific violence), we weaken what could be a unity of opposition against Daesh and play into the terrorists’ false narrative of a fundamental conflict between the West and the Islamic faith.

While states do not have the authority to grant or refuse refugee status, they do have the ability to make the resettlement process much more difficult. Even more frighteningly, presidential aspirants have expressed sentiments similar to the governors’ about the refugees and Muslims in America. Donald Trump contemplated the surveillance of and even closing of mosques in America, saying, “I would hate to do it, but it’s something that you’re going to have to strongly consider because some of the ideas and some of the hatred, the absolute hatred, is coming from these areas.”

On a similarly discriminatory note, Ted Cruz (the son of a refugee from Cuba) has suggested introducing legislation that would explicitly ban Muslim refugees, permitting only Christians. (Just think about that for a second… How does a refugee, or anyone for that matter, prove his or her faith?) New Jersey governor Chris Christie has gone so far as to imply that even orphaned toddlers from Syria should not be granted refuge.

The majority of governors, presidential candidates and other politicians who have spoken out against the acceptance of Muslim Syrian refugees are Republican, but this is not a partisan debate. Not everyone on the right is in the wrong; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Senator John McCain and FOX News host Shepard Smith, among other prominent contemporary Republican voices, have recently advocated the welcoming of Syrian refugees.

Former President George W. Bush said after 9/11, “Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans. Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others. Ours is a country based upon tolerance and we welcome people of all faiths in America.”

President Bush’s message is well-intentioned, but incorrect. The Islamophobic rhetoric pervading politics today does reflect the sentiments of most Americans. The United States is supposed to be a tolerant and welcoming country, but at the moment, many Americans are not practicing what is preached.

While foreign policy and national security will certainly become a central theme of the 2016 presidential election, we cannot allow the refugees to fall victim to partisanship and politics. America stands for more than the protection of people who are born within her borders. It stands for freedom, tolerance and hope. If we do not first protect those values, if we do not welcome those huddled masses yearning to breathe free, then what civilization are we protecting?


Contact Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna at ruairi ‘at’ 

Ruairí Alfredo Arrieta-Kenna (BA Political Science '18) was a columnist for the Stanford Daily.

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