“Personnel is policy,” a widely-used expression dating back at least to the Reagan administration, has special meaning today as we consider President-elect Trump’s recent selection of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as National Security adviser. During the campaign, Trump made several statements widely perceived to be anti-Muslim; Flynn has made anti-Muslim statements that are far more pernicious. The implications of his appointment for American Muslims are daunting.
Flynn is an adviser and a former speaker for ACT for America, an organization described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the “largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.” In a speech to that organization he described Islam as a “cancer” and “a political ideology . . . that definitely hides behind religion.” He has stated that “Sharia law is spreading in the United States” and tweeted that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” (His emphasis.)
Unfortunately, Muslims in America have had to deal with more than mere rhetoric. As historian Albert Marrin pointed out, “words have consequences.” A study done at California State University found a 76% increase over the past year in hate crimes directed at Muslims in the 20 states studied. New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill reported a doubling of anti-Muslim hate crimes there. There have been newspaper reports of an attempt to set a Muslim woman’s hijab on fire and a Muslim teacher who received a death threat stating she should be strangled by hers. Some of the incidents have included written or oral statements relating to Trump or the election. In most of the cases it is not possible to prove causation, but certainly the rhetoric has emboldened some to make their bigotry public.
I have been friends and colleagues with Muslims for the past 25 years. Some of them are very devout, praying five times a day and observing Ramadan. Others are less outwardly religious. Some women wear a hijab, some don’t; one even wears the long flowing garment called an abaya. They have told me that they wear these as an expression of their devotion, much the same way a Christian might wear a crucifix. What they all have in common is that they are good people to whom I would trust my life without reservation. They are not at all to be afraid of.
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One of the worst canards to come from Flynn and others is that ISIS is representative of Islam in general. The KKK and many of the white supremacist groups cover themselves with a veil of Christianity; we rightfully disclaim that their beliefs represent Christianity. Why are so many unable to discern the same about ISIS and Islam? There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the American leaders of Islam and the Islamic organizations that have condemned, on multiple occasions, the horrors committed by ISIS.
The other monster under the bed worrying Islamophobes is that Sharia law somehow will be adopted in this country. We have even seen the silliness of communities and states considering laws to ban it. Even if it were possible to adopt Sharia law in a community, it would be rapidly found to be unconstitutional as a violation of at least five amendments. If any community might try to adopt Sharia law it would be Dearborn, Mich., which is over 40% Arab-American. Four of the seven members of city council are Arab-Americans, including the council president, who is a Muslim. In this city of almost 100,000, with the largest percentage of Arab-Americans in this country, there has been no proposal to adopt Sharia law.
Muslims are the law enforcement officers who protect us at home and the military who serve and die in our name abroad. They are our governmental leaders and legislators who are committed to serving our needs. They are the teachers to whom we entrust our children and the medical professionals to whom we entrust our lives. They are the small business owners who are the bedrock of our economy and they staff our big corporations.
Most importantly, they are our neighbors. Perhaps the first step we need to take as we move into a new era and attempt reconcile our differences is to prayerfully consider the second part of Jesus’ “Greatest Commandment” to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Clark Gillett is a Columbus physician.