One of the predictable, unfortunate results of Islamist-motivated terrorist attacks is a rise in anger misdirected at Muslims in general.
Sure enough, in little more than a week after 14 people were slaughtered Dec. 2 in San Bernardino, Calif., the Anti-Defamation League tracked more than three dozen threats against Muslims. Mosques across the nation have been defaced by graffiti. And, of course, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump sparked a rhetorical firestorm with his insistence on an anti-Muslim policy that would be unique in American history — barring potential immigrants and visitors alike based on nothing more than their religion.
But the 7 million Muslims in the United States, as well as all of us who treasure religious liberty, should appreciate at least two positive developments since San Bernardino.
The first is the unified response in support of the overwhelming majority of Muslims who, like the overwhelming majority of Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and all other people of faith who make their homes in this nation founded on the principle of religious freedom, just want to live in peace while pursuing happiness.
In the Atlanta area, we have seen Jews, Muslims and Christians come together at Mercer University on Dec. 6 in a refusal to be enemies. We have seen Jewish Voice for Peace rally in Toco Hills on Dec. 10 to decry Islamophobia (we weren’t in agreement with some of the other causes JVP pulled into that demonstration, particularly regarding U.S. policy toward Israel, but its positions on Muslims and refugees were on target). We have seen more than three dozen houses of worship and faith-based organizations stand together at the King Center on Dec. 14 to insist that we in Atlanta, the city too busy to hate, put faith above fear.
We hope not only that Muslim families take heart from such rallies, but also that those who are tempted to lash out at innocent Muslims pause and recognize that their neighbors are against them.
We also hope that those displays of interfaith support strengthen the second positive development: the official launch of the Muslim Reform Movement.
Only two days after the San Bernardino shootings, a dozen brave Muslim leaders held a press conference in Washington to make the kind of announcement so many critics and skeptics of Islam have clamored for.
“We are Muslims who live in the 21st century. We stand for a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam. We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism, or politicized Islam, which seeks to create Islamic states, as well as an Islamic caliphate,” the reformers declared.
“We reject interpretations of Islam that call for any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam. Facing the threat of terrorism, intolerance, and social injustice in the name of Islam, we have reflected on how we can transform our communities based on three principles: peace, human rights and secular governance.”
The Declaration for Muslim Reform endorses tolerance, peace, freedom of religion and speech, and women’s and minority rights, and it rejects terrorism, oppression and bigotry of all kinds. It’s a simple, powerful statement for an Islam that embraces the 21st instead of the seventh century.
It’s what Islam and the world need because while we must do everything possible to destroy Islamic State and similar groups that would destroy us, their ultimate defeat must be achieved on the battlefield of ideas. That fight must be waged within Islam itself.