I am a Muslim
Three types of harm would result if Donald Trump’s call today for a ban on Muslim immigration were to become law. First, we would deny safe haven to decent people fleeing the tyranny of ISIS, the death and destruction of Bashar al-Assad’s barrel bombs, the repression of the Iranian ayatollahs, or the poverty of Palestine – solely because those people are Muslim. To ban Muslim immigration is to hang a sign from Lady Liberty’s neck, “out to lunch.” Emma Lazarus’s hymn would need a codicil: give us your tired, your poor, unless they worship Allah.
Second, we would tell American Muslims, nearly three million of our brothers and sisters, that they do not belong, that in the United States of American they are strictly second-class citizens. Muslims who have been present on American land since 1528, when a Moroccan slave named Estevanico was shipwrecked near present-day Galveston. Muslims who descend from Revolutionary War soldiers Yusuf ben Ali and Bampett Muhamed. Muslims who descend from Bilali Muhammad, a slave who became an imam for 80 other Muslim slaves, all of whom fought the British during the War of 1812. Muslims who descend from the 292 Muslims known to have fought in the American Civil War.
Third, we would diminish ourselves. Our most shameful historical episodes involved the banishment of the “other” – African-American slavery, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese internment camps, the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Seminole Trail of Tears. Those banishments mark us as capable of great horrors. By such acts we tell ourselves that we are not after all motivated by principle or optimism or generosity, but by fear and prejudice, that we are not a noble but a despicable people. In the end we denigrate ourselves far more than we denigrate the “other” we banish.
The third harm is the far greatest of the three. It was that harm that moved Richard Attenborough to put these words in Mohandas Gandhi’s mouth:
“I am a Muslim, and a Hindu, and a Christian, and a Jew, and so are all of you. When you wave those flags and shout, you send fear into the hearts of your brothers. That is not the India I want. Stop it! For God’s sake, stop it!”
In the face of fascism, whether Trump’s or anyone else’s, all people of good will are Muslims. We must all be Muslims.