Let us fight terror without inflicting it on others

Imad Hamad

The Chattanooga terrorist attack came as a reminder of the threat that the U.S. faces and the pressures that the Muslim-American community feels after each incident of this nature occurs.

While we cannot plan for a 100 percent terror or violence free world, we can plan how to react to such incidents. Our national reaction to such incidents can be counterproductive if we pretend as if the acts of single individual is somehow attributable to a whole demographic group.

The aim of these crimes against humanity is to divide us. It is the unfortunate reality of our times that we must realize we cannot be 100 percent safe. There are people in every society who are willing to do bad things for different excuses and pretexts. However, acts of terror, hate and violence and other evil recognize no boundaries, social group or faith group. Any act of terror or hate is condemned, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator and the identity of the victim.

Being a minority, Muslim-Americans are often portrayed in a negative light each time a Muslim-American or any Muslim around the world commits an act of violence under whatever pretext.

Perpetrators' claims to be inspired by religion feed into an irrational fear and painting a whole community with a broad brush. Unlike any other group in the America, Muslim-Americans are treated as if they are responsible for the act and are qualified to comment on it, even though they have never met the perpetrator. Muslims are treated as if they are a small group, when they number more than a billion globally and several million in the U.S. The killing we witness in the name of religion or some other ideology should not be justification to put the whole religion in a negative light. Time is due to recognize that race or faith is not a factor in committing such horrific crimes against humanity.

The perpetrator of the Chattanooga attack, whether you call it a terrorist or a criminal attack or a tragedy committed by mentally ill person, is not act in the manner of a good Muslim or a good human being. Regardless of his motivation, the responsibility of the act is his not Islam’s or that of Muslims. There are reports that the perpetrator was struggling with mental illness and drug abuse. That he had such problems should not put mentally ill Americans, who are in the millions, in a bad light. The overwhelming majority of them do not commit crimes either.

The safety and the security of our nation is our common responsibility as a people and a government. The Muslim community is a partner and not an adversary in the collective effort to safeguard the homeland. Muslim-Americans are not a perfect minority; they are regular human beings and just like any other faith group, they have bad elements and troubled members. The Muslim-American community keeps holding its breath when a violent crime occurs hoping that the perpetrator is not a Muslim for fear of the backlash. The national crime studies show that the American Muslim is largely peaceful and law abiding.

Reacting to violence with unity and respecting the human rights of all Americans is the best way to counter the rhetoric and narrative of hate and grievance that is used to radicalize the impressionable.

The challenge facing us as Americans is to remain vigilant without ignoring our commitment to civil rights and human rights of all Americans. Our country needs us to remain united to protect it.

Imad Hamad is executive director of the American Human Rights Council.