By Haider Mullick, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Haider Mullick is a fellow at Tufts University, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and a lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School. The views expressed are his own.
Last week, evil visited Boston. In the ensuing weeks and months we will debate preventing and fighting terrorism. Why did a 19-year-old Chechen-American allegedly place a bomb next to an eight-year-old child? How can we stop this from happening again? Some think the answers are in expanding security for all, but by restricting civil liberties and immigration of Muslims. Others believe the best response is business as usual – defeating terrorism by not being terrorized. But before we act we must reflect on what we’re trying to protect and punish: American pluralism and intolerance.
Unlike the founders of many nation-states, America’s founding fathers did not fight for an ethnic or religious state; they fought for Protestants and Deists, blue blood and blue collar, slave owners and humanitarians, soldiers and Quakers, and British loyalists and British-Americans. Soon after, thousands of Irish, Italians, and Germans arrived, and as years went by the American garden of liberty welcomed the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and the lonely Christian cross accepted the Star of David, the Islamic Crescent, and Darwin’s fish. The union was – and still is – imperfect and incomplete; yet human malice cannot live long under the seal of E pluribus unum (out of Many, One).
Yet oneness is not the negation of diversity. Hyphenated Americans come in all verities of motherlands, religion, creed and race. The American Constitution of fair play is the arbiter between oneness and diversity. We’re free to exercise our religion, but not free to impose it on others, and we’re free to vote with our conscience, but not free to define it for others.
The law of the land was not always in spirit with the Declaration of Independence. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness excluded blacks, women and the landless. But Americans fought physically for a more perfect union even when the Civil War nearly tore it apart, and morally in the Civil Rights movement. Once you made America home, you became home to the American idea, constantly balancing preservation with improvement.
Like the earlier days of the union, today’s immigrants are attracted to America’s openness. Yet some take the oath of allegiance solely as a means for acquiring personal wealth or, in fewer numbers, to spread violent totalitarianism. America’s business is business, but that business is protected by our social contract: respecting and upholding the law, and shunning “all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty.”
The fact is that although terrorism is inspired by numerous doctrines, the enormity of attacks by those that have robbed Islam of its humanity stand out. As a result, American Muslims today are asked to prove their love for country. Such mistrust is not new. Early nativists called for the cleansing of the country of the Irish, Germans and Italians, and later of the Japanese and German Americans during and after World War II. Some wanted a Christian country without Jews, and today some want it without Muslims.
But violence is violence no matter what cloaks it: religion, ethnicity, or mental disorder. Punishing an entire group of people goes against America’s progress toward creating a better union.
Today, we must try and punish Americans who harm us. Not, though, as members of an ethnic or religious group, but as Americans who broke their oath. The message should be clear: American capitalism may be a casino, but American citizenship is a long-term commitment, and American values of democracy and rule of law are not given, but earned.
Preventing all terrorism is impossible, but we must work together as Americans. We must realize the great contributions of Muslim scientists, professors, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, soldiers and law enforcement personnel to our American life. Many Muslim American patriots work tirelessly to protect us from threats every day. They leverage their wisdom, cultural diversity and linguistic skills to uphold our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Yes, there are Muslim Americans who have hurt us, like Colleen LaRose and Major Nidal Hasan. But Muslim Americans should continue to help prevent and deter such attacks when they can – this is not the time to divide and scare the ones who stand to gain the most from preventing terrorist attacks.
Protecting pluralism and punishing intolerance is quintessentially American. I’m a Muslim American: Lincoln inspires me, Marines embrace me, and God humbles me. If I break the law put me on trial, but don’t tread on me.