Liberty and Justice for Some

By Lydia A. Morton 7-29-2011

In the wake of the tragic bombing in Norway this past weekend, we are left with an unsettling picture of the state of anti-Islamic sentiments in the United States. There were broad attempts to blame the bombings on Islamic terrorism before all of the facts of the attack were out, and even after the attacker became known as Anders Behring Breivik, a self-proclaimed Christian extremist, the discussion focused on Breivik's statement that he was responding to the threat Muslims pose in Europe.

On Monday, I had the opportunity to hear a diverse panel of experts discuss the prevalence of anti-Islamic rhetoric and legislation that has found its way into the political proceedings of this nation, which claims to have religious freedom written into its DNA.

One panelist, Professor Asifa Quraishi, shared a personal story of how her son was asked what the best thing about being a Muslim was, and he responded by saying that he enjoyed being able to show Americans that not all Muslims are terrorists. With motherly concern, Asifa added, "That's a lot of pressure on a 10-year-old."

Is it only in court where we even pretend that one is innocent until proven guilty? In the hearts and minds of most Americans, the opposite appears to be true. We often negatively categorize individuals based on appearance or association, and the onus is on them to prove they are not a threat -- to prove that they too value the American ideals of life and liberty. The problems one faces as a religious minority is not wholly different from being an ethnic minority, but unlike nationality or citizenship, religious identity is more nuanced. How does one go about disproving that he or she is a terrorist? Perhaps it is enough for them to speak fluent English, dress in Western style clothing, and eat fast food every once in a while. But what about those who choose to follow their convictions and traditions without fear of the stereotypes? What about those who kneel down to pray in an airport, the women who choose to cover their hair, or those who pepper their speech with "Insha'Allah?" When will we allow them the space to demonstrate that, although they view life through a different religious lens, their religious devotion does not condone violence and massacres?

Muslims are less than 2 percent of our population, and yet some members of Congress believe we need to take legislative action against those who value Shari'a in their personal lives. This culture of fear on Capitol Hill causes those in power to frantically grasp for the control they seem to think is slipping through their hands, and unjust laws are made out of unnecessary desperation. America was founded by those fleeing religious tyranny. The threat to our freedom will never be a religious group. It will be our own fear of yielding freedom to those who challenge the beliefs of the majority.

Lydia A. Morton is a summer development associate at Sojourners and a student at the University of Richmond.

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