I have been resisting for some time to express my opinion on the ruckus issue of banning Muslims entering America that Mr. Trump started during the course of the Presidential primary season. Even though this could be construed as just a political issue, we cannot deny that it is also a workplace issue considering the racial, religious, and ethnic diversity of the 21st century workforce across America and in most of the developed and developing countries. Over the last few weeks, I thought about my Muslim colleagues, those I had worked alongside over the years, my Muslim friends in America, and my childhood Muslim buddies with whom I grew up in my home town in Southern part of India. These are common people who happened to be Muslims. I cannot imagine the stress that common Muslims living and working in America have to endure while this debate rages in the television, radio, political rallies and debate stages. This debate is in everyone’s mind, everywhere, every day and it only gets intensified when there is a terrorist incident involving radical Islamic jihadists anywhere in the world.
A few days ago, my son was invited to a high school junior prom by a girl from another school in town. We went to drop him off at one of the prom attendee parent’s house for pictures and there was a Muslim girl in hijab, a scarf covering her head, helping her friends going to the prom. I am guessing that she is not a junior as she was there to drop-off a few of the juniors attending prom that evening, including my son and his prom date. Even though she wasn’t going to the prom, she was there and happy for her friends going to the prom that day. That’s when I decided that I should not hold back anymore and share my thoughts for the sake of those common Muslims in America and in rest of the world.
If you are wondering by any chance; I am Catholic! I am from India that is home to over 170 million Muslims accounting for over 14% of the population. These are the Muslims who are proud to be Indians. They, and in most cases their parents and grandparents, not too long ago, decided to stay back in India when India and Pakistan split during Independence from the British in 1947. That year “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” was born, while, Indian leaders decided to call the Independent India as “Sovereign Democratic Republic”. Rest is history; India is a vibrant democracy and one of the fast growing economic and military power. Pakistan is on the brink of becoming, or by some accounts already, a failed state with nuclear weapons.
Union of religion and state had historically failed and the pretense that theocracy and democracy can coexist is an illusion and at its best oxymoronic. Muslim majority nations has some ways to go to separate religion from the state to create real democracies. Immigrants coming from countries where religion ruled over their fundamental rights, continue to carry with them the restrictive form of their religion, more so if it is Islam. That is often visible in those children whom when even raised in secular democracies of Western Europe and America, are torn between their religious culture and modern Western society.
Muslims in India are Indians who happen to be Muslims. In the recent past, India even had a Muslim President, Dr. Abdul Kalam, one of the greatest Presidents of India, and that, almost all Indians would agree. Dr. Kalam was also the father of India’s missile program and was instrumental in the weaponization of nuclear warheads while the Islamic Republic of Pakistan next door viewed India as its existential threat.
A few weeks ago, I saw Zalmay Khalilzad's interview in CNN with Fareed Zakaria on GPS, both of them American Muslims. Mr. Khalilzad was the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, from 2007 to 2009, and was originally born in Afghanistan. Mr. Khalilzad said something very interesting; when he met with the leaders of Afghanistan, the Afghans were always amazed by the fact that a Muslim represented America and was one among them.
Muslim identity crisis in America is at its worst in decades. 9/11 was the worst attack in American history inside its territorial borders and yet Americans hold true to their beliefs on fundamental freedom and individual rights of every citizens including American Muslims. India had several terrorist attacks over the last three decades, mostly emanating from across the Pakistan border. Americans are nervous about terrorism as much as Indians in India, but, without experiencing Indian Muslims' compatriotism.
When Mr. Trump talked about banning all Muslims entering America, perhaps he said that to gain political ground from anti-terrorism sentiments or want to be reassured by American Muslims’ loyalty to America. Either way, Mr. Trump seem to possess the courage to address an issue that most ordinary politicians are not willing to address. Support for Mr. Trump’s stand is, in my opinion, a knee-jerk reaction of the populace resenting the stance of the other side of the political spectrum, whom are not willing to address the threat from Islamic extremism by its name for the fear of offending Muslims or for social, political or ideological reasons.
This brings us to the conclusion of why I wrote this article. Common Muslims that I know do not get offended by the words such as Islamic extremism or terrorism. They want to get rid of the violent jihadists as much as rest of us. They perceive the violent Islamic jihad as a cancer that hijacked their religion and eating away its core from within. They too sincerely wish that the cancer is cured as quickly as possible. At the same time, I think many Americans need to be reassured that American Muslims are Americans first because radical Islamic terrorism inside America is a new chapter in American history, like it was for India three decades ago.
I hope that this article turns out to be an outlet for those common Muslims to express that message of solidarity in fighting the terrorists unequivocally and dissipate any mistrust among us, commoners.