America Isn’t Itself When It’s Afraid

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By Ali Albassam

“Never make an emotional decision.” That’s sound advice for any individual facing a dilemma. That same advice should also extend to entire countries, and to governments. Perhaps it explains why so many historical human rights abuses have taken place when a country’s population is fearful.

Many people have become addicted to the 24-hour news cycle, which can amplify fears by sensationalizing threats. This makes the world feel smaller and makes danger seemingly closer than it really is.

Naturally, many look to their government for answers. Demagogues embrace this opportunity by perpetuating the public’s fears and appealing to society’s worst prejudices for their own political benefit.

Gripped By Fear

When a society becomes overrun by fear, it can be primed to accept policies that undermine human rights while providing an illusion of safety and security. We’ve seen it time and again throughout U.S. history – with disastrously counterproductive results.

When the U.S. was gripped in fear after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the government reacted by undermining rights. It took 40 years to undo the straightjacket of fear which gripped U.S. policy after Pearl Harbor, and to issue a formal apology for the internment of Japanese Americans.

Scapegoating Americans Who Are Muslim

In today’s post-9/11 era, the toxic pattern of fear continues as the national security debate now focuses on a threat of “radical Islamic terrorism” – a term that scapegoats people who are Muslim by conflating a global religion practiced by more than 1 billion people with the criminal acts of a few. The anti-Muslim rhetoric expressed by some is eerily reminiscent of anti-Japanese sentiment. In what appears to be a defining moment, the U.S. risks repeating its mistakes by succumbing to a response formulated by fear rather than fact.

The facts are that American Muslims are your neighbors, doctors, teachers and customers. They are veterans, entrepreneurs and scientists. Americans who are Muslims are a part of this country’s history. As President Obama put it recently, “Muslim Americans helped to build our nation.” There are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and 3.3 million in the United States. Ascribing the actions of armed groups to this many people is illogical and unfair. Instead of blaming Muslims, we should stand in solidarity with Muslims who are themselves the victim of horrific attacks and abuses by armed groups such as the one calling itself the Islamic State, including refugees.

Yet despite these realities, some have allowed the fear of terrorism to justify discriminatory surveillance measures, indefinite detention and torture, anti-refugee legislation, and dangerous proposals to commit war crimes. These policies hurt everyone.

Organizing Against Fear

This is where the America I Believe In campaign comes in. We will respond to fear, hate, and bigotry by building a visible, active constituency to push back against those who try to convince us that human rights and national security are mutually exclusive. Through statements of solidarity, your local groups, student organizations, and places of worship can demonstrate to your communities and to your elected officials that the America we believe in leads with human rights.

The webinar below offers a skillshare on how to organize these statements of solidarity, and what to do with them once you’ve created them. Learn more about the America I Believe In campaign, including the toolkit and a place to let us know about statements of solidarity produced by your groups.

Join us as we seek to create the America that we believe in – an America that leads with human rights.

Take Action: Get the Tools for Building the America I Believe In.