Rieder: Combating anti-Muslim rhetoric

Sat, 2016-07-16

Rem Rieder | USA Today

WASHINGTON — It is a particularly noxious element in an ugly political season.

Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country and the overall upsurge in anti-Muslim rhetoric, which peaked dramatically after theOrlando nightclub shooting, represent a frontal assault on freedom of religion, a pillar of the American way of life.

What's worse, the embrace of Islamophobia by political leaders can create a cloak of respectability for others who hold such repugnant views.

And virulent language can have real-world consequences. A recent report published by Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding found a sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence since Trump first issued his call to keep Muslims out.

Clearly fear of terrorism is real and not unfounded; Muslim extremists — and those expressing support for them — have been responsible for horrendous crimes. But, sadly, violent extremism comes in a wide variety of flavors in our society.

There's no doubt we have a problem. But what can we do to solve it?

In a welcome effort to find out, the National Institute for Civil Discourse this week staged a conference — titled "Restoring America’s Values: Combating Anti-Muslim Speech and Behavior" — that brought together concerned people from a variety of disciplines. Religious leaders, politicos, academics and communications professionals gathered at Washington's Hotel Monaco in an effort to shed some light on an intractable and disturbing problem. Three journalists also were on hand, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.

To no one's surprise, the get-together did not achieve a stunning breakthrough, a magic bullet to eliminate such bigotry overnight. The session was more the beginning of an important conversation: The group will reassemble in the first quarter of next year to continue its deliberations.