Muslim Ban, American Republic

by Ahmed Humayun

Statue-of-libertyAs an American – as a Muslim American – I want our country to be safe. I also want our country to live up to its values. A sweeping ban on the entry of Muslims into our country does not make us secure, and contradicts the abiding aspirations of our republic.

Of course, America should be kept safe from terrorism. I grew up in Karachi: I have directly witnessed the destruction inflicted by terrorists who justify their actions in the name of Islam. I know the innocents they have assassinated, including friends of mine, the families wrecked. I have seen the progress of an entire society hampered by a tiny but organized, violent, and fanatical minority.

But though we need vigorous policies to counter Islamist terrorists, these policies should not target the entire populations of entire countries. Such policies are not only ineffective, they are counterproductive and feed the falsehoods that terrorists peddle. Terrorists claim that Islam and the West are inherently at odds, and that there can be no peace between Muslims and non-Muslims. Peaceful and prosperous Muslim communities in the West are the clearest refutation of this false propaganda.

Yet the strongest reason to be critical of the Muslim Ban is not because it plays into the hands of the terrorists. The fact is that such policies are contrary to the best ideals of our American republic. Terrorists cannot destroy our republic, but they won't need to if we diverge from our principles. We do not impose religious tests in the United States of America. We do not discriminate against people on the basis of their background, their national origin, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, their gender, or anything else. We do not subscribe to the notion of collective guilt: we do not punish innocent individuals for the sins or crimes of others. We judge individuals on their merits, and afford all the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Our striving to achieve these ideals makes the concept of "American exceptionalism" something more than a self deceiving myth or trite marketing catch phrase. Of course, we have often not lived up to these ideals. Yet that does not lessen the nobility or distinctiveness of the aspiration. Over the years, we have steadily expanded the rights of all the people in our union. These moral advances have been achieved after an enormous amount of work by many people over many years; they are precious; and they benefit all of us. We should not stop now.

The Muslim Ban is just one part of a wide collection of attitudes, policies, and programs being advanced today that should concern us all. The prospect that the rights of women, of gays, of minorities, of the impoverished, vulnerable and dispossessed, of all Americans, might be jeopardized are as real as they have ever been. These initiatives contradict the spirit of America and seek to roll back the real moral advances of our country.

I don't want an America in which women don't have the right to choose. I don't want an America in which gays are demonized and prevented from exercising their civil rights. I don't want an America in which any ethnicity or race – black, brown, white, or whatever– is judged on the basis of vicious stereotypes. There should be no place for anti-semitism, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia in America.

I am heartened to see that so many Americans feel the same way. In recent days, we have seen an enormous number of people participate in peaceful marches in support of vital principles. We have seen an outpouring of direct engagement with our elected representatives. We have seen targeted legal action against fundamentally flawed and pernicious executive policies. We have seen concerted media advocacy in support of those who are most vulnerable in our society. In one sense the real story of the last few weeks has been that the spirit of civic engagement in our country remains much stronger than many imagined.

Of course, we should have no illusions that the road ahead is easy. There will need to be a lot more of this type of civic activity. To be the citizen of a republic means something more than showing up once every 2 or 4 years to vote. It means participating actively in local organizations, pushing our elected representatives to do the right thing, and improving the quality of our representatives over time. It means defending our civil liberties and fighting for our beliefs. I am grateful to live in a country where we can still exercise these rights, and together, struggle for a better world.