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Sun, Aug. 18

Column: Prescott should welcome 'the other'

Those who want to condemn all Muslims are making us weak.

For my last column I interviewed a member of a local Muslim congregation to hear his views about ISIS and radical Islamic groups. Most people who contacted or talked with me about the column were positive. The online comments, as usual, were mostly negative. There were a few thoughtful critical comments, and then there were the ugly ones.

The worst asserted that claims by Muslims of being peace-loving had to be lies because the commenters, as self-appointed experts, are certain that Muslims have to believe in violence. The very worst referred to the man I interviewed by name and insisted he must be lying.

My emotional reaction varies between contempt and pity for the fearful lives of those commenters. To accuse a law-abiding, productive member of our community of terrible things without any evidence, without even knowing the person, is repulsive, un-Prescott-like, and possibly libelous.

The thrust of these comments is that we should assume every Muslim secretly sympathizes with violence and we should abhor them all, shun them, block them at every turn, and hope we can make life so unpleasant that they will just leave.

The other claim is that anyone like me is a fool, anyone who wants to take people at their word until given reason not to, anyone who wants to take religious freedom seriously, including for Muslims, that we are either being naive or trying to wish away confrontation.

We are taught that if you encounter a bear you should neither run nor throw stones, but back away slowly. Success requires enough education to know what to do, and the courage to do it.

Of course we will come down like a ton of bricks on anyone who tries to do us harm, but we learn who plans us harm in the normal way, by watching for evidence of it, and following due process. We do that regardless whether some group turns out to be Muslim radicals, or Christian white supremacists, or some other violent group.

Welcoming everyone until they give reason not to is part of our principles. It parallels our law and it's both right and a smart strategy. Anyone with any sense knows that when part of some group wants to be your enemy, you do everything in your power to welcome and support the rest.

Not taking someone at their word that their religious belief is to be peace-loving is grotesque. The scriptures of every Christian and Jewish member of this community include divine orders to kill the women and children and even animals of the land they were invading, yet we accept that their religious understanding is different. Anyone who does believe they should do violence should be stopped with all legal force, but until some individual shows evidence of that, to shun them or their group, or accuse them or do them harm, just makes the accuser the one doing wrong.

Of course this assumes that those condemning all Muslims generally hold to our principles but are making a mistake in this case. But a lot of people really don't hold to our principles. They are prejudiced, for instance wanting all Hispanics treated with suspicion and either removed or segregated. They don't really believe in religious freedom, merely tolerating minority religions as long as they are small and not bothersome. They think government and policy should be based on their religion. It seems they don't want anyone different from them around, or to have any influence. They are fearful, and those fears are assuaged to a tolerable degree only when their world looks like them. In short, they do not hold to our core principles.

There are others who intend to hold to our principles but don't fully grasp how to carry them out, or the strength that comes from that.

It is the same as the encounter with the bear. To let our fears drive us will lead to a bad outcome. It will degrade our standards as a people, drive what could be friends into the arms of our enemies, weaken our ability to stand on the high ground and to attract others to join us on the high ground. As with the bear, it takes education, in this case about our principles. Far from being either naive or fearful, doing this the right way takes nerve. It is those who would have us act from our fear who are being weak. We cannot tolerate their setting the tone. To do so is to give up our strength and do ourselves damage.

Show some courage. Talk to a Muslim. Make them feel welcome. Strengthen our community. Live up to your principles.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.

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