It’s everyone’s duty to imagine a better future for Muslims–and for America

The president can’t do it alone.
The president can’t do it alone.
Image: Reuters/Gary Cameron
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As a child, I saw my parents and relatives band together to help others and witnessed the great impact their actions, no matter how seemingly small, had on my entire community.

Their example inspired me to get involved in local politics in Teaneck, New Jersey, and make a difference in my community. I served as mayor for four years and am now a member of the city council. In these roles, I have had the privilege to be a resource for people when they need help – from everyday problems like snow removal, to more serious challenges like foreclosure.

When I look at my two sons, Ahsan, age 4, and Zain, age 2, I worry that they may be too afraid to participate in civic life as I have. I never want my sons to feel ashamed to be Muslim.

We have seen increasing anti-Muslim bias in recent weeks, stemming in part from anti-Muslim statements by public officials and media personalities calling for more profiling of American Muslims since the tragic events in Paris last month.

On February 18, the White House hosted a summit on its efforts to counter violent extremism (CVE) that focus primarily on American Muslims even though only a small fraction of acts of violent extremism are carried out by Muslims.

Directing the bulk of CVE resources at American Muslim communities at the expense of addressing the truly diverse threat of violent extremism makes us less safe and perpetuates the false perception that Muslims pose a special threat to America.

Furthering that false perception sends a dangerous signal to members of the public that their Muslim neighbors are a threat, worsening the environment of anti-Muslim bigotry and hate crimes.

Civic engagement is the cornerstone of American life. Getting involved with local community institutions, whether it be the PTA or the city council, is how we shape the futures of our neighborhoods to make sure our children go to good schools and have safe places to play.

I encourage young people to go into public office. But I worry that young American Muslims may choose to sit on the sidelines, rather than risk getting involved with their neighbors who may fear or attack them only because of how they look or the way they pray.

American Muslims are too often painted with a broad brush and confused with the extremist actions of a small minority–a minority that can be found in any religious, political or other identity group.

To fully realize our potential as American Muslims and participate fully in American society, our community requires the same rights to go about our daily lives as other Americans. We play a broad role in American life and society and want the freedom to continue to do so.

Focusing exclusively on American Muslim communities at the expense of addressing the truly diverse threat of violent extremism is ineffective public policy and threatens to undermine the relationship between American Muslims and law enforcement. The government has a responsibility to initiate policies guided by facts and not in reaction to harmful stereotypes about its fellow citizens.

With public officials from statehouses to Congress questioning the loyalty of Americans simply because they are Muslim, it is crucial for the Obama administration to take all the steps necessary to end discriminatory policies and practices. We urge the White House to expand its CVE efforts to focus on all threats of violent extremism that do not broadly equate religious or political activity with a propensity to commit violence.

I stand committed to building a better future for my sons and all the young people in our community. I want to make it possible for all our children, families and neighbors to participate fully in American society and realize their full potential.

In Teaneck, I see people coming together to solve local problems. I believe this is our strength as Americans and as a nation—as people committed to the same values of freedom and justice for all. We know we are only stronger together.