As appeared on December 17, 2014

On the four year anniversary of the Corvallis mosque bombing, we should be mindful of how recent global events feed a climate of Islamaphobia in the United States.  Radical extremists have plotted against, and in some instances killed, Americans in places like Boston, Fort Hood, even here in Oregon. Most recently, the rise of the group calling itself “The Islamic State (ISIL)” has recruited our citizens to join its violent quest for power throughout the Middle East.

Terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida and ISIL, radicalize people in new ways.  Using sleek ad campaigns and the Internet, they recruit Americans to attack their neighbors and to fight overseas in Syria and Iraq.  We must counter these efforts without sacrificing our American values.

As I have talked with Oregon’s diverse Muslim community, I’ve heard from so many who have a deep love for this nation.  I spoke with their American-born children who, like mine, are working hard in school, thinking about college and worried about how they will pay for it. These kids, like mine, think of themselves as American more than anything else – because that is who they are.

After more than three years of engagement with this community, what I’ve learned is that American Muslims want what we all want – quality education for their children, health, safety and the freedoms guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution.  These Oregonians should know that federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, and all Americans, stand with them in support of their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Stigmatizing Muslims not only contradicts our nation’s commitment to religious freedom, it makes it easier for extremists to radicalize Americans. A key tenet of al-Qaida and ISIL propaganda is that America is at war with Islam.  This is false.  Ever since religious refugees dropped anchor off Plymouth Rock, believers of every faith have worshiped freely in this country.

We must recognize that American Muslims are a vital part of the solution to radicalization. Terrorists do not radicalize communities; they recruit individuals.  American Muslims who have recognized threats worked with law enforcement when they suspected a problem.  For this we owe them gratitude, not sideways glances.

Law enforcement alone cannot eradicate the root causes of terrorism and hate crimes. Each of us must do all we can to forge lasting relationships with our Muslim colleagues, neighbor, and friends.  We need to loudly affirm that they, too, are Americans and Oregonians.  Acts of violence, incendiary rhetoric and hostility against Muslims risk obscuring these truths and feeding the enemy’s false narrative that America is at war with Islam.  We must return to the fundamental principles we, as Americans, hold dear:  freedom, liberty and justice for all.