Pre-existing anti-Islamic sentiment was made even more acute and painful by the Paris attacks allegedly orchestrated by ISIS. From terrorist threats to Syrian refugees, a whirlwind of issues seemingly poised to assault the inviolable principles of the U.S. have caused drastic responses across the country.
On Saturday Nov. 21, Irving, Texas served as a microcosm for this ever-increasing sense of Islamophobia which is spreading throughout the world. As armed protesters gathered outside the Islamic Center of Irving to protest the “Islamization of America,” they summarized the feelings of many others.
However, they also inadvertently demonstrated the ineffectiveness of their tactics.
In the wake of terrorist attacks, it is natural and expected to see anger spread throughout a population. Under normal circumstances, protest against those held responsible is a right of free speech and a manner of inciting others to fight in defense of life. But weapons used as threats of violence have no place in protests and only show that Islamic extremism is not the only kind of terrorism that exists.
Some of the Irving protesters cited various rumors of violent threats of Islamic extremism as the reasons for their demonstration. But armed protest is not self-defense. The rumors were unsubstantiated at best and, at any rate, vigilante justice is not what will bring down ISIS.
The Irving Muslims attending prayer at the Islamic Center were not extremists. By bringing the threat of violence to people living peacefully in our community, the protesters showed that the only difference between themselves and other terrorist groups lies in the pull of a trigger.
Another effect of armed protest is that any opposing opinions are utterly silenced. The purpose of free speech is to encourage constructive discourse within communities, an intermingling of a spectrum of opinions. Violence is entirely counterintuitive to this aim.
Nonviolent Muslims throughout the world are victims of extremism just as much as any other group that refuses to conform to the radical demands of terrorist groups such as ISIS. The unjust and ignorant show of force demonstrated by the armed protesters in Irving only serves to divide and isolate potential allies in the fight against the real threat.
Only by seeking to understand the whole of Islam can we hope to eliminate Islamic terrorism and unite with nonviolent Muslims who will no doubt prove to be the greatest allies in this fight. This understanding is gained by speech that is truly free, not beaten down by the threat of violence.
Meeting violence with violence will only result in war. However, the reality is that violence exists, and war may be necessary to protect innocent lives. In such a case, confusing allies with enemies will ensure defeat, as will the careless flaunting of weapons as a show of force.
The current movement of anti-Islamic sentiment reflects a larger trend of people’s tendency to take up extreme positions on complicated issues. But not every situation is a matter of black and white. By understanding the nuances of the situation and differentiating the radical Islamic terrorists from the peaceful citizens of our community, defense efforts can be coordinated and properly directed toward the real threat.
Much can be learned from the response of the people and government of France to the Paris attacks. It is not difficult to find evidence on social media of the profound peace and solidarity expressed by those affected by the tragedy — a reaction driven by respect for the victims and nonviolent Muslims.
Yet at the heart of this unity lies an intense resolve to uproot the source of this violence by an unrelenting retaliation against the groups directly responsible, a cause in which France has taken a leading role even while the wounds are still fresh.
The goal of ISIS and other terrorist groups is to use violence to divide people. By expressing hatred for anything but the immediate source of this violence, we are playing into the hands of terrorism and disregarding the most important means to victory.