The heart-wrenching slaying of two innocent men defending two teenage girls against anti-Muslim slurs by a man, described as a known White supremacist, in Portland, Oregon, has once again reminded us of the risks faced by Muslim and other minority communities in the United States.
The hateful incident highlights the danger anti-Muslim rhetoric and bias against diverse communities pose to America. The two victims have rightly been hailed as heroes, as they tried to stop what they thought was wrong and paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their fellow citizens.
However, we will never be able to make up for the two lives cut short or fully appreciate the emotional toll on the relatives and friends of 53-year-old Ricky John Best and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche.
The suspected killer has been identified as 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian of north Portland. According to media reports, Christian ferociously attacked Best, Meche and Micah David-Cole Fletcher – the last of whom survived and is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries – when they tried to confront him.
Christian was verbally attacking and threatening two girls, one of them a Muslim and reportedly wearing a hijab, during a ride on a light train in Portland, with hateful slurs, when Best, Meche and Fletcher tried to intervene.
The three men – Best, Meche and Fletcher – represent what is best about American values of fairness, equality and freedom.
Their actions of bravery and courage – in the face of extremism and racism, as exemplified by Christian’s adherence to supremacist ideology – have also raised concerns about the rise in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry and hate in recent years.
We shall see how the investigation into this tragedy proceeds, but we urge law enforcement officials in Oregon not to try to roll homegrown extremism under the carpet by painting violence of people like Christian as the actions of a deranged individual. In any event, we, as a society, must start a conversation to counter the rise of bigotry and hate in America.
We, at American Muslim Institution, pay our profound respects to the three fellow citizens, who stood up against extremist ideology. AMI is collaborating with interfaith organizations and civil society leaders to promote mutual understanding and values of peaceful coexistence in America.
However, the situation demands that all segments of the society – including academics, intellectuals and interfaith leaders – come forward to defeat the extremist ideologies that are bent upon tearing apart the fabric of American society.
Above all, it is the responsibility of our elected leaders at the local, state and Federal levels to dial down on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The White House must not only condemn extremism and terrorism by radicalized Muslims in the Middle East, but also urge all Americans to defeat the rise in homegrown extremism against fellow U.S. citizens of all faiths, who number in the millions across the country.
Terrorism cannot be linked to one religion alone. And in truth, killers and perpetrators of terrorist attacks have no religion, they follow no scriptures, and they certainly have no respect for human life as taught by all the great religions, including the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
President Donald Trump, who recently made an outreach to the Muslim world in the Middle East, must also reach out to his fellow American Muslims, who have been subjected to vandalism, verbal and physical attacks and burning of their places of worship in recent months.
The sooner America tones down anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric – blown to unprecedented proportions during the divisive 2016 election campaign – the better for our great country, established by the founding fathers on the bedrock principles of justice, equality and freedom for all.