The tragic mass killing in Orlando has already raised a new round of questions about extremist movements and the ideologies that enrapture "lone wolf" terrorists. Given the killer's declaration to ISIS, it will also lead to further hate speech against Muslims. Donald Trump was quick to join in. For months, it seemed like Trump's xenophobic, misogynistic and Islamophobic candidacy would flame out of its own accord. It has become clear that we need to do more at the community level to counter his inflammatory speech.
Trump is divisive in real time, but he is also planting the seeds for longer-term damage to the perceptions of self-worth among girls, Latino-American children, and Muslim-American children. His rants combined with his stature as the presumptive Republican nominee legitimize concepts like women should be primarily judged by their appearances, Americans of non-European descent are not "real" Americans and Muslims are inherently dangerous.
Without minimizing the impact of his misogynistic or racist comments, Trump's discrimination against Muslims is particularly alarming for three reasons. First, from either a liberal or originalist interpretation, banning Muslims from entering the United States is unconstitutional and a slippery slope away from violating the first amendment.
Second, Trump's assertion that "Islam hates us," makes law enforcement's job more difficult. While there is no exact brew for what leads some Muslim youth to become radicalized, it is clear that feelings of a loss of dignity and marginalization from a larger community contribute to the process. Trump's statements undercut law enforcement's efforts to build community bridges, not to mention parents' efforts to convince their children that they are an equal part of the American fabric.
Third, Trump is not a thought leader on these issues. His rise is an indicator of ideas that are common to a growing number of Americans. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll, just 38 percent of Americans say they know a Muslim, and per a 2015 Huffington Post/YouGov, poll 55 percent of Americans had a "somewhat or very unfavorable view of Islam." In an environment where most Americans can't identify a Muslim friend or co-worker, Trump's words validate these negative views.
National level condemnation of Trump's positions is not enough to address this growing crisis. Local representatives, school principals and other community leaders must counter his message through actions that fall within these four principles:
1) Condemn hate speech publicly. Governors to city council representatives should condemn Trump's remarks and underscore their support for the Bill of Rights and concepts of inclusiveness and equality, like LA Mayor Eric Garcetti did on Sunday. Faith leaders should use a weekly sermon or bible study session to speak about the value of freedom of religion. While the school year is ending, these are "pick up the mic" moments where principals should convene assemblies and generate student discussions. Civic associations like Rotary and Lions, should also post statements that support the first amendment on their websites.
2) Conduct respectful, faith-based outreach. Ramadan began last week and elected officials should offer holiday greetings via public statements and visit local mosques to join a break-fast, or host their own inter-faith iftar. At universities, there are similar opportunities for presidents and practical measures that ease Muslim student life, like adjusting a cafeteria's hours to allow for pre-sunrise eating and night-time break-fasts. Administrators could also alert staff that some students are engaging in a day-long fast for a month.
Even with the school year ending, there is still an opportunity for Ramadan programming with a guest speaker or that is student-led. The opportunity for Muslim students to teach their peers about their holiday would be empowering, particularly after Orlando. In addition, the holiday offers a teaching moment for schools and summer camps that do not have a Muslim population.
3) Communicate support for religious freedom to non-faith based audiences. Local officials should broaden their condemnation of religious discrimination to groups that include professional associations, youth clubs, and other issue-based organizations, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for example. The message that we are all equal has to be transmitted widely, not just among concentrations of the faith community most affected by the discrimination and current affairs. Along these lines, July 4th celebrations and other summer events are opportunities to include all Americans in celebrating national traditions.
4) Build inclusive coalitions to confront discrimination. Muslim-Americans should not forget the other targets of Trump's insults or lose sight of movements like Black Lives Matter. Solidarity among disparate groups is powerful. Community level coalitions that oppose identity-based discrimination are stronger, and the process of building such coalitions leads to familiarization with "the other." In the wake of the Orlando attack, the most powerful rebuke would be a series of demonstrations for equal rights on campus and in our communities that are organized by coalitions of Muslim-Americans and LGBT activists.
Trump's contention is that our differences define us and should separate us. The American narrative is the opposite, though. Our differences have made our businesses, political system, and higher education system more dynamic, innovative and strong.
If given a pass at the local level, Trump's comments will continue to threaten the bonds that tie our greater society together. Trump's words are a challenge to our way of life -- it is imperative that local leaders take the extra steps to address the sentiments revealed and increasingly normalized by his candidacy.