Whether you are Republican or Democrat, Muslim or non-Muslim, American or foreign, you have most likely seen Donald Trump's recent attempt to trend on social media above Kim and Kanye's new baby--I mean, you have to do something really wild to beat out Saint West on Twitter. Like any successful mogul, Mr. Trump is business with a side of theater; he is a master marketer, a self-proclaimed closer of deals. He knows that successful campaigns are won with a little sass; a provocation; a sexy, sparkling, shiny object.
So I'm not shocked. I'm not angry. I'm not even worried. When I watched him say that no Muslims should be allowed in the United States until we "figure out what the hell is going on" I felt....relieved. And actually kind of grateful. Not because I support him or believe him or think for a minute that he believes his own rhetoric. But because when he said we should not allow any Muslims into our country, just the latest in a string of ignorant insults aimed at entire communities, Donald Trump became something he mocked not long ago when referring to American hero John McCain's capture in Vietnam: A loser. Only in his case it's the presidential election he just lost. That, and a whole lot of respect.
Mr. Trump has resonated with some people because he markets himself as an outsider who is beholden to no one due to the fortune he has amassed "closing deals." He has struck a chord with thousands of Americans who are frustrated, angry and fed up with our government--and these Americans should not be summarily vilified for demanding change. That is their right. And so if Mr. Trump says some things about Muslims and Latinos and African-Americans; if he passive-aggressively retweets childish taunts and sexist attacks and false statistics--oh, well. As long as it doesn't interfere with his promise of change, his supporters can choose to ignore his antics. After all, that doesn't really affect them.
Or so they think. Mr. Trump's supporters should know that this very much affects them. Comments like these directly and negatively affect our national security. ISIL and other terrorist organizations prey on Muslims who are ostracized, angry and hopeless; that is their recruiting pool. By alienating Muslims worldwide, Mr. Trump may as well try to sign an official contract with ISIL to supply them with fighters--another deal he can brag about closing. He is also shutting out the very people who can do the most to fight Islamic extremists: peace-loving, educated Muslims who can preach tolerance at home, at school and at the mosque and who can, and do, alert the local authorities to suspicious behavior in their own community.
In the face of fear mongering and hysterical calls for mass profiling, the most effective response is to be calm, factual and personal. So here is what I propose:
Speak Up. If you are a presidential candidate, a business owner, a community leader or a religious leader, release a public statement. Hold a press conference. Tell the people you lead that you do not support bigotry and recklessness. Some of you have already done so. If you haven't yet, tell us that your vision of leadership in our country does not include an umbrella ban on an entire religion. If you are a constituent, write a letter to your representative. Sign a petition. Let your opinion be heard.
Boycott Trump Products and Establishments. This is an easy one. If you want to send Donald Trump a message, speak to him in his language; it's all about the Benjamins, baby. Take a cue from all those who boycotted Mr. Trump after his racist statements about immigrants from Mexico. Don't eat at his restaurants, don't buy his clothing line and don't stay at his hotels. You don't have to wait until the primaries--vote with your credit card now.
Reach out to each other. If you are Muslim, don't get angry. Don't be afraid. You will never be barred from entering this country because of your religion. What you can do is explain to those who are open to listening why Mr. Trump is wrong to propose such a crazy idea. If you don't feel comfortable speaking out, that's ok. Your actions speak just as loudly. Get involved in your community, if you are not already; help other communities, as three Muslim charities did last summer when they raised nearly $45,000 to rebuild burned-down black churches. Make yourself available. Don't hide.
If you are not Muslim, tell your Muslim neighbors and friends if you do not agree with Mr. Trump. Reassure them that they have nothing to fear, that you will not allow our country to be transformed into one of hatred and suspicion. Host a joint activity between your place of worship or your community center and your local mosque; have a cookout (Muslims like hot dogs too!) or a dinner party and share family recipes; hold a town hall with both Muslim and non-Muslim speakers and exchange thoughts about faith.
I know what it means to serve my country; I've done it for my entire professional career, as have countless other American Muslims, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice for you and me. I have had the honor of working under great leaders such as Robert Gates, who recently told us what he believes we need in our next President. Donald Trump exhibits none of those qualities.
We have come to a proverbial fork in the road, and I for one am glad we are here. If it wasn't ISIL that forced us to this point, it would have been something else at some other time. As populations expand; as wars pit communities against each other; as some nations disintegrate and others are born; as people flee from one place to another just to live another day, we have a choice to make. We can try in vain to hunker down and block out the rest of the world or we can work together towards common goals: The eradication of extremism. The promotion of tolerance. The advance of education. The triumph of humanity. I choose the latter. What do you choose? Whatever it is, make it clear. Use your voice. Take control.
We are at a fork in the road. It is time to choose your path. That is our duty and our obligation as citizens of this earth. This is the world we will pass on to our children, as they will to their own. Don't sit on on the sidelines.