There is little doubt that these are complex times. Everything has become so entrenched that our political positions have become entirely intractable. And there is no question that this has diminished our ability to empathize with one another and simply see each other as human beings.
Unfortunately this is not likely to change any time soon.
This is why we chose to make Registration Day, an interfaith social media campaign that visualizes a deeply virulent policy conversation surrounding the registration of religious minorities. This was a campaign theme promoted by President Trump and reinforced in December 2016 – when referring to an attack in Germany – where he was quoted as saying, “You’ve known my plans all along, and I’ve been proven to be right.”
While this idea at the time might have seemed far-fetched, its starting to look strangely prescient, given his recent executive orders barring people from seven Muslim majority countries.
We now live in a new political reality where fear has been weaponized to justify a certain kind of political expediency. One which would have us view 3.3 million American Muslims — along with women, children, and refugees escaping the worst kind of violent conflict — as a threat to our personal and national security. In fact, this kind of policy suggestion creates the kind of political political environment that drives radicalization and terrorism of all kinds. Look no further than the recent firebombing of a mosque in Texas and the murder of six Muslim worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec.
Registration Day and the conversation it’s generating is not an attempt to cast aspersions on people’s fear of legitimate security threats, of which there are many.
However, allowing certain conversations to mature into full blown policy debates — such as the utility of religious registries — ends up casting suspicion on an entire segment of the American population. This kind of divisive rhetoric drives institutional discrimination and ultimately weakens the security interests of the United States. We would be hard pressed to find any objective security, intelligence, and law enforcement professional who thought differently.
This should concern us all deeply.
Not only is this kind of policy suggestion entirely contrary to the America experience, but this country’s foundation has been built on religious tolerance and an acceptance of people from all over the world. To assume differently puts us in a position that reconnects us with a dark and shameful period in our national history. One where we denied entry to Jewish refugees in 1939 and interned Japanese citizens in 1942, all because of fear and political expediency.
A registration process for religious minorities — regardless of what is happening on the world stage — does not make us any safer. It only reinforces a cycle of events that reduces our ability to engage with the same communities that are needed to defeat terrorism and radicalization at home and abroad.
Ultimately, we must resist the most base elements of how we measure the security vs. freedom debate, which is the core of Registration Day’s message. When we ask, “What if this were you?”, we are not simply posing a rhetorical question, but turning the mirror around on all of us, since undermining religious freedom makes us no better than the groups who are trying to do us harm.
To follow Registration Day, here it is on Facebook.