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Embrace Pluralism to Fight Terrorism

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 22/03/2016 Tom Mockaitis

The devastating attacks in Brussels are sending shock waves across the Atlantic, leaving Americans to ask (once again), "How safe are we?" The Belgian bombings also provide further grist for the mills of those who insist that more robust military action against ISIS combined with stricter immigration controls and closer policing of Muslim Americans will keep us safe.
Donald Trump has reiterated his call to ban Muslims entering the United States. Ted Cruz wants law enforcement to conduct surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods. Oddly, he does not consider this suggestion incompatible with his pledge to end the government's alleged assault on Christianity.
In the wake of such a terrifying event, the first thing Americans should do, however, is not demand implementation of tougher border controls or call for more airstrikes, but take a deep breath and put the threat in a healthy perspective. Such an assessment will provide more cause for comfort than anxiety. The risk of any of us dying in a terrorist attack is not nearly as great the fear mongers would have us believe, probably far less than the chances of winning the lottery.
To begin with, the United States is not Europe. The conditions that have done so much to radicalize young Muslim men there do not exist here. American Muslims, who make up around 1% of the population are not concentrated in homogenous neighborhoods with high rates of unemployment as they are in many European cities. With all of its faults and racial tensions, the U.S. has done a better job of creating a pluralistic society than most countries. That pluralism is one of our best defenses against extremism.
Critics will be quick to cite the San Bernardino attack as evidence of the danger posed by Muslims. Since 9/11, however, Islamist inspired extremists have killed 64 people on American soil; during the same period right-wing extremists (many claiming to be Christian) have killed more than 250 (NY Times). Members of the Mormon Bundy family have engaged in two major armed confrontations with law enforcement, but no one calls them "Mormon terrorists." Every world religion has been perverted by extremists at one time or another.
Embracing pluralism does not mean being naïve. Islamist extremism is a security concern, though not an existential threat. Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement constantly work to improve airport, port and border security. All immigrants and asylum seekers should, of course, be vetted but not on the basis of their religion. Airport security will probably be tightened, perhaps by pushing security checkpoints out to the terminal doors. And we must and will continue to combat ISIS along with our allies.
None of these measures, however, substitutes for preserving a free, open and democratic society that guarantees human rights and civil liberties (including freedom of religion). Tolerance fights terrorism; intolerance fuels it.

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