Since September 11, 2001, most Americans have regarded Islam with a mixture of fear, confusion and reservation. Yet, they have been willing to accept the explanations of their political leaders and some Muslim spokesman, that Islam promotes tolerance and peace. Those committing brutal acts of terror in its name represent a small fringe. This narrative has been shaken somewhat with the rise of ISIS and the brutal carnage in Paris.
Questions have arisen as to whether Islam can coexist with American society. These questions have a historical parallel. For most of this nation’s history, there was deep distrust of Roman Catholics. Non Catholics feared that allegiance to the Pope in Rome would supersede allegiance to the nation, and its constitution. It took the sacrifices of millions of Catholic Americans, through two world wars, and the unequivocal affirmation of national loyalty by presidential candidate John F. Kennedy in 1960, to put concerns over Catholicism to rest.
A culture of liberty necessarily demands adherence to five basic values, to ensure the universal exercise of freedom. The first is individuality. Beliefs must allow for the recognition, that those not part of one’s particular ethnic, social or religious group, are human beings deserving of dignity and respect. The second is cooperation. Beliefs must allow for positive interaction with those outside of one’s group, particularly in the economic aspects of American life. The third value is freedom. Beliefs must embrace the notion that all people are free agents, capable of learning, changing and growing, not bound by their environment, traditions or genetics with the right to choose their own destiny. The fourth value is restraint. This value holds that there are limits to the punitive things one human being can do to another, no matter the provocation, and that the heart of justice lies in due process. Finally, there is the value of integrity, which requires that people represent themselves truthfully and not deceive; that they remain open to questions about how they act and what they believe. While it is true individual Americans have not always lived up to these values, all five are indispensable to our continued existence as a free nation.
Islam represents a new cultural in the United States. It is undergoing its test against these five values. However, as the events in the Middle East and Europe intensify, we will all find ourselves tested against them. We must all pass because failure means a calamity of apocalyptic proportions.