On Wednesday, President Barack Obama made his first presidential mosque visit in the U.S. for the first time in his presidency as a way to reaffirm solidarity with Muslim-Americans in light of recent anti-Muslim rhetoric from Republican presidential candidates.
In a speech during the visit, Obama praised the religion for supporting peace, rather than the hate propagated by groups like ISIL. He also spoke on their right to be in this country.
“You’re right where you belong. You’re not Muslim or American. You are Muslim and American,” he said.
Additionally, he condemned anti-Muslim bigotry from presidential candidates, such as Donald Trump, who has advocated imposing a ban on Muslim immigrants entering the U.S..
Obama said anti-Muslim rhetoric only strengthens the cause of radicalization and boosts terrorist groups such as ISIS by making Muslim-Americans more susceptible to their rhetoric. ¬
Other Republican candidates have instead advocated religious screens on Muslims entering the country as refugees from the Middle East. He also condemned this practice, saying Muslim immigrants should be accepted into the U.S. without bias in order to protect our First Amendment rights.
“If we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in the country — we have to understand that an attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths,” Obama said.
His visit to the mosque was not the first of its kind by a sitting American president. President George W. Bush also visited a New York City mosque days after the Sept. 11 terror attacks for the same purpose — to reaffirm solidarity with Muslim-Americans who felt marginalized because of their religion’s association to terrorism.
Similar rhetoric is also apparent in the new USF Student Government Senate divestment resolution, which calls for the USF Board of Trustees to end investments in companies associated with human rights violations against the people of Palestine.
The resolution has evolved into a movement to condemn Israel for its actions against Palestine and essentially take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In this way, the divestment has been criticized by the Student Government Senate President, Kristen Troung, as well as the Student Body President and Vice President, Andy Rodriguez and Mike Malanga, as serving only to divide students and promote anti-Semitism on campus.
Both Obama’s message at the Baltimore mosque and the approved USF divestment resolution have one thing in common: they attempt to promote tolerance and protect freedom of religion.
If Trump imposes an anti-Muslim ban, it would only marginalize Muslim-Americans and make them more prone to the rhetoric of ISIS and other terrorist groups.
The common theme here is balancing freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The U.S. should not promote bigotry against a particular religion.
Instead, it should tolerate people regardless of religion, and remain neutral in international issues where possible in order to stop hateful rhetoric while also protecting our First Amendment rights.
Matthew Salway is a junior majoring in biology.