These are the prepared remarks "Our America": Brian Levin; Director, Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, California State University, San Bernardino for the Annual Jalsa Salana Conference in Harrisburg, PA; July 30, 2016
A Star in The Constellation of American Faiths
Distinguished hosts and all my dear friends and neighbors in the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, thank you so very much for the privilege of sharing in your annual Jalsa Salana conference.
My address today is entitled "Our America" and my name is Brian Levin. For almost two decades I have directed the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino, a community that has endured the evil scourge of violent hatred by extremists who distorted your faith and claimed to be Muslim.
But, as his holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad explained, "If a person does not follow a particular teaching properly whilst claiming to subscribe to it, then it is he who is in error, not the teaching."
Indeed, for over a century your community has been a shining star in our twinkling constellation of American faiths, from veterans on foreign battlefields, to scientists and medical doctors, and of course your incredibly outsized contributions to the uniquely American art form of jazz music.
The Ideal of Religious Liberty
Most importantly, though it is our common embrace of two core American values that brings me here today: the divinity of human life and the centrality of individual liberty, particularly in the area of religious freedom--not only for our individual lives, but our collective ones as well.
To appreciate the centrality of religious liberty in Our America, one need look no further than the words of our foundational texts and those of our founding fathers. Pluralism and religious freedom transcend contemporary politics, and are critical to the moral framework that dates back to our genesis and makes America truly exceptional.
Our American Constitution's Article 6 bans religious tests for any office or public trust; the first amendment prohibits the establishment of religion, as well as laws impeding the free exercise of it; and the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection of the laws.
Of the myriad accomplishments of his life, Thomas Jefferson, America's second president, who interestingly died on July 4, picked only three for the epitaph on his tombstone:
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
And of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia
Like our current President, Jefferson's detractors, exploited the prejudices of the time by falsely accusing him of being a secret Muslim.
The words of America's first president, George Washington, over two and one quarter centuries ago to the Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode, Island still ring true today for all of us in our America:
[F]or, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support....May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants--while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, embraces this very ideal "All people should have fundamental freedoms, such as religious, political, national and civil freedom."
Muslim American Heroes
Yet, the extraordinary mosaic of Muslim Americans, of which you are a proud part, has produced numerous unique American heroes.
One, sports legend Muhammad Ali, who we lost just this June, counseled in the months before his passing:
I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion...
But perhaps Ali's greatest strength lay not in his punch, but in his faith, which inspired pacifism and tolerance: "When you believe in God, you should believe that all people are part of one family. If you love God, you can't love only some of his children."
Just two nights ago in Philadelphia, we heard about another Muslim-American hero, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan. His grief stricken father, Khizr Khan while holding a copy of the Constitution, told America how Humayun lost his life in Iraq while valiantly protecting other American soldiers under his command. Mr. Khan's eloquence moved the nation, when he noted that had bans on Muslims actually been enacted, his son would never have been able to serve our country.
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Our Embrace of Pluralism Is A Bulwark Against Extremism
These messages stand in stark contrast to the deafening cacophony of gunfire that struck my beloved community and later Orlando. While these killers severed the lives of family members from loved ones, in Our America we will simply not allow radical killers the additional harm of defeating American pluralism, by severing communities of good will from one another. This counterfeit violent hatred, which represents the most prominent terror threat since 9/11, for all its notoriety is nothing more than an apocalyptic death cult in religious giftwrap, that has both Muslims around the world, as well as Europeans and Americans in its crosshairs.
At a mosque in Baltimore this spring President Obama observed:
America rejects bigotry. We reject every act of hatred against people of Arab background or Muslim faith America values and welcomes peaceful people of all faiths -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and many others. Every faith is practiced and protected here, because we are one country. Every immigrant can be fully and equally American because we're one country.
Oh, excuse me for a second, that was President George W. Bush, speaking in my home state of California in 2002.
President Obama actually said this:
[Y]ou've seen too often people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith. And of course, recently, we've heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country.....We're one American family. And when any part of our family starts to feel separate or second-class or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation.
Over the past year, candidates have boldly argued for, and sometimes backtracked on, temporarily banning entry to all Muslims, irrespective of who they are; shuttering mosques, registering Muslims in databases, killing relatives of terrorists, denying entry to America even to a five year old orphan refugee child, torture beyond waterboarding, as well establishing a religious test for refugee admission and the presidency. One candidate likened Muslim refugees to rabid dogs, while another proclaimed "I think Islam hates us."
Our Center's study found that in the non-calendar month following the November 13 Paris terrorist attack, hate crimes against Muslim Americans tripled from the monthly average of the previous five years. Two criminals struck mosques in our area, an Ahmadiyya Muslim mosque in Hawthorne was vandalized, while a mosque in the Coachella Valley was set ablaze.
Liberty, In Our America, Shines on All
When contemporary terrorists attack, they make no distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims. But more importantly when God's light shines down from the stars over our American heroes in national cemeteries from Arlington, Virginia to Riverside, California, he makes no distinctions, between Muslim and non-Muslim either, and neither should we.
In Our America, our religious liberty fulfills the dreams of our ancestors, but only if we work together to sustain it. My departed refugee Russian grandmother and World War II era POW father, after facing the violent scourge of anti-Semitism in Europe, were cradled by a welcoming nation that they in turn loved so very much. Now we all must work to extend the promise of Emma Lazarus' prose inscribed on the Statue of Liberty to embrace yet a new generation of Americans, who come here for the promise of religious freedom.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
My fellow Americans, and friends watching this around the world, it is such a heartfelt privilege to share the blessings of Our America with you on this special day. Salam Aleikum and God bless the United States of America.