by Haris Tarin
Keeping the Legacy of Dr. King Alive
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Each generation of Americans have been faced with challenges, which have tested the very fiber of what it means to be an American, and each generation’s challenges have been vastly different from the last. First came the founding fathers who navigated the unyielding waters of independence followed by a generation who mournfully fought their own countrymen to ensure the integrity and unity of their nation. Then came a generation who chose to engage in a conflict across the seas to ensure the survival of a people and the establishment of a free society, followed by a movement whose dream was to have its sons and daughters judged by the “content of their character” rather than the “color of their skin.”
Although the challenges were inherently unique to each era, the common thread that bound them together across generational lines was their response. Every generation’s answer to the immense challenges they faced spurred better policies and corrected injustices within their society. Each generation responded to the problems that faced them by ensuring that the best of what it meant to be an American prevailed over the loud and intimidating voices of fear, intimidation and bigotry.
Today, our generation undoubtedly faces immense challenges that require our collective response. One in particular will define the course of our future as a free, diverse and democratic nation. It has been more than eight years since the ugly head of violent extremism reared itself onto our shores. There is no question, the challenge is real and the problem will continue to confront us and many Muslims around the world. As a recent West Point study argues, the majority of the victims of violent extremism are Muslims themselves, so our response must be global in scope.
Maintaining a free, open and diverse society is the greatest antidote to the tyranny of violent extremism. Fareed Zakaria, a well-respected journalist, commentator and author recently said in a Newsweek column, “The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population.”
As a generation who faces this real threat, we will have to muster our most creative ideas to address this asymmetric threat, which seeks to disable our society. As Zakaria points out, one thing we cannot do is allow the terrorists to push us to change our values and our open society. These values allowed women and men like Dr. King to overcome the prevailing threats and obstacles of his time, while remaining faithful to the ideals of our democratic society. We must also ensure that voices of exclusion and Islamophobia, who seek to exploit this challenge, not be allowed to direct our policies, marginalize Muslim communities and institutionalize hate and bigotry.
President Obama reminded us of our commitment to these values in a speech he delivered after the initial review of the Christmas Day incident by saying,
“Here at home, we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don’t hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. That is exactly what our adversaries want, and so long as I am President, we will never hand them that victory. We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women and children.”
There is no question that our collective strength will be tested as we face this challenge for years to come. Yet America has always been able to use the diverse resources of its citizenry to confront daunting tasks. It is this diversity which allows us to partner with global communities and send a direct message to the extremists: Your bankrupt narrative, which calls people to destruction, will not change America’s values, and as we have done throughout our history, we will continue to right the wrongs.
The Muslim American community will be a key component to addressing the issue of violent extremism. It is our narrative which will successfully counter that of the violent extremists and it is our contributions that will once again write a new chapter of triumph in our history. So as we remember Dr. King’s legacy, let us ensure that the future generations may write about our courageous spirit and approach in a similar fashion.