They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up. -Martin Niemöller
Most of you reading this know me. How you know me may vary; some of you know me as a scientist, some as a science writer, as a professor, or maybe just a friend or acquaintance. But before I was any of those things, I was born a citizen of the United States of America.
And, like all US citizens, I have certain rights and privileges guaranteed to me by law; every citizen is protected by, among other things, the Bill of Rights. I think of these as my basic freedoms, including my free speech, my freedom of assembly, and my freedom of religion. And I have all of these freedoms whether anyone else agrees or not with my speech, my cause of assembly, or any of the tenets of my religion (or lack thereof). If anyone would try to take these rights away from me, not only would I fight them, but I would expect many of my fellow Americans to come to my aid, and defend my basic rights. In fact, if anyone tries to take them away from any American, it’s everyone’s responsibility to defend their rights.
“Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward. And freedom will be defended.” -George W. Bush
Now, more than ever, it is time to defend the freedoms of Americans. The freedom to live your life without being racially or religiously profiled. The freedom to be allowed to conduct commerce and purchase goods without being asked where you got the money. The freedom to worship whatever or whomever you want without fear for your personal safety.
Here in America, the reality is that these freedoms are in jeopardy.
In New York City, a cab driver was asked if he was Muslim. After responding in the affirmative, his passenger pulled out a knife and attacked him, slashing the man’s throat.
In Tennessee, a new Islamic center being built outside of Nashville was just the victim of arson, as a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment sweeps across our nation.
Where is this hatred and violence coming from? It’s no mystery.
People are afraid. People are afraid that the people who caused 9/11 will do it again, and that since they were Muslim, the response is to be suspicious of all Muslims.
But we do not let fear dictate what we are free to do. Syed, Atiyah, Freida, and all the other Muslims I grew up with are no more or less American than any of us, and it is the right of every Muslim-American to expect the exact same freedoms that we have.
And that includes the freedom to buy an abandoned building in New York City and build a community center there, regardless of whether it’s a Christian, Jewish, Interfaith, Atheist, or Muslim center.
People are asking if you are for or against the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center two blocks away from Ground Zero, and they are asking the wrong question. Your opinion, my opinion, anyone’s opinion is not what’s relevant here.
What’s relevant is ensuring that everyone’s freedoms are protected, including the freedom of peaceful Muslim-Americans to have a place of assembly and worship. Which is all they’re trying to do. (And, as an aside, I’d be willing to bet that the people who masterminded 9/11 think of most Muslim-Americans as Americans long before they think of them as Muslims.)
We do not let fear limit our freedoms, not for ourselves, and not for anyone in this country. We are better than our recent actions have indicated, and we need to do better than this. It’s my country, too, and I am officially speaking up against violence, against racial and religious mistreatment of others, and in favor of equal rights and protections for all Americans. Even Muslims, even two blocks away from Ground Zero.
And I encourage everyone else to speak up, too.