Religious freedom is one of the pillars of our society. The first English settlers ran away from their country in search of a place where they could practice their faith, where the expression of religious beliefs is respected and does not signify being ostracized, discriminated or hated.
This is why President Barack Obama’s visit to a mosque in Baltimore at a moment when animosity against Muslims is growing in the U.S. carries great weight. The emergence of ISIS, the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino events have created an environment of fear and distrust. The fire is being constantly fueled by the Republican side in their primary campaigns, in which proposals such as accepting only Christian refugees and banning all Muslims from entering the country have been bandied.
In 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, then-President George W. Bush also visited a mosque as a response to the vilification of the terrorists’ religion. Unlike the reception Obama’s gesture is getting today, the Republican president’s was applauded by all.
A recent Pew Research survey revealed that people in the U.S. are profoundly divided about how to deal with Islam. Most Democrats – 71% – believe that the next president must be “careful not to criticize” the religion when referring to Islamic terrorists. Meanwhile, 64% of Republicans think that the president will have to “speak bluntly, even if critical of Islam as a whole.”
In 2002, Pew found that 47% of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents said that “almost all/most” or “about half/some” Muslims are “anti-American.” Today, 63% think that way.
Obama is right in visiting a mosque to reiterate on site that Muslims are part of the U.S., that this is their place, that they belong in this country. The fact that Obama’s inclusive message is being judged as “divisive” due to “political motives” by Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is a symptom of our current political moment.
Religious freedom is not an exclusive property of Judeo-Christian religion, especially in a society as diverse as ours. It is unfair for the actions of a few religious fanatics to smear the rest of the faith’s adherents. We want to believe that our society is represented by a tolerant, silent majority rather than by the ill-intentioned hostility of the campaigning politicians.