I am not a Muslim, nor do I practice Islam. But I study and teach the tradition at Trinity University in San Antonio. Some university professors struggle to answer the question of why it is important for students to learn their subject. With what I teach, however, I like to think that the significance of the topic is self-evident.
The importance of understanding Islam is painfully obvious in today’s world. So many of our government officials have failed to do so, and we get a sense of this ignorance when we hear bigoted comments from them.
This week, someone from the staff of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller posted an image on social media that called for the U.S. to drop an atomic bomb on “the Muslim world.” Miller has denied responsibility, yet he has also refused to apologize for the post.
Miller’s refusal to distance himself from the post is problematic because it directly condones Islamophobic sentiments and encourages violence against Muslims. If these are the types of messages our government officials are sending, what can we expect from our fellow citizens?
This past January, Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) caused a national firestorm when she called on Muslims to “renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America.” White made this announcement when Texas was hosting Texas Muslim Capitol Day, a day of pluralistic civic engagement that reflects the values we all should hold dear. Instead of appreciating and celebrating this commitment to democratic principles, however, she alienated Muslim Americans — and in the process, exhibited her bigoted feelings towards an immensely diverse group of people.
It is time we hold our elected officials — like Miller and White — to a higher standard. We can and should expect that those we elect to be representative of our values as Texans and as Americans.
I am not suggesting that we ignore the threats of violence that are posed by individuals who identify with Islam. It is important that we take all threats of violence seriously. What I am saying though, is that the anti-Muslim sentiments exhibited by Miller and White are unfair and misguided.
In this country, we do not judge entire communities on the basis of an individual’s actions, nor do we presume an entire group to be guilty by association. It is not fair to hold American Muslims responsible for the actions of others, just as it would be unfair to hold American Christians responsible for engaging in terrorism in the name of Christianity.
The post from Miller’s account did precisely those things — and it is important that he understands why this is problematic. It is also important that he apologizes.
As an elected representative for the state of Texas, what Miller says matters because it influences how his constituents think. When he posts something hateful that calls for violence against “the Muslim world,” he gives all those who look up to him the signal to do the same. This divisive and hateful rhetoric is not my Texas.
My Texas is a community in which we all respect one another for who we are as individuals, regardless of our backgrounds and beliefs. I grew up in San Antonio as one of the few Sikhs who wore a turban. When we traveled around Texas for soccer games, opposing players and fans would occasionally harass me for looking different. I always stood up for myself in these moments — and to my delight, my coaches and teammates always stood up with me.
This is my Texas: a place where people will stand by their principles and not stand for hateful and divisive rhetoric.
This is also why I have committed to teaching religion here in Texas. I believe that learning about different cultural and religious traditions will help us better understand the people in our communities and will help us live up to our own values as Americans.