Muslims do not need to justify themselves in the face of extremism

I am a New Yorker, born and raised in Brooklyn. I am a civil rights activist. I am a mother. I also happen to be Muslim, a faith that represents a quarter of the world’s population. My faith unequivocally condemns groups like ISIS, and while I stand with every other American and 1.7 billion other Muslims in that condemnation, we must stop misrepresenting the problem with my faith.

I am horrified by these attacks, but not because I am Muslim. I am horrified because I am human. By constantly apologizing and denouncing these attacks, Muslims reinforce the misguided public perception that they are connected to ISIS through the same basic ideology, when in fact they have nothing in common at all.

We do not expect Buddhists to apologize as Buddhist extremists massacre Muslims in Burma or for their human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. I also don’t ask Christians to apologize for the genocide that Bosnian Muslims faced less than two decades ago at the hands of Christian Serbs, or for the Lord’s Resistance Army and Christian militias who have killed tens of thousands of civilians and ethnically cleansed Muslims throughout Uganda, the Congo and Central African Republic. Nor do I ask every white American to apologize for hate crimes committed by self-proclaimed White Christian supremacist groups like the Klu Klux Klan. All of us instead recognize that religious fanatics perpetuate violent acts for their own deranged reasons.

Why is an apology only expected of Muslims?

We all share the responsibility of addressing the threats we face but we are having the wrong conversation when we try to paint one broad community as the problem. In the case of ISIS, these broad and dangerous generalizations are exactly what they want. They want the world to believe that their acts of violence are representative of my faith. They want my neighbors to look at me and feel threatened.

ISIS is not representative of my faith and the group never has been. The moment we play into that narrative is the moment we help conflate the problem.

Linda Sarsour is the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and the national advocacy director of the National Network for Arab American Communities.

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