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In Theory: How should our next president address extremism?

US presidential candidates

The top US presidential candidates, from left to right, are Republican Ted Cruz, Democrat Bernie Sanders, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

(Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)

According to a recent Pew Research study, Americans are sharply divided, especially on party lines, as to how the next president of the United States should address Islamic extremism.

The poll found that 50% of Americans surveyed think our next leader should be careful to not criticize Islam as a whole when speaking out against extremism, while 40% want their president to speak bluntly, even if statements come off as critical of all Muslims.

When looking through the scope of party affiliation, Republicans favored “blunt talk” by about 65%, while 70% of Democrats wanted a cautious approach.

Asked what the bigger problem was concerning violence being done in the name of religion, 68% said violent people use religion to justify their actions, while 22% said the religious teachings themselves promoted violence. When pressed further, Islam was singled out by U.S. adults as the most “problematic” religion.

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Q: How do you think the next president should address Islamic extremism?

Making generalized accusations and promoting prejudice from a place of panic and enmity is not the answer. We cannot say that everyone who is religious is violent. In fact, the majority are not, Muslim, Christian or otherwise.

First of all, what does “anti-American” mean? There are non-extreme, nonviolent people who are upset with America, including Americans themselves. We should focus the fight on all those who want nations destroyed or humans killed, including Muslims and Muslim nations, especially when that rhetoric comes from ourselves. The hatred and terror emanating from our own nation does not allow us the moral high ground (www.splcenter.org/hate-map).

The next president should address extremism or fanaticism in all forms. We should speak bluntly about violence in all religions, including Christianity, and the terrorism perpetrated by all terrorists, including extreme Christians. However, just as we would not associate the average Christian with the extremist, we must treat all people as individuals and not lump them into categories, assigning them inclinations en masse. Is that not what terrorists do, claim all Americans are alike? How does committing the same crime help? There is a reason people who know Muslims personally are more empathetic toward them as individuals.

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Further, why do more educated, nonreligious people exhibit more compassion toward Muslims? Ignorance combined with religious indoctrination breeds fear and animosity which leads to terrorism. So, rather than attacking fear and hate by generating more of it masked as blunt speech, we should react by bolstering knowledge, understanding and free thought.

Separating the extremism from the person, realizing we can all be poisoned by fundamentalism, and seeing each other as humans first will unite us. We all want our children growing up in a world filled with peace and love. Do we achieve that by the leader of our nation or any other promoting prejudice over understanding, hatred over compassion? Fighting them after they perpetrate the crime or trying to weed out those who may, is not a long term or realistic solution to ending terrorism. If we abandon our founding values of being a welcoming nation founded on inherent individual freedoms, terrorists win. This doesn’t preclude us being strong on terror but any long-term, final solution to protect our world from terrorism has to start and finish with education and compassion, not blunt bombast.

Joshua Lewis Berg
Humanist Celebrant
Glendale

The next president should realize that there are more Muslims in Indonesia than in any other country. And that person should realize that most Muslims are law-abiding and peaceful.

Look at Indonesia: How much religious strife have we heard about from that country? Not much! The point is that most Americans are ignorant of the fact that a tiny few have hijacked Islam for their own agenda.

Consider Dearborn, Michigan. It has a huge Muslim community, and have we heard of any problems coming from there? No!

The problem is that a few who call themselves “Muslim” have made so many afraid of the word “Islam.” I am not one to blame “the media” for everything, but many in the media have not taken the time to educate themselves on the meaning of Islam (it means “peace”) or what the word “jihad” means (it means “inner struggle”).

So when a bunch of crazies do something in the name of Islam, some lazy journalists have not taken the time to learn that one crazy person does not define what a whole religion thinks or believes.

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Come on, America: is every Christian peace-loving? I’d say no. Is every Jew a keeper of the Torah? I’d also say no. So don’t assume that every Muslim wants everybody else dead who is not a Muslim. And watch some news that truly is “fair and balanced.”

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge

Extremism is not necessarily a religious issue as much as it is an issue about humans who think they should impose their opinion on others through violence. Unfortunately, much of the violence is being done in the name of religion, primarily Islam. All religious people suffer profiling. It is a part of human nature which cannot be eradicated.

It can be subdued through education, but even tolerance can be misguiding if it solely endeavors to help humans treat everyone as equals. Terrorists are not equals and need to be stopped, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Because of the concern for the safety of human life, I believe the next president must address the issue from a twofold point of view. First, as Americans we must be vigilant concerning those who desire to cause harm, and stop them if we can. Second, we should assure others that just because there are those who are causing harm in the name of a religion, it does not mean all people of that religion are the same.

However, those who are Muslim should understand that profiling is not about Muslims in general, but an attempt to stop those who intend harm. I believe the Muslim community should be as much up in arms about this issue, and participate in helping to uncover those who mean harm. I also think Muslims should be patient in understanding the concern created by extremists in their religion. Others who react against Muslims with violence by overgeneralizing are doing the same thing as the Islamic extremists.

Pastor Terry Neven
Montrose Community Church

Even blunt talk should be accurate. So, we should remember where Islamic extremists — ISIS in the present circumstance — have done the most damage, and who is bearing the brunt of the battle.

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Far more Muslims have been killed by ISIS, and far more are currently engaged in the fight against it, than Americans or Europeans. Many leading Islamic groups, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have condemned the violent acts of extremists.

Criticizing Islam as a whole doesn’t acknowledge any of that, nor does it address the specific issues central to terrorism. Islam spans cultures from West Africa to Indonesia, a country whose Muslim population — the world’s largest — has shown little appetite for militant interpretations of the Koran. So, to identify all of Islam as “problematic” is both unfair and inaccurate.

Soon after Muslim immigration became an issue in the presidential debates, the LDS church released a statement reiterating its position on religious liberty. Although the statement doesn’t directly address the question of how a president should speak of Islam, it provides insight how the church views other faiths.

The church “is neutral in regard to party politics and election campaigns,” the statement said. “However, it is not neutral in relation to religious freedom.”

The statement went on to cite Joseph Smith’s comment that to abridge the rights of any faith is to jeopardize the rights of all. It then quoted from an ordinance approved in 1843 by the city council of Nauvoo, Ill., a predominantly Mormon city that Smith founded. The ordinance assured equal treatment to “Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals, Universalists, Unitarians, Mohammedans (Muslims) and all other religious sects and denominations.”

Certainly, strong leadership is needed in the war against terror. We may at times need frank speech. But we must not — out of frustration and fear — condemn or ostracize the innocent. To do so wouldn’t be just, nor would it be practical. In our ever-shrinking world, the battle will require alliances and cooperation, built upon trust and mutual respect, as well as strength.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta

Terminology is not the real concern to me here. It is not words killing us, but bombs. Why speculate about a suicide bomber’s religion as though we could examine the beliefs of someone willing to die to bring about a medieval caliphate and find a motivation any rational person would understand?

Call them extremists, jihadists, terrorists, or just the murdering creeps that they are, they have been clear about at least part of their beef against the West — our invasions, military occupations and armed drone attacks. They resent our support for what they call “apostate” regimes, some of which the rest of the world call brutal dictatorships, and our support for an Israel which has expanded far beyond the original borders of the homeland rightly given for a Jewish democratic state.

In this they are no different than native fighters opposing imperialism over the centuries, going all the way back to when Western Europe looked around and decided that with better ships and navigation they could and should “discover” and exploit the rest of the world.

U.S. strategic interest in the Mideast is often facilely said to be the oil, yet our continuing Iraq horror hasn’t even gotten us much of that, so inept has it been. And we need to go cold turkey from that addiction too.

The same newspapers covering the latest Brussels murders reported that the scientist who was the most right from the beginningon climate change, James E. Hansen, now says the planet’s situation is much more dire than the current commonly accepted scientific wisdom. He claims we must sharply curtail use of fossil fuels right now or else climate change will be irreversible within today’s young people’s lifetimes. Replacing whatever oil we get from the Middle East with renewable energy or just doing without it would be a good start, if there is even a chance that Dr. Hansen is correct.

So I want our current and future presidents to move beyond talk and completely disengage militarily from the greater Middle East, to eliminate a big cause of Islamic (or whatever) terrorism, and save the planet for our grandchildren — talk about a win-win!

Roberta Medford
Atheist
Montrose

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