If you’ve ever toured the Ohio Statehouse, you’ve likely noticed framed, lit quotes adorning the walls of the ground floor near the Museum Education Center and clustered by theme: justice, tolerance, civic engagement and more.
On a recent visit, George Washington Carver’s words stood out to me. They read, “Fear of something is at the root of hate for others, and hate within will eventually destroy the hater.”
As we reflect on 2015, there is much in the world that could make us afraid. Violent attacks like those in Paris and San Bernardino illustrate the challenging times we are living in.
And yet, as American writer Arnold Glasow told us, fear can also be the “lengthened shadow of ignorance.”
Americans are rightly concerned that we must keep the United States safe and secure from terrorist groups.
As the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, I not only share these concerns, it’s my top priority, and the top priority of the Department of Justice, to protect our national security. We continue to determinedly prosecute terrorists to the fullest extent of the law.
But even as we act forcefully on the very real threats that do exist, we also have to be sure that our legitimate fears do not cause us to react against an entire group of law-abiding people: the members of our Muslim-American communities.
Fear can be our worst enemy when we thoughtlessly hate what we don’t know.
A school district in the western part of our state recently garnered national media attention for giving parents the option to pull their children from a lesson on Islamic studies. Limiting knowledge of other cultures fosters the type of fear I’m describing. I invite those parents considering pulling their students from the lesson to join me in visiting one of our state’s mosques.
Conversely, one of our district’s Islamic centers made national news in recent months for its overwhelming sense of tolerance.
In October, my office coordinated an event at Noor Islamic Cultural Center in central Ohio for communities of faith that focused on protecting houses of worship. People from the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu faiths gathered to talk with local and federal law enforcement.
We learned while planning the event that an anti-Islamic group had organized a social media campaign calling for protests at dozens of mosques and Islamic centers across the country the day of and day following our event.
Despite offers from members of the Islamic center to serve the protesters breakfast, only one person showed up the next morning carrying anti-Islamic signs and picketing the property.
A recording of an hour-long dialogue between the sole protester and the counter-protest group shows that after much conversation and a hug from a member of the cultural center, the protester agreed to come inside. According to news coverage, she and the group talked for two hours, toured the cultural center and observed worship. The protester left without her signs.
An editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer recently posed the question: How well does the Greater Cincinnati population understand and accept its Muslim members?
The editorial explained the Muslim community is diverse, educated, and overall, not much different than our other communities. Those that know the community know that, on the whole, its members want the same for their families and communities as any other group – safety and health for their children and for themselves.
The piece was based on a survey issued in September by the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and the results tell us that local Muslims care about fitting in as Americans and have real concern about discrimination and hate crimes.
How often are we taking the time to learn about our neighbors on the most basic human level before making assumptions and judgments about them? I can’t help but wonder how differently we might view one another if we took the time to get to know one another.
As U.S. Attorney, I’ll continue to aggressively pursue legal action against those who are threatening our nation’s safety and security. And just as importantly, I’ll defend the civil rights of everyone in our district. The Constitution and the rule of law protect all communities without regard to race, religion, nationality or any of the many other attributes of a richly diverse community.
It’s important that we hold individuals accountable for their heinous actions without demonizing entire groups. I hope you’ll join me in the opportunity we all have today to stand for justice and to fight against xenophobia and hate.
Carter M. Stewart is U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.