Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson met with religious leaders Monday at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling to send a message to Americans: “We must not vilify Muslims.”
Standing in front of a crowd diverse in age and religion at the mosque, Johnson said, “I know I speak to most people in this room, including those up here with me, when I begin my remarks by saying ‘my fellow Americans.’”
The meeting was held in response to the Dec. 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA, by a husband and wife duo investigators have described to the press as radicalized Muslims. Muslim leaders nationwide have spoken out to condemn that shooting and the catastrophic attacks in Paris Nov. 13, for which ISIS has claimed responsibility.
Johnson pointed out that the principal victims of ISIS and Al Qaeda are Muslims. The overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world, he said, are “men, women, and children of peace.”
“Anyone who does not understand that does not understand Islam,” Johnson said, promising to speak out against “discrimination, vilification, and isolation that American Muslims face.”
“We are united as one community and one nation against violent extremism, against hate and discrimination,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, executive imam of ADAMS.
Johnson declined to respond directly to GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s suggestion earlier in the day that Muslims, including Americans, be prevented from entering the country, but said his remarks speak for themselves.
“I have spoken here today… about what I believe to be the obligation of those of us in public office, and those who aspire to public office and command, to be responsible in our rhetoric, responsible in our suggestions,” Johnson said.
Trump’s comments have ignited criticism at all levels of the Republican party, including from Del. David Ramadan (R-87), who said Trump is “a millionaire playing politics with no regard for the best interests of the United States.”
“The danger of somebody like Donald Trump is that he is using the fear tactics of one particular issue, the Americans are understandably afraid of, and using it to take away liberties, and go beyond—way beyond—everything we stand for,” Ramadan said.
Rizwan Jaka, chairman of ADAMS’ board of trustees, expressed frustration with disproportionate media coverage of foreign-inspired and Muslim terrorism. He said the news media gives a lot of air time following events such as the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, while ignoring strongly worded statements and religious rulings against violence and terrorism from Muslim organizations and leaders.
“Mosques are speaking out left and right,” Jaka said. “They are issuing statements. The thing is that, unfortunately, bad news gets repeated a million times.”
“Somebody should start asking why Americans don’t hear when Muslims speak out,” agreed Rabbi Gerald Serotta, executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. “They’ve been doing it and not heard for so long, if I were Muslim, I would be completely frustrated at this point. How clear can you make it?”
Mosques, Jaka said, are important for preventing radicalization of young people. ISIS recruiters try to isolate converts from the mosque, characterizing mainstream mosques as “sellouts,” he said. “The mosques are the first line of defense.”
Gurpreet Brar, a Sikh who represented Loudoun Interfaith BRIDGES and the Loudoun Multicultural Advisory Committee at Monday’s event, said he felt optimistic after the meeting.
“The way to counter this kind of violence is to actually go back with love, to go back with patience, to say, ‘how can I help you,’ ‘if you have questions, come ask me,’” Brar said after the meeting.
Inclusiveness, he added, is important to preventing terrorism.
“If you look at any of the mass shootings in America that have happened recently, a lot of them have been tied to isolated kids,” Brar said. “They feel they’re isolated. Similarly, we don’t want the Muslim community to get to a state where they feel they’re isolated.”
Contact Renss Greene at [email protected]