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Anti-Catholicism in America hardly ended with the French alliance, but today a new peril has taken the place of Catholicism. Anti-Muslim sentiment dates to the colonial period, as well, but it has taken on unprecedented fervor since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Again, as bitterly illustrated by 9/11, there are certainly reasons for Americans to fear the terrorist faction among the world's billion Muslims. But how should Americans react to that threat? More particularly, what is the proper Christian attitude toward the 2.6 million Muslims who live in America today (according to the recently-released Pew Research Center study)? While some Muslims in America certainly support jihadist terror, the vast majority do not, and have no intention of foisting sharia law upon the nation.
Let's face facts: Muslims in America and elsewhere are diverse. They range from secular to fundamentalist, and are divided among themselves by ethnicity and theology. Some Americans may imagine that there is a unified world jihadist menace, but the messy realities confound that myth. American Muslims are mostly middle-class, and a majority are themselves concerned about jihadist extremism. Many recent Muslim immigrants come from Arab countries, but just as many come from Pakistan and other places in South Asia. Many Arab Americans, furthermore, are from Christian backgrounds. Large numbers of Arabs in America, Muslims and Christians, came here fleeing the persecution of fundamentalists at home.
Americans stand united – as George W. Bush insisted repeatedly – against terrorism and not Islam. Non-jihadist American Muslims will one day, like Washington's Catholics, be accepted as "brethren embarked in the same cause." Civil peace hardly requires Christians or Muslims to ignore the essential spiritual differences between us; most adherents of both traditions do not believe that all paths lead to God. But putting an anti-Muslim amendment into a state's constitution sends the message that Americans officially oppose Muslims and their faith. Even if all we care about is a winsome Christian witness to Muslims, this is a deplorable approach.
Thomas S. Kidd teaches history and is a senior fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author of "God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution." Follow his writings via Facebook.