Since the Republican presidential front-runner announced after San Bernardino that he would close America’s borders to Muslims, a debate has ensued about what “radicalization” means and how far we as a nation are willing to go to protect ourselves from it. So-called liberals (and even some in the Republican party’s mainstream) have said, “Not all Muslims have been radicalized.” To this Donald Trump retorts, “Until we know which ones have been, let’s keep them all out.” The unquestioned consensus in America’s public square is that we can only be safe by figuring out who the un-American terrorists are and getting rid of them.
But where we’re from in North Carolina, we should not be so naive. We have a disproportionate share of homegrown terrorists.
Before he moved to Colorado to carry out his attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Robert Dear was apparently radicalized in the mountains of western North Carolina.
After assassinating Reverend Clementa Pinckney and eight other members of Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, Dylann Roof fled to Shelby, North Carolina, a hotbed of Klan activity, where he was apprehended by authorities.
We must assume that Craig Hicks was radicalized in liberal Chapel Hill before shooting three of his Muslim neighbors.
But we do not call any of these men radical Christians. Why, then, do we so easily accept the language of “radical Islam”?
When we look closely at the acts of terror that rend our communities and make everyone feel less safe, the common denominator is not a particular religion or culture. It is, instead, a violence that is perpetuated by those who use fear to gain political power. We cannot combat this violence by naming an enemy to eliminate. Instead, we must illuminate the sort of friendships that make fusion politics possible.
When we met nearly 20 years ago, we were the most unlikely of partners. Reverend Barber, an African-American pastor with deep roots in the civil-rights community, was serving as chair of the Human Relations Commission for Democratic Governor Jim Hunt. Jonathan, a Southern Baptist from Stokes County, had just finished an internship with Republican Senator Strom Thurmond, one-time Dixiecrat candidate for president. Ideology and established enemy lines all but guaranteed we’d never work together. But we got to know each other’s love for people and for this state. We learned that we share a common faith and, with it, a concern for the common good.
A “Southern strategy” was developed in the late 1960s to pit us against each other, creating a “solid South” for the Republican Party by dividing poor and working people according to their worst fears about their neighbors. Black and white have a long history in this place, but political strategists worked carefully to “color” immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, and religious minorities, casting them as un-American rather than non-white. The rise of ISIS as a real and credible threat means that this racist form of political manipulation can take the form of calling Muslims un-American.