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August 01, 2016

The Hard Lessons of the Past

By Joe Jenkins

At times in history, this American experiment has been vigorously tested; our aspirational values have been thrust against the stark realities of fear and intolerance.

Veteran news anchor and author Tom Brokaw documented these blemishes on the national record, from the racial injustices of Jim Crow to the internment of Japanese Americans during the second world war and the paranoid demagoguery of McCarthyism.

But these trying times do not belong solely to Brokaw’s “greatest generation,” or to any other. All Americans share these hard lessons, and they are startlingly relevant today.

Recently we’ve heard calls to ban Muslims from entering the country. Some have even called for the surveillance and monitoring of Muslim Americans. Brokaw cautions us that the Islamophobia taking root in America today represents the very same base fear that so regrettably found its way into America during its darkest times.

We’ve seen this resurgence of intolerance perhaps due to the despicable actions of a minority of extremists that would have us believe that they speak for all of Islam.

They don’t.

Though radicals do pose a threat to the United States, they do not represent the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, nor do they represent the 3 million Muslims in America. But every time Americans talk of turning on their own in fear, extremists succeed in driving a wedge between our country and its citizens—and a wedge between its citizens and its values.

While it is true that in moments of great turmoil, America has been overcome by fear and intolerance, coming back to our values, the foundational bedrock on which we stand, has allowed us to prevail.

Tom Brokaw reminds us that we cannot afford to be complacent in adhering to our American ideals. We’ve got to learn the hard lessons of the past and end Islamophobia.