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Opinion Thanks, Trump: The Muslim community benefits from an unexpected spotlight

I, an American Muslim, want to thank Donald Trump.

I am not one of his supporters. No way, never. He might even think I am one of his many nemeses: Born in Baghdad and brought to this country by my parents in 1964 as they fled the persecution of a military dictatorship, I believe that Islam’s place is America. In America, Muslims can practice their religion more freely than any other country in the world, including Muslim countries.

I am both Muslim and American. I don’t have to choose one or the other. Yet many Americans don’t understand that.

It’s only starting to make sense to many of my fellow citizens — and for that growing clarity, I have Trump to thank.

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We all agree that we live in dangerous times. Terrorism and xenophobia are fires that exponentially fuel each other. As Americans, we live in the nightmares of what has been happening since 9/11 and what can happen. As American Muslims, we add another layer of fear with the thought of deportation for immigrants and internment camps for the native-born.

Every time Muslims appear on television, we receive the most egregious emails and calls demanding our expulsion, sometimes even our genocide. We live through what Mormons and Catholics and Jews went through before securing their place in America, and we must sail through the strait of danger to reach our safe harbor.

Trump has brought those real issues to the surface.

Before, very few believed the type of bigotry and racism we face on a daily basis. Light and air can expose this hatred, which is what Trump has unwittingly provided. He has illustrated that anti-Muslim bias is not a Muslim problem. It’s an American problem that we all have to face head on.

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Trump has also forced our nation to recognize people such as Humayun Khan and his Gold Star parents. Yes, there is the threat of terrorism (committed by those who are more deranged than they are Muslim). It can only be defeated when we give voice to Muslim heroism rather than singling out Muslims as the guilty party who have to prove their innocence.

By giving more credence to violent extremism than to the moderate mainstream of my community, Trump agrees with the Islamic State’s ideology far more than we do. What Muslims know — and what Americans are coming to know — is the heroes.

Heroism happens every day when Muslims work with law enforcement to counter the efforts of the Islamic State to recruit our youths. It happens when our religious leaders speak vociferously against the cult of death by bringing to light the theology of life. It happens every minute of every day when Muslims treat their patients and teach their students and take care of their neighbors.

As presidents and national security leaders have said over and over again — we will not win against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda militarily, and we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis; we can only win on the battlefield by winning the battle of ideas. Muslims have answered the call. And Trump has inadvertently forced our nation to finally witness the loyal contributions of Muslim throughout our society.

So our friends’ efforts to partner with us have been bolstered. Leaders like Russell Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier have begun a social media campaign called Muslims Are Speaking Out. Americans of Jewish, Christian and Muslim background are reconnecting to their shared Abrahamic roots, even if they vehemently disagree over U.S. policy in the Middle East — ardent Zionists working with Muslims on common ground in the United States, an expanding plane thanks to Trump.

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At the Muslim Public Affairs Council, I got calls, emails and letters from supportive citizens before. But Trump’s candidacy has opened the floodgates. My inbox overflows with encouragement.

Congress and state legislatures throughout the country have condemned anti-Muslim hysteria and reaffirmed our democratic aspirations as one people with liberty and justice for all. American Muslims do not take the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence for granted. I find all I need as a Muslim in these founding documents, not in foreign laws from countries in the Middle East or South Asia, and not in the demagoguery of Trump.

It is time for us to be great together against the forces of hatred and violence. It is time for us to make our country greater by putting the spotlight on those who speak for togetherness — for one nation under one God.

The United States is our home. We aren’t going anywhere other than this great country. And Trump has spurred our fellow American citizens to listen to us.

Al-Marayati is the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

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