Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring 

It does make me pause a little that the highest ranking government official to ever address the largest gathering of American Muslims – the 53rd annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) – was the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson. Depending on how one looks at it, it’s either a slap in the face of the community or a genuine gesture of friendship and collaboration. I’m sure there are American Muslims who are saying both. 

Still, I attended the speech, and I thought it was full of respect for the American Muslim community. Yes, there are many policies of DHS that are controversial, at best, and have harmed many innocent American Muslims. And, of course, Sec. Johnson didn’t mention any of those policies, such as the sending of informants into the community. Still, I appreciated the things he had to say. 

I appreciated when he said, “Your story is the quintessential American story.” He highlighted the many positive things American Muslims contribute to America, and he also said, “Tonight I will not talk about counterterrorism. Tonight I will simply address you as who you are, ‘my fellow Americans.'” 

The best part of the speech was when he talked about his grandfather, Charles S. Johnson. He highlighted how he had to endure the racist suspicion of African-Americans during the Red Scare in this country. He quoted a moving statement his grandfather made decades ago:

It is expected that Negro Southerners, as a result of [our] limited status in the racial system, would be bitter or hostile. . . Bitterness grows out of hopelessness, and there is no . . . hopelessness in the situation. . . . Faith in the ultimate strength of the democratic philosophy and code of the nation . . . has always been stronger than the impulse to despair.

Secretary Johnson then said, 

I believe that too. I believe that because Charles S. Johnson was my grandfather. He died a second class citizen, in fact and in law. But he had faith in this country.

And he encouraged us to have faith in our country as well. He encouraged us to:

Follow the example of many people in this room, the leaders of this organization, and become full participants in our great democratic society. Continue to prod us toward a more perfect union. Aspire, excel, contribute, engage, and vote. Channel your energy in a way such that Muslim Americans too become recognized as a full part of the fabric of this diverse society, like others who have done before you.

He then ended his speech with saying:

Like those who came before you, do not lose hope. Do not despair. Have faith in the code of this Nation. We will continue on the path toward a more perfect union.

If you know American history, take comfort in learning from it.

Yes, it is frustrating to listen to those who foment fear, suspicion and intolerance, who don’t know the mistakes of history, and are in the midst of repeating them. Have faith that the character of the American people as a whole is such that, in the end, we will choose not to drink this brand of soiled milk.

Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Americans: public officials in this country are often reluctant to ask the public we serve for your help. On behalf of myself and the President, I ask for your help. Hear this message and share it with others in your communities.

Light a candle. Show others the promise and the wonder of this country.

Thank you for listening.

Thank you, Secretary Johnson. Thank you for coming out and showing your support to our community. All the bad policies of DHS notwithstanding, your words were greatly appreciated. 

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