Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson made an important statement condemning Islamophobia this past week during a symposium sponsored by the International Peace and Security Institute, stating that comments made by Republican Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, calling for increased surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods and mosque shutdowns, were “overly simplistic.”
The symposium, which was centered around Countering Violent Extremism, aimed to “open the doors and facilitate global conversation where governments, civil society, business, and academia can delve into the ‘how’ aspects of countering these global threats.”
Secretary Johnson hammered home the idea that Islamophobia runs counter to this mission, saying that Islam is widespread across the globe and thus, “as diverse as Christianity.”
He went on to say that “efforts to vilify and isolate American Muslims are counter to our homeland security interest and counter to our national security interest, given the nature of the global terrorist threat.”
Secretary Johnson also took a moment to recognize how the false binary between Muslims and Americans is harmful to not just civilians, but also results complete erasure of the identities of Muslims serving in the American military. He stated:
“The overwhelming, overwhelming majority of American Muslims, including those who serve in our United States military … are patriotic, dedicated people who love this country and want to help us with public safety and secure our homeland, because they know it’s their homeland too.”See Also
Wednesday’s remarks weren’t the first time that Secretary Johnson fired back at proponents of Islamophobic rhetoric; earlier last December, he slammed Trump’s plans to halt Muslim immigration to the United States as “beyond the pale,” adding that doing so would “burn bridges to American Muslims when we’re trying to go in the exact opposite direction.”
While all of these condemnations of hateful and provocative rhetoric are a nice change from the new norm of divisiveness and fear-mongering, it’s worth noting that there’s still a level of cognitive dissonance going on here – despite Secretary Johnson’s comments, policies like CVE are still being co-opted by members of the federal government and used as an excuse for increased targeted surveillance of Muslim communities.
So yes, we should commend Secretary Johnson for speaking out on behalf of Muslims – but let’s not forget that his agency’s effort to “build bridges” with the Muslim community still has a long way to go.