As we mark the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, terrorism remains a major focus of the United States and the world.
Extremist Muslim factions are as deadly as ever, spreading their murderous reach through new, dispersed, means around the world. How best to confront these forces remains a divisive debate. But, as we’ve seen after other attacks, the United States is not a country built on fear or condemnation of others. We are also not a country that isolates itself from the world’s problems.
The U.S. and its democracy are defined by resilience. It was resiliency that carried us through the dark days after Sept. 11. There have been missteps — the invasion of Iraq, the Patriot Act and, more recently, the Trump administration’s ban on travelers from majority Muslim countries — but, mostly, Americans today remain optimistic, welcoming and engaged in the world. That is what makes America great.
The U.S. has not, and will not, turn its back on the causes and ravages of terrorism, as it also must continue to engage with world leaders on other pressing issues such as climate change, economic development and international stability.
The reign of terror of the Islamic State, or ISIS, remains most deadly in the Middle East. U.S.-led airstrikes and a limited number of ground troops had largely driven it from control of areas in Syria and Iraq, but the radical militants are making a comeback and continue to spread misery. The frequency of ISIS attacks and its numbers have grown in recent weeks.
Entire cities in Syria have been flattened amid sectarian violence there, forcing millions of refugees, half of them children, to flee to camps in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. More than 6 million Syrians remain displaced within their own country.
U.S. politicians, particularly President Donald Trump, are telling us to fear radical Islamic terrorism, suggesting we view all Muslims, including Somali immigrants to Maine, as potential terrorists and calling for harsh restrictions on their immigration to the United States. Such calls neglect two basic realities. Refugees, of varying religions, are fleeing the Middle East to escape the violence perpetrated by the Islamic State and other radical Muslim groups. Forcing refugees to remain in Syria and Iraq to be further victimized is inhumane and empowers these terrorists.
Second, millions of Muslims live peaceful lives around the world. They serve in the U.S. military. Like Maine doctor Jabbar Fazeli, they alert authorities to report friends and relatives who they believe are being radicalized and persuaded to join in terrorist activities. They are our co-workers, neighbors and friends.
Today, lawmakers face the same questions that vexed them in the wake of 9/11. What is the role of the U.S. in the world? Is it to retreat in the name of “America First”? Or is to remain engaged to spread democracy, as was the mantra of the Bush administration? Is it to halt the reach of ISIS? To protect innocent civilians from murderous thugs, terrorists and regimes?
Are any of these goals achievable? At what cost, in terms of money and human lives? Are Americans willing to bear these costs? For how long?
ISIS and similarly minded groups must continue to be confronted. This can be done in ways that honor the U.S. traditions of personal freedom and engagement in the world. The U.S. can continue to combat terrorism while also helping and welcoming its victims.
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