For most Mainers, terrorist violence is a tragic but distant occurrence. But that’s not necessarily true for the estimated 6,000 Muslims here, for whom tragedies like last week’s Brussels bombings can bring back memories of attacks in their home countries.

And this pain is only aggravated by high-level calls to isolate, demonize and scapegoat these fellow Mainers on the basis of their religion. That’s not the foundation of a peaceful, cohesive society; let’s embrace information and education instead.

Overt violence against Muslims in Maine hasn’t materialized. Instead, Ahmed Abdiraham, director of the Maine Muslim Community Center, told the Press Herald of a pervasive sense among Muslims that they are mistrusted or even feared. This prejudice persists even though many of Maine’s Muslims – including Abdiraham, who fled civil war in Somalia – came here to get away from brutality and conflict.

It doesn’t help that much of the coverage of terrorist incidents is selective. For example, we haven’t heard much about the bombings in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey, this month that killed at least 41 people, or about the January blast in Somalia that left 20 people dead.

And a recent study points out that of the 26 incidents of terrorism worldwide last year in which at least 50 people died, most went largely unreported. The exception? The Nov. 13 killings in Paris – the only major attack in 2015 that took place in a Western country.

Presidential campaign rhetoric has also been fostering a broad-brush view of Muslims. One leading Republican contender, Donald Trump, has called for temporarily banning Muslims from the U.S. Another, Ted Cruz, proposed that police more closely monitor Muslim neighborhoods in the United States.

Besides being unworkable and constitutionally suspect, both are counterproductive strategies. To treat someone as an outsider is to drive them to the margins, where what they’re doing won’t be noticed. Independent Maine Sen. Angus King said as much last week when he pointed out that suspects in the Brussels blasts have been captured because of tips from within the Muslim community.

The way to protect U.S. citizens is to accept and support Muslims in Maine as co-workers, friends and neighbors, forging alliances with the vast number of peaceful adherents of Islam against the infinitesimal percentage who want to foment holy war. To do otherwise is to gamble with the fate of our state, our country and our world.


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