Don’t buy into the fear-mongering. Muslims are part of our community, too | Opinion

How far have we come? And how far have we yet to go?

In the 1940s, Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, saw our Japanese American neighbors rounded up and put into internment camps. Their lives were upended, and many lost large parts of their wealth. Suddenly, Japanese Americans who had lived in the U.S. for years “couldn’t be trusted.”

Fear again gripped our nation shortly afterwards with the communist Red Scare. When the Soviets developed nuclear capability, Sen. Joseph McCarthy found the right environment for his fear-mongering to flourish, setting off a storm with unsubstantiated claims such as that the State Department was being “infested with communists.” His message? Fear them, and “loyal Americans” must work to expose them.

Fast forward to January 2024, the largest conference of Muslims here in South Florida was sabotaged, because the hotel succumbed to protest calls fueled by a hate-sourced article on a local Coral Springs news outlet. The event was eventually held at a Fort Lauderdale hotel.

We believe the article was based on a campaign by the Middle East Forum (MEF), a longtime anti-Muslim group as described by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Their message? Those people are not to be trusted. They are terrorist sympathizers. They are not loyal Americans. Fear them. Sound familiar?

One can’t help but wonder whether that Coral Springs news outlet would have given a platform to a KKK-sourced article. That’s precisely what MEF is to the Muslim community — a hate group. (Islamophobic, in this case.)

Like other forms of hate, Islamophobia divides our society and puts our community in danger. A social media post last month stated that the proposed Coral Springs hotel venue should be “bombed with the sympathizers in it.”

In actuality, conflating support for Palestinians with supporting terrorism is what is shameful and unAmerican. Wanting freedom for Palestinians doesn’t make you a terrorist — it makes you human. Weaponizing words like “terrorist” or “Hamas” against the Muslim community is no different than using any other racist trope targeting other communities.

Hate crimes such as the recent stabbing in Texas show us how real and harsh the consequences are for spreading Islamophobia. We all must reject this form of hatred, just as we must reject racism, antisemitism and all other forms of hatred that seek to divide us through fear and prejudice. Disagreement is OK — dehumanizing is not.

Our conference was rescheduled and held on Feb. 23-24 with tremendous success and over 1000 attendees. It was a labor of love, and the organizers put their heart and soul into it. The gathering allowed the families of the South Florida Muslim Federation’s 32 member organizations to learn about our faith, get closer to God and tackle social problems such as divorce, drug addiction and mental health challenges.

At the conference we celebrated our diverse cultures including African American, Middle Eastern, South Asian, Turkish, Caribbean and more. Our kids played, we trained our youth, and experts and scholars discussed solutions for the problems of the world — starting with our own homes. We mourned the more than 30,000 people killed in Gaza, and discussed how we can accomplish a cease-fire (something that majority of Americans want). People of all faiths and backgrounds attended, just as all faiths have been welcomed at South Florida mosques for over a decade.

We will not be silenced and are here to stay. Our simple request to the reader: Hate and injustice thrive on misinformation. Before you make hurtful decisions based on hate-filled articles, do your own research. Better yet, find someone in the local Muslim community and ask us, or find a mosque nearby and attend an open house this upcoming Ramadan. Together, we can work for a better America.

Samir Kakli is the president of the South Florida Muslim Federation, an umbrella of more than 30 mosques and Muslim organizations throughout Florida.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this op-ed made an incorrect and potentially misleading characterization of the Middle East Forum in an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC does not have an official designation for the group. The article, which was published online in SPLC’s Hatewatch section, described MEF as anti-Muslim.