Vigil held for victims of Pittsburgh mass shooting (copy)

Masood Akhtar, founder of We Are Many-United Against Hate, bows his head after giving a speech during a vigil of grief at the First Unitarian Society in Shorewood Hills for the 11 people killed in the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

As a Muslim activist and founder of the "We Are Many: United Against Hate" movement, I applaud FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Michael McGarrity's recent testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security.

McGarrity said the FBI is investing some 850 cases of domestic terrorism and considers it a serious and persistent threat. However, the FBI can't criminally charge these criminals with domestic terrorism because the U.S. doesn't have an explicit law allowing it. I am glad to see the word "domestic terrorism" used by the FBI in situations where the shooter is not a Muslim. Typically, the word terrorism is used when the shooter is a Muslim or associated with international terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida. This double standard of ours has resulted in a substantial increase in hate crimes against Muslims. That is why I have been raising this very issue over the last several years in my columns, letters to the editor and TV interviews, and I am glad to see that it's finally getting some national attention.

However, the FBI doesn't make laws, it simply implements them. It’s the responsibility of each and every citizen of this great nation to contact his or her elected officials and bring this issue to their attention, asking them to amend the laws — allowing the FBI to criminally charge anybody, regardless of their religion, absence of religion, color, ethnicity or ideology, who terrorizes and kills innocent people. When many people talk to their elected officials on a particular issue, our elected officials pay attention to it. They simply don’t have a choice. Texas Congressman Al Green recently explicitly discussed our double standards. Together, we can encourage more of these discussions in Congress.

We are living in an environment of fear and hope. Our hope is our U.S. Constitution, which protects us all. These checks and balances make America great, and are why I gave up my Indian citizenship over 20 years ago and became a proud American Muslim. We, as Muslims, strongly believe that what makes America exceptional and has built this great nation is the American policy of accepting any and all people, no matter their religion or color.

On May 3, I was honored by FBI Director Christopher Wray with the FBI Director's Community Leadership Award for the We Are Many: United Against Hate movement, founded in 2016 to build an inclusive community of people, regardless of their national origin, color, religion or even political affiliation. The FBI's selection of 57 award recipients representing diverse communities and acknowledgment of each recipient’s work in their communities is another example of what makes America great. This recognition by the FBI also sends a positive message to all U.S. citizens that we all are just like everybody else — good neighbors, good friends and good coworkers.

While the FBI is doing its job, we need to do our job of supporting the agency. Unfortunately, in many countries, citizens are quite often told to run as fast as they can when they see a law enforcement officer. So when these people come to the U.S., they bring that culture of fearfulness with them. My advice to them is that they shouldn’t be fearful of these law enforcement officers, because in this country they are here to protect every single citizen. I am confident that the FBI's recognition of contributions of diverse communities from around the country will give these immigrants some level of comfort, making it easier for them to interact with law enforcement officers in the future and support them in their mission of protecting all of us.

I am confident that together we can build an inclusive community and a stronger America free of violence and extremism. We just have to speak with one voice against those who want to divide or even destroy this country which we call our home. If we don’t, consequences can be severe, and America will become like any other country — losing its identify as a nation of immigrants, a land of opportunity and a role model for other countries to follow. God bless the United States of America.

Masood Akhtar of Middleton is a Muslim activist and founder of the We Are Many: United Against Hate movement.

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