By nature, humans tend to be tribal. We affiliate naturally with those who look like us, believe like us, or live like us.
This is as true today as it was thousands of years ago. But in today’s interconnected society, we should realise that the simple fact that someone is of a particular race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status does not mean that they agree with all others who share the same characteristic.
I do not know every Muslim. Nor do I associate with every African American. Or agree with every Hoosier.
In celebrating the diversity of America, many Americans lose sight of the fact that even with our various groups, there are distinct differences.
This core misunderstanding is preyed on by hateful people around the world – from ISIL to anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States. Yet, despite near 24/7 coverage of “terrorist” groups overseas, we are quick to overlook the hate in our own backyard.
We should consider the similarities between “terrorist” organisations abroad and hate groups in the US.
Both preach an ideology of hate for those who are different, both use fear to attract followers and spread their message, and both see violence as the means to achieve their objectives.
But people afraid of groups of Muslim militants marching with guns in a foreign city often fail to see the similarities with groups of American men, clad in riot gear and carrying torches and guns through American streets.
While their ideologies differ, al-Qaeda has more in common with white nationalist militias than they have with the vast majority of Muslim and white families in America.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric on the rise
It is time for us to see hate groups not for their affiliations, ideologies, or nationalities but for their tactics of preying on the fearful and ignorant. This is the true nature of “terrorism”.
Fear in the face of violence is natural, particularly after seeing years of seemingly endless “terrorism” coverage.
But organisations that push anti-Muslim bigotry here at home, like ACT for America and the Center for Security Policy, look to amplify fear and condemn an entire religion.
Make no mistake, they have a strategy and weapons to rival hate groups around the world. Rather than guns and bombs they use political contributions and cable news to stir suspicion and unease in the population.
They plant entirely disproven narratives about [Islamic] Sharia law and widespread “terroristic” sympathies within the Muslim community, aggressively pushing them until they influence policy at the highest levels of government.
And their victims are real.
We need to set aside our tribalism and recognise where our real similarities lie.
With anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric on the rise, the US saw hundreds of hate crimes against Muslims in 2017 – a double-digit increase by some estimates. When someone is injured or killed in a bigoted attack, a direct link can and should be drawn to the hateful propaganda spread by these recognised hate groups.
If this happened anywhere else in the world, we would label this bigotry and violence as “terrorism”.
It’s time for us to do the same in the US.
We need to set aside our tribalism and recognise where our real similarities lie. Most of us work hard for a living. We love our families and strive to raise strong, self-sufficient children. We want safe streets and tight-knit communities. Chances are, this description applies to you whether you are white, black, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian.
As a Muslim, I do not consider men with guns and black flags part of my faith. I have far more in common with my neighbours, regardless of religious affiliation. We share values and common interests, even if we pray differently. It is time for us to mute the voices pushing hate.
They do not deserve a place on our televisions or radios or pushing their hate in our classrooms or government. Let’s turn a deaf ear to their hate while we work together to build a better, more tolerant country.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.