(As prepared for delivery)
As I’ve said for some time now, we are in a new phase of the global terrorist threat. It includes terrorist-directed and terrorist-inspired attacks. It includes plots from overseas, and the potential for the “lone wolf” actors in the homeland.
This new phase requires a whole new approach to counterterrorism and homeland security. This must include outreach to Muslim communities across this country.
Over the last two years I've been to Boston, New York, Brooklyn, suburban Maryland, Minneapolis, Chicago, Columbus, Houston, Los Angeles and other places for this purpose.
One of the most meaningful discussions I've had on this tour was in June of this year, here at the ADAMS Center, with Imam Magid and other leaders of this community. We began that session when a Boy Scout troop led us in the Pledge of Allegiance.
In the wake of recent events, I return here today.
My message today is this:
In responding to this new environment, we must not vilify American Muslims.
We must not throw a net of suspicion over American Muslims and an entire religion.
We must not force American Muslims to run and hide, and retreat to the shadows.
This would be counter to our homeland security efforts, and it is un-American.
Now, more than ever, is the time to work together, to protect and defend our communities, our families, and our homeland.
The reality is that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. It is the second largest religion in the world, behind Christianity. One in four people on this planet are Muslim. Within the Muslim faith, which spreads across every continent of this planet, are sects as diverse as Christianity.
Within this country alone there are about 3 million Muslims. They include African Americans, Egyptian Americans, Indonesian Americans, Iraqi Americans, Syrian Americans, and many others of different races and skin colors.
The overwhelming, overwhelming majority of American Muslims, and Muslims worldwide, are men, women and children of peace, who seek to live their lives in peace, and want nothing to do with terrorism.
Anyone who does not understand this does not understand Islam.
The very essence of the Islamic faith is peace. The standard greeting As-salamu alaykum is "peace be upon you."
The principal victims of the so-called Islamic state and al Qaeda are Muslims.
The four million men, women and children who have left their homes in Syria as refugees are fleeing the very same terrorism and violence that we are concerned about.
By now, Imam Magid, I hope you know that as long as I am Secretary of Homeland Security, I will continue to speak out against the discrimination, vilification and isolation that American Muslims face in these challenging times.
Now, I have an ask.
It is an ask of the people in this room and all Muslims across this country:
Terrorist organizations overseas have targeted your communities. They seek to pull your youth into the pit of violent extremism. Help us to help you stop this.
“If You See Something, Say SomethingTM.” This is more than a slogan.
If you see someone turning toward violence, say something. Say something to law enforcement, or to one of your community or religious leaders. When people self-radicalize, someone close to them is almost always in a position to see the signs.
Help us to help you amplify your message about the true meaning of Islam, as a religion of peace.
Help us to help you warn young people about the barbaric, oppressive, and dangerous nature of ISIL, and the danger of traveling to a place like Syria.
Encourage your youth to challenge their peers. Encourage your youth that, if they see someone attracted to ISIL’s message, they should tell them there is a better way to change the world without violence.
Most of all: do not become bitter. Do not lose faith. Have faith in this country.
Over and over again, in the life of this Nation, there have been classes of people who, by virtue of their race, religion or nationality, exist on the margins of society, who are the object of prejudice, scorn and suspicion, and seek to win acceptance.
It is also the tradition of this great Nation that, ultimately, those who once existed on the margins of society become part of the fabric of our society.
In 1949, during the McCarthy era, my own grandfather was called upon to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, to deny he was a member of the Communist Party and defend the patriotism of African Americans.[i] Today his grandson is responsible for the homeland security of this entire Nation.
One month before my grandfather died in 1956 – and this was in the era of Jim Crow, the segregated south, before the civil rights movement and laws – he said something that I believe today:
“Bitterness grows out of hopelessness, and there is no hopelessness in this situation, however uncomfortable and menacing it may be at times. Faith in the ultimate strength of the democratic philosophy and code of the Nation as a whole has always been stronger than the impulse to despair.”[ii]
[i] See Sworn testimony of Dr. Charles S. Johnson at Hearings Before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, 81st Congress, 1st Session, July 13-18, 1949, pp. 471-475.
[ii] “A Southern Negro’s View of the South,” Dr. Charles S. Johnson, The New York Times Magazine, October 1956.