You never know quite what to expect when attending an event that some might consider controversial. So, Nov. 15, I made my way to the Tulsa Community College Southeast campus to hear a panel discussion on “Should We Fear Islam?”

And, it was a pleasant surprise and an entertaining and highly informative discussion. Frankly, I was surprised to see that there were at least 600 other Tulsans who shared my interest. No protesters, no outbursts, just 600 or so people searching for a little more knowledge.

The event that had been planned long in advance came on the weekend of the horrible attacks in Paris. The tragedy was acknowledged by event coordinators and the audience with a moment of silence.

The attacks in Paris, however, did make the discussion’s theme even more timely.

Author Hannibal Johnson moderated the discussion. Other speakers were Rabbi Charles Sherman, Professor Charles Kimball and Imam John Ederer.

The afternoon was uplifting and informative. The speakers were dynamic and entertaining. And I, and probably most of the others, left with a feeling of hope.

Of course, the expected backlash already had begun. The usual suspects had set up their Muslim punching bags again. They started the chant that no Muslim can be trusted. That all Muslims are terrorists.

Then the politicians got the message, and Gov. Mary Fallin and at least 25 other governors said they will refuse to accept any Syrian refugees. They need to check out the Constitution, which gives the federal government immigration authority, but also some history. Do they remember when then-Gov. Bill Clinton fought the placement of Cuban refugees in Arkansas? He lost.

But that doesn’t deter politicians who want to make some hay by condemning a legitimate religion, the second largest in the world with around 1.7 billion followers, and putting people, many of whom are women and children, in further danger.

Forcing the United States to turn its back on refugees goes against American values and principles — the very principles and values that politicians say they cherish so. But, we’ve done it before. Jews fleeing Nazis were turned away by the U.S. There were, however, many others, including Albert Einstein, who were admitted.

On Thursday, the Republican U.S. House of Representatives easily passed, with the help of some Democrats fearing reprisal from constituents on election day, a measure that would make it very difficult for any immigrant to get into the U.S. — as if it weren’t difficult enough already — although the main targets are Syrians.

The measure, which goes to the Senate following the Thanksgiving break, would require that the director of the FBI, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence confirm that each applicant from Syria and Iraq poses no threat.

Good luck with that.

But most disturbing is the continued ratcheting up of Islamaphobia. As Imam Ederer pointed out at the discussion: Why do we always refer to Muslim terrorists? Why do we never say Christian terrorists, or Buddhist terrorists?

What happened in Paris were attacks by thugs, criminals, killers. They are people who claim to be Muslim, but soil a good and peaceful religion by perverting its teachings.

And by attacking the religion of Islam, labeling all of its followers as terrorists and refusing to accept Muslims who are fleeing for their lives simply plays into the terrorists’ hands.

It gives the terrorists, who are always looking for disgruntled recruits, the ammunition they need to “prove” that Americans hate Muslims and don’t care if they live or die. They say that America is declaring a war against Islam. That’s good recruitment fodder for a young person who already feels disenfranchised.

I’m not exactly a world traveler, but I’ve been around a little — Italy, Mexico, China and Ethiopia. And I’ve learned that most everyone wants the same thing: peace, a job, safety for their families, education and a better life for their kids.

They don’t hate Americans or Christianity or democracy. They aren’t terrorists.

Yes, the terrorists in Paris were Muslim. Yes, there are many terrorists who claim to be Muslim. That is a problem the world and law-abiding, peace-loving Muslims need to address. But that problem can’t be solved without the help of Muslims and the cooperation and understanding of Americans.

The entire Muslim population can’t be held responsible for the tiny fraction who are terrorists any more than Christians can be held responsible for Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph.

Despite the rhetoric and fear-mongering of some politicians and others, I continue to believe that there remains a core of goodness and good people in this country. At least 600 of them showed up last Sunday at TCC.

President Barack Obama said the he wants to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. That’s 10,000 men, women and children, who are in danger of losing their lives. And in a country this size, that’s not very many. If ISIS wants to infiltrate the U.S., it would send them in with a student visa or a passport from any European country. Or they would recruit homegrown terrorists.

Soon it will be Thanksgiving. I suppose we can be thankful that we’re not refugees being turned away from the door of freedom and safety.

How can we turn our backs on the helpless? How can we be so callous?

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