What happened in Nice is beyond horrible, and there is no excuse for anyone taking the lives of others in that way. However, we must be careful not to generalize from the murderous actions of one individual who may have believed he was acting in the name of Islam. If the majority of Muslims supported the ideology of groups like the so-called Islamic State and Al Qaeda, the violence and terrorism would be ubiquitous and nonstop; the world would be (perhaps literally) on fire. On the contrary, the majority of Muslims are trying to live their lives decently and peaceably just like most of the rest of us–and they have a harder time doing it not only because of suspicion and prejudice, but because they are the ones who are most often targeted by IS and similar groups. For our part, to look at an act of terrorism by one man (or even a group of men) and say “It’s Muslims” is gross overgeneralization, equivalent to looking at the acts of terrorism committed by Eric Rudolph (aka the Olympic Park Bomber) and saying “It’s Christians.” Moreover, when we engage in this kind of generalization, we are playing into the “Islamic State’s” narrative of the West vs. Islam. The more we stoke fear and hatred and suspicion of Muslims, the more we play into the terrorists’ hands, and the harder it is for us to make allies with moderate and progressive Muslims. Hating and fearing a group of people only succeeds in convincing those people that they need to hate and fear us. That’s how the terrorists win.
“Us vs. Them” is a false dichotomy. The smaller our Us is, the more heartache and suffering there is–in ourselves, in our communities, in our world. The truth is, there is no Them; we are all Us.