Bilal Rana was detained and interrogated by the FBI after his flight from Newark to Houston, Texas, where he has lived for most of his life.
Rana is an American citizen. He had never, he wrote in his account of the incident in Time, experienced the feelings associated with sitting in the back of a police car, with being frisked and having “his belongings confiscated,” with being referred to as “the subject” by police officers.
But, because someone on the flight viewed him as a potential threat, he was forcefully thrust into a world in which he was seen by everyone around him as a criminal.
“I hope,” he wrote, “you never suffer the embarrassment of watching mothers hold their children tightly as you walk by them.”
He also has another hope, a hope that contains a message for all Americans in the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.
“I hope you get a chance to explain who you are before you are judged. I’m not your enemy. I’m your biggest ally.”
Rana is an anesthesiologist and a volunteer for the Houston Police Academy. And he is also a leader in the fight against radicalism within the Muslim community.
As president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, an organization “that combats Muslim radicalization in America” and performs various acts of community service, Rana and those around him help spread a message of “tolerance, engagement, interaction,” and peace.
“Last year,” Rana wrote in Time, “we launched the ‘Stop the CrISIS‘ campaign condemning terrorism, promoting peaceful Islam, and providing the public a safe space to meet and engage directly with Muslim youth. As a part of this, I’ve spoken at press conferences on Capitol Hill and addressed more than 25 nation-states at the U.N.”
In a time of fear and anger, Rana, and those who pursue objectives similar to those of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, is indeed our “biggest ally.”
But his story will not be covered by those whose narratives rest on a foundation of ignorance. The worldviews of many political demagogues, in fact, depend on the suppression of Rana and others like him.
If one takes to heart the rhetoric of Donald Trump, one might believe that all Muslims are the enemy, that all Muslims are anti-American, and that all Muslims support the interpretation of Islam that fuels ISIS.
Those who ask the question, “Where are the moderates condemning the recent attacks?” can find their answer in person of Rana and in the organization over which he presides. But, as we have seen, this question is most often asked by those who don’t care to honestly seek an answer.
In his recent address to the nation, President Obama said that if we are “to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.”
To succeed, we must propel the stories of Bilal Rana — and those combating the extreme and violent teachings of the Islamic State — into the mainstream as an antidote to the fear-based narratives of many prominent political figures.
This is no conventional war; it is a war of ideas. And if those like Rana are welcomed as allies and not pushed away by divisive language and actions, we can win.