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Romney's misstep with Muslims

IF ANY DOUBTS remained as to Mitt Romney's plans to run for a second term as governor, those doubts can now be put to rest. Pandering to the far right of the national Republican Party has been a hallmark of his tenure, revealing how truly out of touch he is with the values of our Commonwealth.

By advocating ''monitoring" and ''wiretapping" of Massachusetts Islamic centers and foreign students, the governor has demonstrated not only a lack of cultural understanding and a disregard for civil liberties but also an alarming ignorance about effective methods of combating radicalism. If Mitt Romney intends to run for president, as seems likely, he needs to learn some basic lessons -- about American Muslims and about uniting Americans in the struggle against extremism of every sort.

Since 9/11, Muslims have been targets of harassment in the forms of specious investigation, detention, and suspicion. Our mosques and Islamic centers are houses of worship and of cultural identity; if there is no evidence of wrongdoing within them, they must be accorded the respect due an institution of significance. Based on his recent comments, it seems the governor is incapable of respecting the dignity of one of the world's great religions.

It is the responsibility of the federal government, through its highly secretive FISA courts, to issue warrants for specific surveillance activities -- based on specific intelligence, not on religious profiling. It is unacceptable for a governor with a self-serving political agenda to suggest invasively scrutinizing the entire Muslim community.

Such a policy is not merely reckless and disrespectful; it is also unwise. In this time of shrinking budgets and expanding deficits, we simply do not have the resources to waste on Mitt Romney's political showboating. By attempting to further marginalize American Muslims, this governor weakens a cause we all embrace -- that of eliminating radicalism.

The incitement of political violence is abhorrent to Islam, and those who promote this tactic are rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who want the same things as everyone else -- a future of peace and prosperity for ourselves and our families. And so, if there are indeed radical, potentially violent elements within our community, who better to expose and uproot them than we?

But instead of cultivating a positive relationship with Muslims, creating trust and cooperation, this governor and his allies aim to breed mistrust and suspicion -- all in the service of their own political agenda.

In this nation of immigrants, no sensible person will argue that any one group ought to have special privileges over any other; similarly, no one group ought to be relegated to a lesser position. Whether you are Irish-American, Latino-American, Pakistani-American, or any other hyphenated group, you are American, deserving of the same respect, the same dignity, as anyone else. This is the ideal upon which our country was founded -- the reason so many of us came here in the first place. But unfortunately, too often this ideal is sullied by those who seek advantage not by striving for greatness, but by diminishing others. We must not allow our nation to be shoved down this path of divisiveness, of suspicion, and of fear.

Governor Romney's tactics mirror those of the national Republican Party: divide and conquer. By setting one group against another, they try to distract us from their failed priorities. People of all races, religions, and ethnicities must reject the cynical politics of discord practiced by Mitt Romney and his allies on the right.

We must present a unified front against the forces of radicalism that seek to destroy America. If we allow Mitt Romney to divide us, the radicals will have prevailed. We cannot -- we must not -- allow this to occur. During this time of uncertainty, with our future security at stake, we would do well to remember, and to act in furtherance of, the motto of our nation -- words that reflect the strength derived from unity. E Pluribus Unum -- Out of Many, One.

Shahid Ahmed Khan is a consultant in international development in Boston. He serves on the board of trustees of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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