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Better together

Recently the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on radicalization in the US Muslim Community. Nine and a half years have passed since the terrorist attacks that have come to define our generation. After the 9/11 attacks, people in this country were angry, and understandably so.

Back in 2001, the anger of some Americans was directed toward the wrong people. There was a lot of confusion regarding who was responsible for the terrorist attacks, and some blamed all Muslims for the devastation. Countless religious leaders and everyday Americans have spent considerable time and energy trying to redirect that anger toward those who deserve it: the individuals who actually carried out the 9/11 attacks. Muslim religious leaders have gone to speak in churches, Christian religious leaders have gone to speak in mosques, and communities have held interfaith gatherings. Seeing all of these things, I really thought we were moving forward. I really thought had we had begun to move on and heal from the aftermath of that horrible day together as one country. The events of the past year have given me doubt.

First there was the uproar surrounding the Islamic community center in New York. People all over the political and social spectrums objected to this building on the grounds that it would be disrespectful to the families of those who lost their lives on 9/11. I cannot see what is disrespectful about it. In fact, I think barring its establishment dishonors those who lost their lives that day because it perpetuates the mindset of the terrorists who carried out those attacks. Saying that it is not okay to have an Islamic center close to Ground Zero is saying that American Muslims will forever carry a mark of otherness in this country.

The truly scary thing is that it looks like a good number of people in this country actually believe that all Muslims are evil. Take Pastor Terry Jones of Florida and his threat to use the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to burn copies of the Quran, Muslims’ holy book. Fortunately, Pastor Terry Jones was persuaded to see reason and no longer intends to follow through with his plans. Calls for profiling Muslims in airports and this recent House hearing again move to make Muslims into an othered group in the United States.

Why is it that now, over nine years after the attacks, we are reverting back to intolerance and a lack of understanding? Maybe the progress I thought I saw growing over the past nine years never really happened. Maybe it was all a facade. I really cannot say what has caused this recent outburst of fear and anger toward American Muslims, but I do know that those of us familiar with the importance of religious understanding have a responsibility to combat that fear and anger right now.

We are lucky at Concordia to have had “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel, a book about religious pluralism, as our summer book read this year. It has set the stage for dialogue and understanding on the subject of religious diversity. Many Concordia students went to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum a few weeks ago and heard Patel speak about the importance of banding together in difficult times instead of separating because we are better together.

Cobbers, take advantage of the ripe environment in which we live and learn. Have conversations with your diverse classmates, engage in classroom discussions on this topic, do not shy away from interfaith community events. Inspired by Patel and his message of interfaith dialogue, Concordia has started a Better Together chapter. Look out in the next weeks for announcements regarding the kick-off event and get in on the conversation.

Become an expert on the topic of religious pluralism, and share your knowledge with those around you. We have seen a troubling turn away from religious understanding in the past few months, but you and I are capable of moving our country back toward a place of acceptance and understanding, back toward the integration of diversity that makes the United States the great country that it is. This is a golden opportunity to become responsibly engaged in the world, to use your Concordia education for good. Embrace it.

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