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A voice for understanding

I am writing this on September 11, 2010: nine years after the terrorist attacks that have come to define our generation. After 9/11, 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 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 grow and heal from the aftermath of that horrible day together as one country. This summer has given me doubt.

First there was, and continues to be, the uproar surrounding the Islamic community center in New York. People all over the political and social spectrums are objecting to its building on the grounds that it is 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 means saying that Islam and the West really cannot coincide, just as the terrorists would like us to believe. It means 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 this 9th 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 did not follow through with his plans, but how did we get there?

Why is it that now, nine years after the attacks, we are reverting back to intolerance and a lack of understanding? Maybe the progress I thought we had made over the past nine years never really happened. Maybe it was all a veneer. 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 on the subject of religious diversity. Cobbers, take advantage of the ripe environment that surrounds you. Have conversations with your diverse classmates. Engage in classroom discussions on this topic. Do not shy away from interfaith community events. If you have not yet read “Acts of Faith,” borrow a copy from a classmate and read it. 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 tolerance 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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