Monday, September 19, 2011

Ten years later, a new hope

A large sign reading "I am an American" placed in the window of a store, at 13th and Franklin streets, on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, will be housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war.
Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1942
Most every day, but especially on September 11, we remember the attacks on the United States and the horrific loss of life and property that occurred in 2001. Even ten years later, many wonder whether we will ever be safe against Islamic extremism.

A letter to the editor in Saturday's Star Tribune from a Muslim American gave me hope. I found it remarkably similar to the feelings and frustrations expressed by other American immigrant groups. The path to peace from the pain of 9/11 is a uniquely American one, and it is one we have traveled before. In this case, I am encouraged that it is a path that many Muslim Americans have already begun.

Seventy years ago, in the face of virulent racism, stereotypes, bigotry, and worse, Japanese Americans set out to prove to their neighbors and their country that being an American is not a matter of race, it's a matter of allegiance to the Constitution and American values like hard work, helping each other, and playing by the rules. Dorothea Lange's photo of a store on December 8, 1941, is iconic. The owner, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, was subsequently sent to an internment camp along with 110,000 other West Coast Japanese aliens and "non-aliens" (a clever euphemism for United States citizens).

A large group of American Muslims are quietly and individually living the American way of life, while unapologetically retaining the core tenets of their faith. Many of them are your neighbors. A letter to the Plymouth Sun Sailor put it succinctly (excerpt):
Recent letters lay out a false claim that Muslims are anti-American. This is absolutely false. I am a moderate, peace-loving Muslim and a patriot.

Yes, Muslim fanatics exist. But is it not true there are Christian fanatics? The IRA, for example. Is it not also true that there are white fanatics? The KKK, for example.

All are not fanatics.

These authors depicted a violent religion. Islam is Arabic for peace. Islam is a monotheistic religion like Christianity. Yes, Islam has faults. But are there not also faults in Judaism and Christianity? Indeed, in all religions?

All religions have faults because man has faults.

There is no White America and Black America There is no Christian America and Muslim America. There is only the United States of America.

Nick Ahamed
The writer of this letter is a recent graduate of Wayzata High School in Plymouth. He was one of the Boy Scouts in my troop (in which I am one of the Assistant Scoutmasters) who ultimately earned the rank of Eagle Scout. His family is a longtime, productive member of the community.

Perhaps not all Muslim Americans have earned your trust — how many strangers of any faith or race have? — but don't most at least deserve the benefit of the doubt? As more American Muslims speak out publicly and demonstrate their love for our country, I am encouraged that peace and prosperity can be achieved by like-minded individuals, one person at a time.