That's "war with ISIL", NOT "war with Islam"

In the midst of the media storm around Trump’s recent comments, anti-Muslim backlash, and ISIS, voices of peace are needed. Here’s how you can be part of peace building—by reaching out to your Muslim neighbors. 

President Obama addressed the nation earlier this week, tying the plan to defeat ISIS to gun control here at home, and, more importantly, clearly reminding his audience that fighting ISIS is not the same as a war with the entire religion (or every practitioner) of Islam.From Sunday night's address"We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. If we’re 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."ISIL1The third of Obama's four points in the plan to defeat ISIS mentions a subtle but supremely important aspect: "...we are cooperating with Muslim-majority countries — and with our Muslim communities here at home — to counter the vicious ideology that ISIL promotes online." This is the key to long-term success, outlined by countless interfaith groups, groups in the Middle East, moderates in the U.S., and even by recently released prisoner of ISIS, Nicolas Henin. There is work to be done to create more opportunities and alternatives for young Muslims around the world, so that the pool from which ISIS draws will shrink. Fighting a sense of disenfranchisement among youth is as important, if not more so, than fighting with weapons on the battlefield.A group of young Europeans recently co-wrote and published a book entitled "Who, If Not Us?" to make the case that their continent (and, I would argue, the world) has need of a thoughtful, unafraid, active, and collaborative approach to solving problems. This is exactly the approach that needs to be enacted to engage more, not less, with the world around us, and to find these solutions on a person-to-person, grassroots level. The reasoning behind the movement: "Large scale unemployment, raising levels of xenophobia, tensions between countries who were once friendly neighbors, and a resurge of nationalism. ...What needs to be done? What our continent needs most is fresh inspiration, new ideas, and creative ways of tackling difficulties."Obama's address also included this thought: "But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination. Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes — and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that."So how can we reach out to these friends and neighbors?An interesting "open letter" written by Sofia Ali-Khan, a Muslim American, was being passed around social media this week, sharing what it feels like in the current climate. It begins, "I have found myself telling people about the advice given to me years ago by the late composer Herbert Brun. He was a German Jew who fled Germany at the age of 15. He said: 'Be sure that your passport is in order.' The rhetoric about Muslims is clearly fueling daily events of targeted violence, vandalism, vigilante harassment, discrimination. In fact it’s gotten bad enough that my family and I talk about what to keep on hand if we need to leave quickly, and where we should go."

She goes on to offer suggestions to non-Muslim's who are wondering what they can do. Her list includes simple kindnesses, and to me they are a reminder that countering the messages of ISIS doesn't need to be complicated."If you have a Muslim work colleague, check in. Tell them the news is horrifying and you want them to know you’re there for them. If you have neighbors who are Muslim, keep an eye out for them. If you’re walking your kids home from the bus stop, invite their kids to walk with you. Talk to your kids about what they can do when they see bullying or hear hate speech at school. Call out hate speech when and where you hear it."Those "American values" of inclusion and the age-old metaphor of this country as a melting pot are built upon these types of considerations. This is what Obama was imploring us to remember. We don't need to be trained diplomats or experts in conflict resolution. We can be neighbors, friends, and community members. Perhaps these small messages of support and care are the beginning of a bigger movement of inclusivity and of beginning to chip away at the divisions we're seeing across our country. Perhaps these are the actions that the "Who, If Not Us" movement is thinking of as the fresh inspiration needed to tackle the types of problems that our world faces today.
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