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Living In Fear

Turn on the news. Every news channel or newspaper will tell you of the horrific happenings across the globe. Many of today’s terrorist attacks stem from a Muslim extremist group called Isis. Isis struck in Paris, Turkey, Egypt, and possibly in San Bernadino. By the time this article is published they may strike again. Although they kill with bombs and firearms, their violence causes the average American to consider not only the deaths of unknown people, but also the fear that this could be my child, my family member, or me. Although there is still uncertainty lurking behind the details of the attacks, one thing remains clear: the goal of Isis or any terrorist group is to have us live in fear.

The word “terrorist” alone proves to be a frightening one. After all, embedded in it is the word “terror.” “We use this word too loosely,” writes Dr. Zahid Bukhari in his article “American’s Perception of Muslims Needs to Change.” (http://www.icna.org/americas-perception-of-muslims-needs-to-change/) In this article Bukhari explains the basic tenants of the Muslim religion and how fundamentalists have skewed the values of Muhammad and the Koran to inflict terror on the western world. These tenants include prayer, a belief in God, remembering the poor, and living a decent life on earth so that one can go to heaven. “Islam is a religion of peace and does not justify attacks against innocent people,” he writes. Bukhari compares these values to those of the Christian or Jewish religion. Bukhari, a practicing Muslim himself, explains, “Like Jews, Christians and Hindus, the vast majority of Muslims in the world practice their faith peacefully while devoting their lives to worshipping God.” He shows that these values are similar to the teachings of Christ or readings from the Torah. However, because some radicals have interpreted the teachings of Muhammad in a violent way, we associate all Muslims not with the respectable values that are similar to what we believe, but with these terrifying displays of fundamentalist violence.

Bukhari likens the fearful mindset of Americans right now to Americans living on the Pacific Coast during the attacks on Pearl Harbor. At the time, many innocent Japanese-Americans living on the Pacific Coast were persecuted and taken as prisoners for the actions of a group that looked like them. They were not at all associated with this group. It was the American hatred towards the Japanese for harming our country, mixed with the fear that a Japanese-American could be part of the bombing or future attacks, which spiraled the nation into chaos and the Japanese into persecution. We cannot assume that all Muslims are terrorists. Our actions towards our Muslim peers should not change based on the horrific acts of a few people. Although it may be a natural inclination for an American to look at a Muslim wearing a turban in an airport and think scary thoughts, we must fight this propensity because that is what Isis wants.

Our world leaders have expressed their opinions about how to combat Isis. They seem to disagree about military tactics and strategies, but agree on the fact that living in fear of the next attack is unacceptable. David Smith outlines President Obama’s actions in wake of the Paris attacks in his article, “Obama urges Americans to ‘not succumb to fear’ in fight against ISIS.” (http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/24/obama-hollande-destroy-isis-russia-syria-refugees) Smith examines one of Obama’s speeches from the White House on November 16th. Here the president addressed Americans and French President François Hollande. He rallied Americans and French to combat the fear that Isis is trying to instill in us. “By doing so,” says Smith, “Obama is admitting that fear of the group is valid in France, America, and the rest of the world’s democratic powers.” There is no denying that fear of Isis exists. In fact, given what Isis has accomplished with violence and whom they have targeted, we have a right to be scared. Just like how President Obama and our world leaders call on weapons or drones to physically battle Isis, they call on the average citizen to act a certain way. In wake of the Muslim extremist attacks in Paris, the president drew upon a powerful metaphor: the Statue of Liberty. A gift from France in 1886, Lady Liberty has stood for friendship, freedom, democracy, and courage between the United States and France. The statue is a symbol of how western nations “would work together to destroy the Islamic state,” writes Smith summarizing Obama’s address. “What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be, when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children,” stated the president referencing the statue.

CNN writer Stephen Collinson wrote an article, “Obama: ‘This was an act of Terrorism’” about President Obama’s Oval Office Speech addressing the steps needed to defeat Isis and terrorist violence. (http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/06/politics/obama-oval-office-address-isis-terror/)The president felt the need to address the public on December 6th in one of his very few speeches from the Oval Office. “[President Obama] does not deliver many speeches from the Oval Office,” writes Collinson. “That is how the public knew that this was important.” Broadcasted on every major news channel, thousands tuned in to listen to Obama’s address. Collinson explains that the reaction to the address was varied. Many appreciated Obama’s honesty and his direct plan. Others disagreed with the president or claimed he didn’t elaborate enough. Obama’s steps to defeat terrorism, specifically Isis, included: establishing stricter gun laws to discourage domestic violence and terrorism in America, continued drone strikes on Isis in the Middle East, and setting the war against Isis on legal footing. Obama told America: “We will prevail.” Collinson disagrees. “Obama did not change anything in this address,” he writes in reference to Obama’s strategies. Collinson believes that President Obama’s plan has not worked thus far, and that unless we alter it the country will not be able to defeat the Islamic state. Currently, there is not much we can do about our government’s actions except hope they make wise decisions. However, there is a lot we can do in our own communities.

The Quaker values we are taught in school everyday can teach us a lot about how to combat intolerance and fear. Peace is an integral Quaker value. Although we are constantly reminded that peaceful resolution to conflict can address our issues, we do not think about this enough. Too often we interpret peace to mean having no war or physical violence. Peace has a deeper meaning. True peace is the state of a community where all feel safe and happy. Equality is another value entrenched in Quaker lifestyle. The way we treat others is a major part of how we can form a successful community. One of the most classic quotes in our nation’s history comes from Dr. Martin Luther King, in his “I Have a Dream” speech.  A Quaker, Bayard Rustin, actually helped King write the speech and served as his right-hand man throughout the civil rights movement. King stated, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Although King was referring to the mistreatment of African-Americans, his words still resonate today. We have neither as a nation nor as a school come to the point of true equality. It is easy for us to associate Islam with terrorism. It is easy for us to think bad thoughts about a dark-skinned male wearing a turban. It is even harder for us to consider a classmate, teammate, or peer our equal no matter what they look like, what they wear, or what they believe.

On the morning of December 17th, our headmaster, Mr. Morris, gathered the Upper School in the theater and delivered a passionate speech reflecting on the recent terrorist events and the ways we can live our lives using the Quaker values of peace and equality in order to defeat terrorism. He mentioned a few main steps we can take: educating ourselves about the world’s main religions, taking time to recognize each other’s points of view, and living each day unafraid. Mr. Morris stated that in the Friends Academy community there are over twenty different religions. In a community this diverse, there are bound to be conflicts. However, it is how we resolve these small conflicts in our community that translates to resolving the bigger ones. Treating our Muslim peers as terrorists, making threats as a joke, or inappropriately remarking on a person’s religion are all unacceptable actions. We have to use words to solve problems, not to make violent and hurtful jokes or remarks. We must always keep in mind the testimonies of peace and equality when interacting with others, especially in times of conflict.

There are multiple ways to defeat Isis. We can take the easier road and go to war with airstrikes and guns, creating more violence. We can also take the more difficult yet morally righteous route. We do not need to battle Isis with airstrikes or guns. There is no need to retaliate against terrorist actions by risking the lives of more innocent people. We must take the morally right route and choose peace. However, we have to fight nonetheless. Winston Churchill delivered a rallying cry to the British people during World War II. In his speech he said, “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be.” Unlike Churchill’s fight against the Nazis, our fight is a mental one. There is a long, hard road ahead to defeat Isis through peace, but it must be done. If we choose to live in fear of terrorist groups, if we choose to stereotype our Muslim peers, or if we choose to alter our daily life in response to terrorism we loose. We loose to Isis and we loose to terrorism because then we have given them exactly what they want. Do not allow Isis to have its way. Do not live in fear.

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