Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated recently that the “world is sliding backwards” on religious freedom. We saw evidence of that last week, as members of a Sikh temple in Wisconsin were murdered by a shooter and as a mosque in Joplin, Mo., was destroyed by a fire in a suspected arson.
Fear lies at the root of most violent conflict. America’s history has been polluted with discrimination against minority groups on the irrational basis of fear. Post-Sept. 11, Muslims especially became the target of fear and suspicion in America.
We must explore more sophisticated ways of addressing issues such as terrorism and extremism than simply encouraging Americans to be afraid. There is a clear distinction between awareness and fear, which fosters the kind of environment where mosques are burned and members of a temple are massacred.
So what can we do as citizens to help deconstruct intolerance and fear? The simplest and most effective action we can take is engaging in coalition building and cross-cultural communication to strengthen our local communities. By engaging different religious and social groups, we can minimize hatred toward minorities.
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If we belong to a particular religious, social or cultural group, we must actively seek out friends and partners in different organizations. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Democrats, Republicans and activists of all backgrounds must unite to confront issues of discrimination and religious intolerance. That may involve discussing hate crimes with colleagues, hosting interfaith dialogues or writing letters to local representatives asking them to comment on religious tolerance.
We already have diverse religious populations thriving in Wichita. We just need to make the small effort to reach out to one another.