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Redefining the “Us” and “Them”

It’s a problem that we still allow ignorance to turn cultures into threats and let fear change constitutional rights into a compromise of sanctity or national security. It is moments like this that I am most disappointed to be human, to be American, the moments when people choose to not allow others to live freely.

This past weekend I got the opportunity to meet a guy named Eboo Patel. He is the executive director of an organization called Interfaith Youth Core (IYC) and also a Rhodes Scholar who studied sociology and divinity at Oxford. Needless to say I was looking forward to hearing his speech at Loyola University this past Friday night.

He spoke both firmly and eloquently as he went through the history of bridges built on interfaith foundations. He spoke about how the very inception of Islam is rooted in a relationship that was Muslim-Christian based. He spoke about how people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi both go down in history as human rights leaders, but Eboo also encouraged us to look at them as religious and interfaith leaders.

His whole speech fell in the shadows of the recent New York controversies revolving around the new Islamic center (notice I didn’t say mosque) that is being  built near the world trade center site.

I will just quickly put my statement in about this issue (I promise I will not retract this tomorrow, like Obama did). I just have a few questions that I would love for anyone to answer: when exactly did all Muslims become terrorists? When did we get to a place where politicians were comfortable enough to get on national television and compare a WHOLE religion to Nazism. When did the first amendment become null and void? When did the free practice of religion become conditional? It amazes me to see how history repeats itself so often. A half century ago people were saying its ok to put Japanese Americans in internship camps, as the American government took people from their homes, stripping them of their lives, for no other reason than those Japanese Americans having some racial and cultural connections with the Japanese we fought against in WW2. Go even further back and you will see people justifying the Trail of Tears that Native Americans had to suffer though, as people rationalized the marginalization of a whole group of people by dehumanizing a culture, and taking advantage of propaganda that transformed human beings into salvages.

Eboo Patel’s strongest point was the need for us to redefine the “them” and the “us.” We have to reframe the extremist dialogue, the same dialogue that puts Christians against Muslims and Hindus against Jews. This is the same dialogue that encourages discrimination, fear, and exclusivity. This is the same dialogue that doesn’t want to see an inclusive shared society where people live and work together. These are the same forces that keep cities segregated, counties culturally separate, and the act of “understanding” foreign.

Eboo Patel touched me, I encourage anyone to go see him (either in person or on youtube) his words are exactly what out country needs to hear. Words that encourage people to come together and redefine the “us” and “them.” The “Us” is all those who want to see an equal, free, and inclusive society the pushes towards pluralism. The “them” is all of those who fight for the extremist cause that wish to marginalize and exclude anyone who is different. It is my prayer that we all begin to redefine the “us” and “them.”