Eight Ways to Confront Extremism on 9/11

The flare-up surrounding the planned Quran burning and the proposed New York mosque make this 9/11 anniversary an especially important time to speak up.

Who benefits when a pastor in a small town in Florida threatens to
burn the Quran? Or when a proposal to build a Muslim cultural center in
Manhattan erupts into a national controversy?

And what can those of us who believe extremism is harmful do to stop it?

Terry Jones, the Gainsville pastor who was catapulted onto the global
stage by his plan to burn the Quran, said his action was about standing
up to Islamic extremists. But General David Petraeus and others tell us
that this action would play into the hands of extremists. Extremists
need anger and hate to recruit and motivate followers; without images of
outrage like this, people might revert to peace, respect, and
tolerance, which, after all, come pretty naturally to a social species
like ours.

There's another group of extremists who likewise rely on
hatemongering. The extreme right wing in this country needs fear and
anger to keep people distracted from the real sources of insecurity--a
stalled economy that has been managed for the benefit of Wall Street and
big corporations, two protracted and disastrous wars, and a system
increasingly unable to support a middle-class way of life.

The extremists on both sides have an oddly symbiotic relationship--each thrives on the anger and vitriol of the other.

But Reverend Jones and others of his ilk can succeed only when
moderate voices are silent. Quiet disapproval isn't enough. We must take
a stand often, courageously, and respectfully for tolerance and peace.
Here are a few ways we can do this during an especially fraught
anniversary of the 9/11 attacks:

  • Speak out in support of religious freedom, as the 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrow did recently in support of the proposed New York City Muslim cultural center.
  • Speak up when you hear Muslims or other groups
    disparaged, whether in public or private, as ColorLines publisher Rinku
    Sen suggests in her recent column.
  • Read out loud from the Quran
    or other Muslim texts on September 11, as the Network of Spiritual
    Progressives is doing (Brother Jamal Rahman, the Muslim Sufi member of
    our Interfaith Amigos, offers some verses from the Quran and from Rumi here). Or hold an interfaith candlelight vigil for peace, like the one planned by the Gainesville Muslim Initiative.
  • Offer generous humanitarian aid to Pakistani flood victims because they need help and because it's important for humanitarian aid to flow across religious divides.
  • Examine your own prejudices--most of us have them. And consider what you have to gain and lose when others are treated as equals.
  • Familiarize yourself both with the violent interpretations of the religions you encounter and with the interpretations of the same religious texts that emphasize love, compassion, and tolerance for all.
  • Speak out for tolerance on blogs, Facebook page, in public forums, in your faith group, and in letters to the editor. Call out candidatesfor public office of any political party who
    use intolerance or people's race, religion, or immigration status to
    whip up electoral passions. Just a few voices for tolerance in any community can change the tone of a dialogue.
  • Monitor news and public-affairs media,
    and insist that they include voices for peace and tolerance in their
    programming, and not give undue importance to advocates of exclusion and
    intolerance. (A starting place is to sign Color of Change's petition calling on businesses to "Turn Off Fox."

In coming months and years, we can expect even greater social
stresses from a flagging economy, the continuing wars, and the "natural"
disasters that will occur with increasing frequency on an overheated
planet. Those stresses will be multiplied if we allow demagogues to
transform them into hate and anger. Silence won't be enough--we'll have
to speak out if we are to stop the madness.

Question: What are you doing to counter intolerance? What have you found works best?Please leave your comments below.