As we head into the height of election season, we’re hearing more and more reports of increased restrictions on voter rights. States are limiting early voting periods, enforcing new restrictions on registration drives, and passing voter ID laws requiring citizens to show photo identification before casting their vote. Yet another voting rights debate is often lost in the media shuffle: Whether ex-felons should be denied the right to vote.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I remember pausing on the playground to listen to an announcement over the loudspeaker: “Attention students: if one or both of your parents works in New York City, please come to the main office. A fire has caused major traffic jams in and out of the city so your parents might be home later than usual.” I had my dad’s work schedule memorized: Mondays and Wednesdays were his New York days, so on September 11, like all Tuesdays, he worked from his office close to our home in New Jersey. I rejoined my friends on the monkey bars.
My mom met me at the bus stop that day after school. The short walk home was silent. She sat me down before we entered the house and told me that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers, destroying them and killing hundreds of people.
“Okay,” I said to my mom. I went inside and saw my grandparents, who were visiting from out of town, motionless in the TV room. I wasn’t allowed in so I went up to my room.
In the days and weeks after 9/11 I learned little about terrorism or the extremism that fueled it. In fourth grade, it wasn’t really on my mind. But I have come to learn how that day has influenced the way Muslims are treated in the United States.
This summer, I have been interning at Interfaith Alliance, an organization dedicated to protecting faith and freedom for about 70 faith traditions. One key component of its agenda is taking a stand against anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.
In late June I staffed and participated in a daylong symposium co-sponsored by Interfaith Alliance called “Reason Versus Rhetoric: Understanding American Muslims.” The symposium featured all sorts of speakers who addressed issues pertaining to Muslim America, like Shari’ah law and the controversial Park51 mosque (known more colloquially as the “ground zero mosque”).
The symposium confirmed what I had imagined about the American Muslim population. Naturally, the fact that Muslims make up some 23% of the world’s population means there is more than one way to be Muslim. Some are children of immigrants that came to this country in search of a better life, and dedicate their existence to securing that dream for their families. And most Muslims fear external forces that tempt innocent children down the dark path to extremism.
My great-grandparents were immigrants to this country. I am sure that they too struggled with being different from their new American neighbors, and I imagined that they feared for their children and wondered if coming to the New World was the right choice. Although American law enables individuals to live in freedom, there are always factions of our society set out to dismantle our liberty with scare tactics and racism.
America can and should erect walls to protect itself from terror and anyone associated likely to commit terrorist acts. America can also confront these national security threats by promoting policy rooted in the values that have kept this country strong and free for 236 years. But these goals are not advanced by holding hearings to assess the radicalization of the entire Muslim American community, as Peter King (R-NY) has done five times this congress. Nor are our common goals achieved by enacting policies like the “Absconder Apprehension Initiative,” the Bush-era policy that subjects the estimated 10,000 undocumented immigrants of Arab descent in this country to harsher interrogation and deportation protocol than undocumented immigrants of other ethnic backgrounds.
Championing racial profiling policies to the American people as a way to protect our country is utterly misguided, to say the least. These policies infringe on American Muslims’ civil rights and undermine the struggle of all Americans, including Jews. Racial profiling threatens the stability of our society because it is contrary to the basic values of the United States of America.
I really believe that the Tuesday morning at the beginning of my fourth grade year changed everything. Some say that where you stand depends on where you sit. If, as Americans, we sit in too-long airport security lines and in the backs of police cars for appearing Arab, our core American values disintegrate. If we sit behind steel reinforced security doors and bulletproof glass, we send a message of intolerance and fear instead of one of pragmatism and peace. Where we really should be sitting is at symposiums and dinner tables with those dedicated to pragmatic ways to eliminate terror. Racial profiling policies upend that concept and instill fear in our collective conscience.
Noah Westreich is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program. He is an intern at Interfaith Alliance.
Photo courtesy of WorldStatesmen.Org
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There isn’t anything quite like summertime in DC. Young adults flock to the nation’s capital for a once in a lifetime living and working experience. But for me, I’m fortunate enough to have a second ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. Last summer as a rising sophomore, I was one of the youngest interns in the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence, an incredible experience on its own. As a newbie around town, I drank it all in and made my ten weeks here as eventful as possible.
YOLO- You Only Live Once- has rapidly grown into a trendy motto that encourages daring and reckless behavior amongst today’s youth. When I flew across the country to Washington, D.C. this summer, I committed the impulsive and spontaneous concept of YOLO to my mind. By the end of my second afternoon in the district, the voice in my head was exploding with that urgent sense of haste: I hadn’t seen any museums, monuments, or Presidents, and I had already been here two whole days!
Coming off of a semester that I was less then satisfied with this past spring, I knew that I wanted to try to apply myself over my summer break as opposed to merely do some run-of-the-mill activity. Having burned out of the Camp Counselor game, I knew that I wanted to take on a new type of challenge; one that would not only be interesting to me, but would also help to define my career aspirations and really push me in the right direction for what I want to do with the remainder of my college experience. With little hesitation, I began to research a program that I had heard about during a L’Taken Seminar to Washington, D.C. in High School, known as Machon Kaplan.
My Bat Mitzvah portion was Shoftim; I had the great honor of chanting out “tzedek tzedek tirdof” – that landmark phrase of all Jewish social justice work, which translated to “justice, justice, you shall pursue.”
I’ve also written the above line dozens of times before. It was in my personal statement for all my college applications, it was in the dvar I gave to my congregation on Yom Kippur as the keynote speaker after returning from a semester of high school in Israel, full of self-righteous authority on all topics Jewish. I have used it for as long as I’ve been engaged in the Jewish world.
By mid-morning on Thursday, June 28, something strange began happening in room S217 in the Capitol Visitor Center where the Faithful Alternatives to the Sequester Forum was underway. The room full of once-relaxed panelists, audience members, and photographers slowly transformed into a cauldron of unease. Anxiety resonated as concerns expressed within the room about the vulnerability of the poor under the federal budget gave way to the realization that just across the street the country was at a crossroad.
Barely noticeable foot tapping became violent leg shaking. Ballpoint pens that had been gliding casually along yellow legal pads were now the objects of nervous chewing. Silenced cell phones concealed in purses and pockets emerged from hiding. And, although no one lowered the air condition, the room turned clammy. Not a shvitz-free forehead could be found.