At Thanksgiving dinner the conversation turned to the challenges refugees face as they come to this country. As an advocate of refugees, I expressed concern that people’s prejudices are keeping them from truly getting to know the refugees.
Unexpectedly, my daughter said, “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’m afraid of them.” Surprised, I asked whether she knew any Muslims. She doesn’t. A week later she sent me the following.
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I remember exactly where I was when the planes hit the Twin Towers. I was a senior at Timberline High, walking into English class. From that day on I was afraid of Muslims. But I was safe because they were far away.
Now the distance between us is growing smaller. I know they need a place to be safe, and that the USA — and even Idaho specifically — is a great place for them. But I still have the fear that rooted itself in me 15 years ago.
I try to be Christian. I devote myself daily to serving others, to easing other people’s burdens and showing love to others. You have taught me all my life “not to judge a book by its cover” and that God values all souls. I know in my heart that not all Muslims are bad.
But I would be lying if I said I’ve never felt a tiny bit of fear when I see a hijab in an airport. I’m not proud of that — but at least I can admit it.
So this fear is causing me a problem — and it’s causing a problem in our country too, and here’s what I think it is:
There is a small, very loud group of people who oppose all Muslims. And there is a small, equally loud group that supports immigration of Muslims.
I’m in the middle. And I think there are a lot of us in the middle. So many, in fact, that neither side is winning the battle. We’re all sitting here undecided.
So here’s how I’m deciding which small loud group to join. If I saw a Muslim on the street being verbally or physically abused, what would my heart tell me to do?
Without hesitation, I would act to stop that abuse. And, because I know that’s my deep gut reaction, I know I need to take those feelings of compassion and use them for good — now.
I know my heart can change toward these people who just want what I have — safety and peace for their families. They are mothers and fathers and they have fear too. Maybe if I can empathize with their fear, I can get to know and love them and the fear will go away.
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I have tried to teach my children to deal with life’s challenges in a caring and thoughtful way. I hope this letter can help those who read it deal with some of their own challenges. Let us choose love and use its power to move forward — together.
Chad Ward is Boise director of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.