How Could I Betray You

After 9/11,new initiatives are in effect in hopes of creating better religious tolerance.

It was September 12, 2001—the day after 19 Islamist militants hijacked four planes and felled the New York Twin Towers plus part of the US Pentagon. 3,000 people died. We were shaken to the core. I walked into a Postal Annex I had frequented for years. The owner, a Middle Eastern-looking man, looked shaken too—as if he hadn’t slept in days.

His stare communicated, Are you going to hate me now?

I was alarmed. Although I didn’t know his name, I knew him. How could he think for one moment I would turn on him! Betray someone I knew to be kind, gentle and hard working? Unthinkable.

I made an extra effort to engage him in friendly banter: Looks like it’s going to rain today—finally. We sure need it. This package is going to Chicago.

Oh, by the way, could you add a book of stamps to that?

I spoke loudly, upbeat, hoping to spread good will throughout the store.

Walking out, I worried if the owner and his family would be safe. I made a mental note to return soon.

The 9/11 attacks illustrated how connected we are in our modern, technology-driven world. The US support for Israel incited the wrath of that country’s enemies. Unfortunately, the violence-inclined element had access to the information and technology needed to carry out their bizarre schemes. We were now part of the Muslim vs. Jewish clash.

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The connections, however, weren’t just technological. The Muslims and Jews and every other religious affiliation had become us—Americans—our neighbors, co-workers, friends and spouses of our children. Still working through issues around racial and sexual-orientation differences, the US faced a new kind of diversity challenge—religious.

Now, eleven years later, we are birthing leaders and initiatives with the potential to transform our differences into benefits—and change the world. The source is our youth. The birthplace is our campuses.

In 2002 American Muslim Eboo Patel founded Interfaith Youth Core. He, along with other young people, asked: Why do so many stories about religion these days feature young people fighting in the name of God? Why isn’t there a huge movement of young people from different faiths working together to apply the core value of all faiths – service to others.

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