fresh voices from the front lines of change







In the worst of times, we need leaders who call us to heed “the better angels of our nature.” In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, right-wing media, officeholders, and candidates have instead embodied the term “ugly American.”

“Ugly American” is a pejorative term used to refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home.

We’ve been here before. Too many times, in fact. The world is reeling from yet another senseless terrorist attack, and the loss of so many lives. The terrorist attacks in Paris, for which ISIS/Daesh has claimed responsibility, did exactly what terrorist violence is meant to do. They inspired fear.

Coming without warning, striking where people were most vulnerable and unguarded, how could they not inspire fear? From across the Atlantic, it’s easy for Americans living in a post–9/11 reality to imagine ourselves in the places of the Paris victims, going about our lives — attending a sporting event, going out to dinner, enjoying a concert, going out for a drink — when deadly violence suddenly breaks out.

Americans may have become inured to the reality that random gun violence may break out in suck places, and massacres may happen our schools, workplaces, shopping malls, and movie theaters at any time. Terrorist violence is of another order, however. They may seem random, but terrorist acts are usually planned, and carried out with specific victims in mind, and the clear intention to send a message to those targeted: You are not safe anywhere, at any time.

Whether ISIS/Daesh planned and facilities the Paris attacks or merely claimed credit for it afterwards, its intention goes far beyond just inspiring fear. Fear is merely one face of an emotional coin. The other is anger. They are a powerful combination when people cycle from one to the other, like a spinning coin, and incredibly destructive.

ISIS/Daesh knows this, and that’s why it wants to keep us cycling between fear and anger, until both spin out of control. There is nothing easier, at a time like this, than giving way to fear. This week, in response to the Paris attacks, right-wing media, Republican presidential candidates,and GOP officeholders gave ISIS/Daesh exactly what it wants.

Worse were the right-wing attempt to wrap their vilification of Syrian refugees in “good heartedness” and “compassion.”


There are always consequences for this kind of rhetoric. Muslim communities across America are on alert for misguided retaliation after the Paris attacks. And with good reason. An FBI report released the week showed that while the total number of hate crimes in the US declined last year, hate crimes against Muslims increased by 14 percent. Since Friday, the DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations has reported a spike in calls about anti-Muslim incidents. Mosques and Moslems in at least eight states have reported vandalism at religious centers and violence against individuals.


This is what ISIS/Daesh wants. It wants the western world to turn against Muslims. It wants westerners to be hostile to Muslims in their midst. ISIS/Daesh wants us scared, angry, and lashing out. ISIS/Daesh wants Muslims to feel alienated and isolated form the communities where they live, because of a belief that Muslims will then have nowhere left to turn but to ISIS/Daesh. Recruitment well be a lot easier if. All they will have to say is, “See? We told you so. They are not your friends. These are your enemies. These are enemies of Islam.” And, no, Ohio governor John Kasich’s proposal of “a new government agency to push Judeo-Christian values around the world,” wouldn’t do much to counter that alienation. (How it would even get past the First Amendment?)

Nicholas Henin was held hostage by ISIS/Daesh for 10 months, and knows them better than any politicians or pundits. After the Paris attacks, Henin wrote that it is our unity ISIS/Daesh fears most, not airstrikes.

Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned toward finding supporting evidence. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance, is not what they want to see.

Why France? For many reasons perhaps, but I think they identified my country as a weak link in Europe; as a place where divisions could be sown easily. That’s why, when I am asked how we should respond, I say that we must act responsibly.

There were some hopeful signs, from leaders who stood against this madness. French president Francois Hollande led by example, announcing that France is still committed to welcoming 30,000 refugees. Though he noted that “some people say the tragic events of the last few days have sown doubt in their minds, Hollande said that a ”humanitarian duty“ to help those fleeing extremist violence in the Middle East need not conflict with ”our duty to protect out people.” Hollande said refugees would undergo thorough security checks.


President Obama blasted Republican candidates and governors for their panic-fueled, uninformed, fearful reactions to the Paris attacks, and their refusal to admit Syrian refugees. The president made these comments during a press conference with Philippines president Benigno Aquino.

“When candidates say we should not admit 3-year-old orphans, that’s political posturing. When individuals say we should have religious tests, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be allowed, that’s offensive and contrary to American values.”

“I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate. ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there’s war between Islam and the West, and when you start seeing individuals in position of responsibility suggesting Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative. It’s counter-productive, and it needs to stop. And I would add these are the same folks who suggested they’re so tough that just talk to Putin or staring down ISIL (will work) … but they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion. First they were worried the press was too tough on them in the debates, now they’re worried about 3-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (R-Mass.) took to the Senate floor to denounce efforts to block refugees seeking asylum:

“We are not a nation that delivers children back into the hands of ISIS murderers.” She added, “It is easy to proclaim that we are tough and brave and good-hearted when threats feel far away—but when those threats loom large and close by, our actions will strip away our tough talk and reveal who we really are.

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