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A reader writes … By Thomas W. Henderson

September 20, 2001

Like every one of you, I was appalled by the events of the past week. It is still inconceivable to me that any group would believe they could bring this country to its knees with such an awful deed.

If their intent was terror, they accomplished that, but only for a short period. We now know we live in different times. We know our life will never be as safe as we thought it was. We know that we must take steps to protect ourselves and that life must go on. We will reclaim the "American way" because Americans, by nature, do not surrender to threats or terrorism.

Our America is made up of many groups and ethnicities and in time of crisis they have come together. Our country's history is full of examples when all Americans united against an enemy.

That's not why I'm writing today. It's important to know your enemy. It's just as important to know your friends.

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During this past week I have had the opportunity to speak to friends of mine who happen to be Muslim. Without exception, the feelings they have expressed have been of shame for the acts done in the name of their religion. Repeatedly, I have heard the Koran specifically prohibits such acts and extremists can be found in all religions.

One friend mentioned that, for the 2 million Muslims in the Untied States, the way to become accepted in our culture has been to live good lives and educate their children. To them, the children represent the true hope of integration as Americans first and Muslims second. I can't describe the look of sorrow on my friend's face as he told me, "They have set us back a lifetime."

What's worse is the same prejudice that sent Americans of Japanese descent to the camps in World War II has emerged here in the Imperial Valley. One Muslim friend shopping at Costco last week was spat upon.

When talking among themselves, many report stares full of animosity when they go out into the community. Others are fearful to go out, because they don't want to be attacked. Television has begun to report attacks against their mosques.

However, for me the worst are the stories from the children. One young man attending a local high school reported hostility and side comments designed to intimidate from fellow students. For these children growing up as a Muslim has always been a challenge, but the actions of the terrorists have made their lives even more difficult.

That is not the "American way" I want to recapture. My America doesn't stereotype people. I don't blame all Irish-Americans for the acts of Timothy McVeigh, or all Polish-Americans for the acts of Ted Kaczynski. As I spoke to my friend, I said I don't want to cause them anguish or harm and I bet most of our community doesn't, either.

Instead, I hope many of you will do what another good friend of mine did. She called every Muslim she knows in the community. She told them she knows these are difficult times for them, and that she is proud to know them.

I am proud to have my Muslim friends. I'm just as proud of my Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish friends and other friends of other religions. They are my friends, and they are Americans, without religious qualification.

I know none of us would like to see our country divided against itself by religious barriers as they are in Ireland, Indonesia or Palestine and Israel. I am proud of the lady who inspired me to call my friends and most of all, I'm Proud To Be An American! An America who is made up of immigrants from all parts of the world, whether you see the our American culture as a "melting pot" blended together or as "stir-fry" of independent cultures.

These immigrants and people with different cultural backgrounds have built our country. Remember how it must have been for the first citizens of this country from your family. Remember why it was so important to them to be here and the sacrifices they made to become citizens. Think of how they have participated in our culture; remember how they have fought in our wars.

Perhaps you will join me in letting all your friends know how much you appreciate them as Americans, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.

THOMAS W. HENDERSON is an El Centro resident.

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