Letters to the Editor
Letter: Offer friendship because we are Americans
Mohammad Qamar, Sioux Falls
2:57 p.m. CT Feb. 4, 2017
“I am a Muslim and I am your friend, your neighbor and your fellow citizen.”
Ever since I was a young man growing up in Pakistan, I looked at America with a distant admiration and yearning. It was the land of dreams fulfilled and lofty ideals. It was the place that gave the world not just Hollywood and Disneyland, but also the greatest universities, the oldest democracy and the most catalytic environment for entrepreneurship. So when I moved here almost 14 years ago to complete my training as a physician, I was pleasantly surprised that America was all of the above, but so much more.
America is and will remain the greatest country on Earth, not because we have the strongest military or the greatest economy, but because of its people. Yes, you and me. We are great because we have been the most welcoming nation in the world to immigrants. We are great because we are diverse and open to new ideas. We are great because of our differences in opinion and our shared ideals. We should tell the world that we will not be afraid and we will not cower in the face of those that choose to harm us, by staying open and not closing our hearts to each other, or our doors to those most in need.
Yes, I am a Muslim and I am your friend, and I will love you and defend your right to disagree with me, but I will not disrespect you or harm you. I hope that you will do the same for me. Peace and blessings upon you.
Letter: ‘Love your neighbor, no exceptions’
The Rev. Bill Tesch, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Northwestern Minnesota Synod
2:26 p.m. CT Feb. 11, 2017
President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting travel to the U.S. and the resettlement of refugees from seven countries specifically targets foreign adherents of one world religion, Islam. It has understandably produced a strong reaction from people across our nation as well as a chaotic situation for refugees, travelers and U.S. Customs enforcement agents.
I am a Christian pastor. Jesus Christ had a simple command for his followers. He said, we should “love our neighbor.” Once, in an encounter with a man trying to make sense of this command, Jesus told a story about a type of person that his society considered untrustworthy and dangerous. The story is popularly known as “the Parable of the Good Samaritan.” In that story, Jesus revealed that loving one’s neighbor means doing whatever is necessary to help the neighbor, even if one’s neighbor seems different or frightening. Basically, the moral of the story is, “Love your neighbor, no exceptions.” As I do my inadequate best to follow Jesus Christ, I must be guided by this teaching, that there are no exceptions to the command to love our neighbor. The refugee from Syria whose home and way of life have been destroyed is our neighbor. The child from Yemen seeking life-saving medical treatment is our neighbor. The Iraqi mother who was a translator for our troops – she and her family are our neighbors. All of them may or may not be Muslim, and all of them are our neighbors. “Love your neighbor, no exceptions.”
I also believe that people who have been harmed or lost a loved one due to a terrorist act committed by an immigrant are my neighbors, too. (I understand that this is extremely rare, and that no one from the countries included in the ban has committed acts of terror on U.S. soil since 9/11.) My love for these families may include providing help and comfort to the grieving, bringing to justice those actually responsible, and allowing the good people in our State Department, FBI, CIA and Homeland Security to continue the effective work they already do to keep us safe. But loving my neighbor does not include banning whole countries and categories of people from our soil.
My Voice: Don’t fear immigrants seeking their dreams
Dr. Mohammed Qamar
2:15 p.m. CT March 1, 2017
“Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain.
Seeking a home where he himself is free
[where] opportunity is real and life is free
Equality is in the air we breathe.” – Langston Hughes
The American dream is an idea that existed for thousands of years, long before America was America. But except for a few fleeting glimpses in history, this idea was not realized until our great republic came into being. The American dream promises all of us that justice, equality and freedom are not privileges of inheritance but rights by birth. Since its very beginnings, this land of ours has taken in the most disadvantaged and oppressed of humanity. People hungry to be free from all manner of persecution including religious, racial or economic have found the warm embrace of Lady Liberty. This hunger for a better life has translated into daring entrepreneurship, millions of new jobs created, a diverse cuisine and a unique cultural tapestry unlike any the world has ever seen before. Our country attracts the best and the brightest in the world because we set no limits on what one person can achieve by the sheer force of determination and hard work.
This is precisely why it is so painful and disheartening to witness the rise of fear and hatred directed towards people in our country who are perceived to be “different” because of religion, race, ethnicity or perhaps just by how they dress. I am an immigrant. And I am grateful for so much that America has given me. It has welcomed me with open arms, polished and sharpened my skills as a physician better than any other nation could, and provided a path to a successful and fulfilling career and life.
But the American dream is not a one-way street: I too have given to America. I too am helping to build our shared American dream. I’ve given America my best years of youth, vigor and enthusiasm. I have lived halfway across the world from most of my extended family, including my parents and grand parents. I’ve missed countless family moments of joy and sorrow. My nieces and nephews know me as the distant uncle who visits every few years. When my grandfather passed away after a stroke, I could not hold his hand or kiss his forehead one final time. I treat our sick and the old in South Dakota every day while my own parents grow old in a distant land, yearning to see their grandchildren.
Yet I am grateful for the life America has given me. My choice to immigrate came with a price, but I would do it again if I were given the chance. My life story is but one example of the millions of stories of immigrants to our great land. Anyone who has moved here has dreamt big while giving up a lot along the way.
Our nation is beautiful when we celebrate our diversity and wish the best for each other even when we may not know each other. Our nation is strong when we are courageous in standing up for each other and defending those among us that are unable to defend themselves. I hope you’ll think of our shared American dream the next time you run into someone who “looks different” – who seems like they are new to America, and in the process of becoming part of the tapestry of our amazing country. Whether it’s at the mall or in an airport, or even when you meet your new doctor who talks with a funny accent, please remember we are all an essential part of that secret ingredient that makes the dream of America, America.
Dr. Mohammad Qamar, M.D., is a nephrologist at Sanford Health and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of South Dakota School of Medicine. He is also a board member of South Dakota Faith in Public Life.
My Voice: Everyone can be an ally and an upstander
Marcia Moret Sietstra
2:19 p.m. CT April 12, 2017
My husband and I don’t use bumper stickers and we rarely place a sign in our yard, but we have one there now. It says in Spanish, English and Arabic: No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor. I can hardly believe that it feels necessary to publicly welcome immigrants to a country built by immigrants, but it does.
We have seen an alarming surge in the number of threats and acts of vandalism against immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Jews and people of color over the past year. In Kansas recently, a young man from India was shot and killed because the shooter thought he looked Iranian.
Women have been screamed at on the street and accosted on the subway. Parents report that their children have been the target of hateful remarks at school, many of them for the first time in their lives.
In a recent survey, over 10,000 teachers, counselors and school officials described increased anxiety among minority students during the past year. Teachers reported a level of politicized bullying they had never seen before, including: racial slurs, derogatory language and the use of swastikas and the Confederate flag.
Discrimination against foreigners and minorities is nothing new. What is new is that the racism that was previously only acceptable in the comment sections of white nationalist websites is now part of our mainstream conversation.
We are witnessing something that history teaches us is dangerous: a growing climate of generalized permission to say hateful things against people deemed “different.” Why is this happening? Why this surge in fear of the “other”? I suspect it is due to a complex array of sociological forces in our nation today. One reason is that many Americans are economically discouraged and worried about terrorism, and that makes people more willing to blame a convenient scapegoat.
However, multiple agencies that track terrorism in the U.S. report that the main terrorist threat is not from Muslim extremists. It is from right-wing American extremists, including militias, neo- Nazi’s, sovereign citizens and other white supremacist, anti-government groups. These groups are behind an average of more than 300 attacks per year. The groups are growing and we can expect more acts of violence as their members feel increasingly emboldened to visibly “out” themselves as racists.
Our nation was founded on the values of freedom of religion and freedom to live without fear for your safety, no matter what color your skin is, where you (or your ancestors) came from, or how you pray. America is stronger when its citizens stand together against discrimination and weaker when we let fear divide us.
As a Christian pastor, I believe religion teaches us that we have an obligation to care about our neighbors and speak up for vulnerable communities. I want to encourage people of faith and good conscience to stand up and denounce hate language wherever we witness it — in our schools, on the street, in our work places. I believe this is a civic and religious obligation.
How can we do this? If you see someone being harassed, calmly stand beside the victim and engage them in conversation so they know they have an ally. When a co-worker denigrates minorities, quietly tell them you disagree. None of us enjoys confronting a co-worker but to stay silent implies that we are OK with their behavior.
You can talk with your kids about creative ways to stand up for a classmate who is targeted by a bully. You can ask the principal how they plan to respond to racist language at school. If you are a teacher, you can find curriculum that teaches respect for differences and fosters empathy; there are many free resources available online (e.g. Teaching Tolerance).
Perhaps you would like to put up a sign on your lawn like ours, to let vulnerable communities know they have allies. You can help spread the word one lawn at a time. My church, Spirit of Peace UCC, recently sold these signs, but you can order one online via Welcome Your Neighbor on Facebook.
This is a dangerous time for immigrants and minorities. We can make our country stronger by standing up for them. We can’t all be heroes, but every one of us can be an ally and an upstander.
The Rev. Dr. Marcia Moret Sietstra is a member of the board of directors of South Dakota Faith in Public Life. She writes for the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and is a retired pastor in the United Church of Christ.