We are a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Once again, we are testing “whether any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.”
The “test” was first described in America’s Civil War by Abraham Lincoln, who described this country as he dedicated a cemetery on the Gettysburg battlefield in 1863.
That message should resonate in every American’s life today.
Today’s test again comes from within: Will we abandon the values that we have built over 229 years for a new identity espousing suspicion, hatred, vitriol and isolationism when challenged by the terrorist group called ISIL.?
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From 1999 through 2001, I was a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, working on the team that would bring its former president to trial for genocide and war crimes.
During the course of that work, I interviewed many witnesses and victims in a brutal senseless war.
Neighbor had turned against neighbor. Family members who had worked together for decades and shared lives and friendships suddenly found themselves enemies. Houses were burned, mosques were despoiled, men were murdered, women were raped and entire communities banished.
Why? For no reason other than the “enemy” were Muslim. At the time, I anguished over the capacity for such cruelty and the viciousness of the human heart.
Today, I find that I am increasingly concerned for my own country; that we might fall into the abyss created by such fear and baseless hatred.
We as a nation are faced with a type of terrorist that is unlike the challenges America has faced to date. This is a terrorism that has no face and no true identity. ISIL has sworn to kill anyone who is not committed to radical Islamic jihad.
These terrorist leaders have branded themselves as Islamists despite the outrage and condemnation of practicing Muslims throughout the world.
ISIL has murdered Christians, Jews and Muslims, believers and non-believers alike. The self-proclaimed murderers seek to divide the world, turn America against Islam, and create global chaos, simply by insisting that as terrorists they commit their acts in the name of religion. They incite suspicion and inflame fear, and hope for chaos.
America has the power to ensure these goals are never realized. But to do this, we must resolve that we will not succumb to fear, we will not feed our suspicions and will never pledge to hate and exclude other Americans or those who flee oppression, simply on the basis of religion.
To unmask the unknown face of terrorism that haunts us as a nation and a world we must remain vigilant. We must be strong and work together to identify the gaps in our legal and procedural tool kits and amend them.
We must adopt policies that protect us while embodying who and what we are as a nation. We must shore up the gaps and vulnerabilities in our visa system while maintaining the processes that have proven successful, making us the multi-cultural tapestry that is the United States of America.
We must call upon our strength and compassion for our neighbors and those who are different, just as we did after Sept. 11, 2001. We must say “no” to those who monger hate and prey upon our fears.
In short, we must stand calmly with the resolve of the indivisible nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition of equality that America has always represented.
Suzanne Hayden of Bardstown served as a prosecutor at the United Nation’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and is currently a consultant on anti-money laundering and terrorist financing.