Arab and Muslim Engagement


Divisions Play Into the Hands of Extremists
by Jenny A. Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington

Jenny A. Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of WashingtonI have been privileged in recent months to meet with members of the Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities. We discussed issues important to us all — families, the economy, safety, and security. As a law enforcement official, it pained me to hear about hate crimes, businesses that suffered, and bullying of children at school.

The fear and sense of isolation among many in these communities is real and justified. They worry for themselves, and even more for their children. This needs to change.

We in law enforcement can — and do — prosecute the criminal conduct. We are committed to making communities and schools safe for all people and all families. We will hold wrongdoers accountable. But a real solution to the mistrust and isolation requires work by the broader community. It requires changing the social climate that spawns these crimes.

Neighbors and all faith communities must reach out to and learn more from those that are under siege. Fear and prejudice cannot be allowed to define who is welcome and who will be ostracized. Our nation's great ideals of equality and justice demand better.

It is undeniable America is at war with very determined enemies. Al-Qaida and other extreme groups seek our demise. But we must be careful with the word "enemy." History shows that the word sometimes comes too easily and can cause untold damage.

During World War II, scores of Japanese-American families were labeled enemies, torn from their homes, and sent to internment camps. They were shop owners and workers, students and teachers, and mothers, fathers, and children. They had done nothing wrong. Their only crime was they looked and seemed like the enemy.

Our region can show we have learned history's lessons. We have grappled with our past injustices in a very personal way. One of our federal courthouses is named for William Kenzo Nakamura. A Garfield High school graduate, he was pulled from the University of Washington and sent to an internment camp with his family. Despite this betrayal, he joined the Army, fought in World War II and died for his country. Decades later, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

One Seattle City council member is the son of Rose Kobata, a Garfield student also sent to internment. She returned to our city and spent decades working to improve learning. And we have named a school for Aki Kurose. A Seattle Native, she too was forced with her family to an internment camp. After returning, Kurose devoted herself to justice and the very schools that expelled all Japanese teachers. Her children followed in her footsteps, and her granddaughter now works in the White House.

Reaching out to and learning from all communities is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. It is the best way to make our communities safer. We do face a real threat from foreign extremists.

These extremists, however, threaten everyone in our country. It is in their interest to divide us and set groups against each other. But the fact is, recent successes in disrupting terrorist plots and protecting America relied on support and information from Muslim communities.

In my meetings, I listened to people talk profoundly about their love for American ideals and their sorrow that the extremists' violence is at odds with the fundamental teachings of Islam. Their voices need to be heard and understood. This is the best antidote to extremism, and the surest path to safety. We cannot let our lesser angels claim victory. If we do, we will lose the battle that matters.