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As we’ve seen time and again, symbolic gestures can resonate. They’re controversial almost by definition, but if their witnesses are willing, the acts can also launch broader and productive dialogues about the problems they’re attempting to address.
On Saturday, September 3, the Front Range chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a northern California-based nonprofit organization, is inviting volunteers to help distribute posters as part of its ongoing Network Against Islamophobia effort. The program seeks to awaken people to the dangers of demonizing the entire Muslim community. On Saturday, the group and its allies will be canvassing the Cheesman Park and South Broadway neighborhoods, inviting businesses, residents, and houses of worship to display its posters supporting Middle Eastern refugees.
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As I detailed in “Young Americans” (July 2016), the path of refugees from war-torn regions to the United States is long, byzantine, and unimaginably arduous. These people have survived ordeals most Americans can’t begin to grasp before they ever arrive here, with their primary goal being mere survival. Once they’ve landed safely in our communities, these refugees—or anyone who looks like them, regardless of whether they actually fit that definition—aren’t guaranteed anything other than a chance to succeed.
But even that chance doesn’t ensure acceptance. Although we hit the Obama administration’s goal of welcoming 10,000 Syrian refugees just this week, that number is lower than what we’ve accepted in the past, and it’s come with considerable dissension, especially along the presidential campaign trail. The JVP organization itself is not without controversy, even within the larger Jewish community. But that won’t keep it from continuing to make sympbolic gestures meant to neutralize Islamophobia and begin those broader dialogues that could eventually lead to a more peaceful and inclusive society for everyone.