Beyond “Us” and “Them”

A Foot in Both Places reflects the multiple vantage points through which AFSC understands our work as an organization, most particularly the deep links we see between issues like immigrant rights, prejudice and discrimination, and religious and ethnic polarization as they play out for communities in the United States, and issues of war and conflict in the global arena.

In the context of the US government’s “war on terror,” certain parts of our broader society have been designated and stigmatized as the “enemy.” These targeted communities have been subject to a wide range of repressive measures by law enforcement, as well as hate violence, hate speech, and discrimination by individuals, employers, public and private institutions, and conservative media commentators and politicians.

There is by now a solid array of documentation of such phenomena by various organiza­tions (see Resources), and we did not set out to duplicate this effort. Nor is this a work of legal or policy analysis. Our intention is rather to offer a portrait of how communities respond — pro-actively and at the human level — to the complex and potent interactions of hate violence and state violence.

We believe without question that it is vitally important to understand how individuals and communities are victimized by prejudice, discrimination, and human rights abuses. We also believe, however, that it is equally important to show the determination, resource­fulness, and spirit with which they respond to such challenges, and that is the spirit in which we have approached this exploration.

Through a series of open-ended interviews, we have sought to develop a portrait of community feeling, community life, and community sentiment, from the vantage point of those targeted as “enemies” by the “war on terror.” What has been the impact on community organizations and community development? What types of strategies are ethnic organizations, religious organizations, and other types of community organizations developing to help their communities counter these problems? What challenges and obstacles do they face?

We also sought to explore what types of alliances are being built, with faith groups, antiwar groups, legal and immigrant rights groups, and more. How does the current climate affect people’s ability to speak about larger political issues, including issues having to do with their countries of origin?

This process of demonization combined with repression — the creation of a social “other” — is, of course, by no means unique to these communities or this historical moment: it is part and parcel of the history of war and hatred. Our hope has been to contribute to the larger story of how both have always been countered by the vision of humanism, democracy, religious pluralism, and social solidarity – from within as well as beyond targeted communities.