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September 11th, 2012
09:24 AM ET

Opinion: American Muslims live in fear 11 years after 9/11

Editor's Note: Sumbul Ali-Karamali is the author of The Muslim Next Door: the Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing, and Growing up Muslim: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Islam. She is on the steering committee of Women in Islamic Spirituality and Equality and is a member of the Muslim Women’s Global Shura Council, both of which aim to promote women’s rights and human rights from an Islamic perspective.

By Sumbul Ali-Karamali, Special to CNN

(CNN) - My father always told me never to talk about religion, politics, or other people’s children. He was part of a generation of American Muslims who wanted to stay quiet and assimilate into American life and not rock the boat. Growing up in Southern California, I tried to follow his advice.

But after 9/11, I found that I, along with other American Muslims,  have had little choice but to talk about religion.

Although countless Muslims have condemned the acts of 9/11 in the United States and worldwide, American Muslims became objects of suspicion.

The 9/11 terrorists broke numerous laws of Islam and were denounced as mass murderers by Islamic religious leaders.  Even so, Islam is viewed as a religion preaching violence.

In the aftermath, amidst the fear and anger, many American Muslims realized that the reason Americans were so quick to believe the worst about Muslims after the horrific attacks of 9/11 was that Americans knew little about even the most basic tenets of Islam.

And we realized that if we didn’t explain our beliefs and traditions, then other people would write our stories for us.

Despite our efforts, that’s exactly what has happened.

Although 9/11 did compel some Americans to learn more about Islam, it also triggered a wave of anti-Islam feeling that has burgeoned.  And though there have been interfaith initiatives, books on Islam, documentaries, education efforts, and shows like "All-American Muslim," polls show that Americans’ negative views of Islam have increased since 9/11, not decreased.

Such trends cannot help but discourage even the most optimistic of American Muslims; many of us are more fearful now than a decade ago, and entire Muslim communities feel besieged.

Anti-mosque incidents have escalated in recent years. Earlier this summer, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri, burned to the ground. Last year, Roger Stockham was arrested with explosives outside the Islamic Center in Dearborn, Michigan. An arson fire seriously damaged a mosque in Wichita, Kansas, last year. And incidents of mosque vandalism have become more common.

Hate groups have been on the rise, too; one of the most horrific hate crimes was the murder of Shaima Alawadi, a young mother who had received anonymous notes calling her a terrorist.

Almost every Islamic studies professor or speaker I personally know - whether they are Muslim or not - receives hate mail and sometimes death threats.

How has this happened in our country? There are many reasons. It is not simply a lack of information about American Muslims, but also misinformation and, in many cases, outright fabrications about what Islam entails and what Muslims believe. An example of one of the most ridiculous is the assertion that Muslims cannot abide dogs; we are so evil, apparently, that man’s best friend is our enemy. (See Muslims with Dogs, a website that flippantly dispels this nonsense.)

The Center for American Progress issued a report in 2011 which documented a small but extremely well-funded network of anti-Islam fear-mongers who have worked diligently to spread misinformation about Islam. Directly or indirectly, these fear-mongers fomented the “ground zero mosque” hysteria, promoted the film “The Third Jihad,” which the New York Police Department showed as a training video - and was strongly criticized for doing so - and have been responsible for Islamophobic advertisements on public buses all over the country.

This anti-Islam rhetoric has been connected to violence, too: Anders Breivik, who murdered more than 70 people in Norway, cited anti-Islam bloggers numerous times in his manifesto, in which his stance against “Islamization” was a clear theme.

It’s not just a lack of information on Islam that American Muslims have had to battle, it is an increasing body of vitriolic myths and tall tales about Islam and Muslims that we continually have to explain or dismiss.

Particularly frightening is the eagerness with which public figures and political officials have leapt onto the Islamophobia bandwagon. Peter King’s “Muslim radicalization” hearings,  Michele Bachmann’s baseless accusations of public officials being linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the NYPD’s long-term spying on Muslim communities (which produced no leads) are just several examples of the increasing demonization of every Muslim and, increasingly, the entire religion of Islam.

Rising anti-Islamic sentiment in America troubles Muslims

Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, and Muslims comprise more than one-fifth of the world’s population. No religion can flourish for 1,400 years  without being flexible and adaptable.

The defamatory rhetoric directed at Muslims and Islam in this country has little to do with the actual religion or its adherents and everything to do with fear of the Other.

For American Muslims, the past decade has been tumultuous. We have emerged from private life to public life, into the public sphere in an effort to aid understanding between the communities of our multicultural country.

We do it not only for ourselves, but because irrational fear of Islam and Muslims is bad for all Americans: it frays the social fabric of our society; it creates divisions between Americans; it affects the health of our democracy; and it affects the wisdom of our policy choices.

In the last decade, I have encountered numerous Americans who understand this and who, despite the fear-mongers, have made remarkable efforts to connect with Muslims.

Recently, I spoke at a Jewish temple as part of their educational series.  They broke into spontaneous applause during my talk on Islam and women,  and gave me a standing ovation at the end.

They were one of the many moving examples of generosity and openness I have encountered in the past decade. And that, despite the discouragement and fear, is what gives me hope for the future.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sumbul Ali-Karamali.

soundoff (2,337 Responses)
  1. Jon Leyden

    14th century Byzantine emperor as saying: Islam had only brought evil to the world and that it was spread by the sword. Well guess what!

    April 24, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. TheLastJessica

    This is great. For the muslim men. They deserve to live in fear, they're terrorists. They killed thousands of people that day. But I feel sorry for all the muslim women out there... Getting beaten every day... Poor women...

    February 9, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Enlighten

      I am a muslim man and I am am not a terrorist; where do you get your information?

      February 18, 2013 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
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    October 10, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
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    October 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bob

    I'm sick of people lying and calling Islam a peaceful religion. If you read the Quran, you will know better.

    Quran (8:12) – "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them"

    Quran (9:29) – "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."

    September 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nasrullah Mohammed

      Dear Bob... I am a Muslim and I tell you Islam is a peaceful religion... so I will clarify the two references you just indicated...
      8:12... First of all never mention incomplete verse... you took away THE BEGINNING of the verse... then presented the half verse to prove your point... Now what you missed is important... You missed the main object as well as subject... In this verse Allah is informing us about what he said to 'Angels'... This verse is regarding the 1st Crusade... when NonMuslims attacked Muslims... (not when Muslims attacked NonMuslims...) it's history my friend...
      9:29... This whole chapter is talking about agreements between Muslims and NonMuslims... This is about 8 years after the 1st Crusade...when Macca was won... Now just for your information Macca was won without a war...So agreements were made between Muslims and local NonMuslims around Macca and Madina... and so on...
      This Verse is also based on conditions... this is also a part of history when Islam was implemented... So Relax...
      Quran has 114 Chapters and 6,238 Verses... please don't quote two or few verses and say it's Quran... If you want to say something about Quran then... First understand 6,238 Verses.... just glancing or reading without understanding is dangerous... As you know... Little knowledge can be dangerous...
      What we need is more understanding... more humanity... not pointing fingers...
      SO IN SHORT....
      8:12.... It's history... It's the 1st Crusade...
      9:29... It's history too... When Islam was implemented...

      Thank you...

      September 25, 2012 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
      • LizardKing

        Your rebuttal has nothing in it that says islam does not spread itself through terror. What was quoted from the koran was very general and has been taken by extremist as the word of the prophet, in which to spread islam by the sword alone.And by "The First Crusade", I hope you mean against the other arab tribes on the Saudi Pennisula, right? Not the First Crusade that occurred in 1098?

        September 25, 2012 at 7:24 am | Report abuse |
      • Nasrullah Mohammed

        Dear LizardKing.... that's correct...

        September 25, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • histori

      Do a web search of "muslim conquests" to understand the primary tool used by islam to expand into other countries. That's how they started and that's how they continue to be. It's just part of the religion and its core beliefs.

      September 25, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
      • Nasrullah Mohammed

        Dear histori... well "Muslim conquests" and the primary tool used to expand into other countries is history now...
        That's how Christianity and Judaism started too... But it's wrong to say that... it is continued...
        It's not a part of Islam or Christianity....... It's not the core beliefs either... it's an individual decision what religion anyone like to be in...

        September 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • jfairweather

      The same exact thing is in the Bible. The issue is one of context. The Hebrews did not just walk dreamily into the promised land, picking daisies as they went. They battled all those who resisted their invasion and embraced those who chose to accept the divinity of Moses. This was ordained. What was not ordained the one and a half centuries of aggressive wars by Christians a thousand years ago. Read about the sacking of Constantinople one day. They looted with abandon and shut people into buildings and burned them alive en masse.
      This was not ordained and terrorism is not ordained. You don't hold up the inquisitors of Spain as representatives for all Christianity and neither should the extremists of the middle east be seen as representatives of Islam. No one has any business casting stones here.

      September 26, 2012 at 3:02 am | Report abuse |
  7. TiredofCrazy

    II think part of the problem is that we as Americans are constantly bombarded with images of Muslims protesting violently and destroying their own communities and fellow countrymen and that just reinforces are beliefs that all Muslims are violent. Also because the loudest violent minority gets all the attention from the media the moderate voices of Islam are drowned out so there is this image of all Muslims being violent and intolerant. Also when we turn on our TVs we see these protesters burning the American flag which angers us and makes us question why do we send our tax money to these people if they hate us so much? Unfortunately this is a small minority of extremists getting all the attention, but it works both ways the recent protest for example at American diplomatic missions, all these protesters think that this film "innocence of Muslims" somehow represents our government or our people this film has nothing to do with me, but you better believe that Freedom of Speech is extremely important to me. I have never seen the film I do not want to see it and if these protesters had never brought it to the attention of the media then it would have never even been heard of. Also it seems from my point of view that Muslims demand respect for their religious beliefs, but Christians and religious minorities are treated very poorly and are not given equal rights in Muslim majority countries, so it’s a hard thing for us to swallow to respect your religion when you do not hold yourselves to that standard. I serve in the military and I have been to Kuwait, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, and Bahrain I can tell you’re from my personal experience that most Muslims are just like average Americans trying to make a living and take care of their families. The misunderstanding on both sides and allowing these small minorities to control our lives is ridiculous!

    September 24, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nasrullah Mohammed

      Dear TiredofCrazy... I am a Muslim and I like your argument...As far as I know except Saudi Arabia all other Muslim majority countries should treat other religeous minorities properly... Please correct me as myself like to know which other places you had problems or you have information... I really like to know that... Thank you sir...

      September 24, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. valwayne

    I'm a little puzzled as to why Ms Ali-Karamali is puzzled that Islam would have a negative image in the U.S.? Almost daily you can pick up a paper and read about an honor killing in Britain, Canada, the U.S., and we don't even hear about them in Islamic nation's for the most part. Muslim women throughout the Arab world are treated with less respect than dogs or cattle. Women can actully be imprisoned or executed for being raped in many Muslim nations, even stoned to death? In Saudi Arabia, the Holy Center of Islam, a woman cannot leave her own home without being in the company of a male relative, and woman aren't allowed to drive? Throughout almost all of the Islamic world converting from Islam to Christianity brings a death sentence, as does anyone daring to preach Christianity or any other religion in a Mulism Country. And to be perfectly honest I rarely see any moderate Mulslims on TV or in Print unconditionally condemning the Extremists engaged in terror, or or those calling for Fatwahs and death for a cartoon or book, although What I usually see is a lot of statements semi-denouncing terror, but also party excusing it as caused by the policies of the U.S. or Israel. I have some sympathize that more prominent Muslims don't speak out since doing so seems to put them also at risk, but what does that say? On the other hand there seems to be no limit in most Muslim countries on the hateful things that can be said or taught about Jews or non-Muslims. There was a recent article about an Egyptian Reality show where Egyption celebrities are in an interview only to have it disclosed to them that the interviewer is an Israeli Jew. The fun seems to be watching the reaction of the celebities as they launch into anti-Semitic diatribes, even assaults, until told that they are being punked, at which point everyone has a good laugh with those who are most viciously anti-semitic. And what is taught in most Muslim countries regarding tolerance for Jews, or really any other religion is horrific. Any discrimination or violence toward people of any religion in the United States should not be tolerated, but when I read the papers I read about more vandalism and violence directed against Synagogues and Jews in the U.S. than I do about Muslims and Mosques? The instances of intolerance directed against Muslims in the U.S. seems completely inconsequential to the intolerance coming from Islam toward anything and everybody that is not part of their religion. I applaud Ms Ali-Karamali for denouncing the intolerance, but it appears that her sentiments are but a drop in an ocean of hate? I keep hearing that Islam is a religion of peace, but what I see daily going on in most of the Islamic world doesn't look tolerant or peaceful?

    September 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nasrullah Mohammed

      Dear valwayne... Islam is not to be blamed if Muslims don't follow it... few among you refer to Quran... but as you know taking text out of context can be misguiding... a priest can abuse a child but you can't blame the Christianity... what is needed is real knowledge... not cynicism... a time might come.. when human race may act ike animals... and few among us may think that.... that's humanity....

      September 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Nasrullah Mohammed

    Hi you...dear dr.music... what's your problem man... do you have any mother, father, brother, sister, friend or not... Behave yourself man... otherwise there is no need to abuse your languge again and again... Do you think that you are smart and hurting us... the fact is you are hurting yourself... wake up and relax... I consider you ignorant and a raciest...
    You might have read but you did not understand Quran... Anyone can abuse but few only can forgive... now try the otherside... it's never too late for good... By the way the ...COBRA IS BETTER THAN YOU... Thanks...

    September 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Martin

    Anyone that believes in imaginary beings, worships them and makes conscious decisions to ignore the reality and scientific evidence surrounding them is to be feared and not to be trusted since they are utterly insane and completely unpredictable.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nasrullah Mohammed

      Mr.Martin, Wow... big bold statement with little broken knowledge... good luck with that... but can you please clarify... that if as a Muslim I believe in one God, all books including Quran, all Angels, the Judgrment day, Hell and Heaven...etc.. Are you tellng me that because there is no scientific evidence... I am utterly insane and completely unpredictable... is that correct or you mean something else... thanks...

      September 23, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
      • january2454

        The problem with Islam:

        THERE IS NO MUSLIM-MAJORITY COUNTRY ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH WHERE CHRISTIANS, JEWS OR HINDUS CAN LIVE IN PEACE AND SAFETY.

        And there is no way for you to dispute that. It's a fact. That's why America does NOT want any more Muslims. You trash every country where there are enough of you to make up a dangerous mob.

        September 23, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
      • wjshelton

        Oh, I can certainly dispute your blanket, wide-brush claim, January. Let's start with Albania, the only Nazi-occupied country in Europe during World War II in which the Jewish population actually increased. And why did it increase? Because Muslims saw it as their duty to hide and protect their Jewish brethren, including those who were not Albanians but fled their from Christian countries that were turning them into Nazi authorities. Albanian tolerance still holds true today, not that you would be willing to admit that. It would go against your own ingrained intolerance, wouldn't it?

        September 23, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
      • Nasrullah Mohammed

        Dear january2454... that's not true... hre are few places I know...
        Dubai... Abu Dhabi ... Kuait... Qatar... Egypt... Bangla Desh... Pakistan... Jordon... Khazistan... and so on...
        Syria has even christian vice president who was killed recently...
        Iran was a free country till King Shah was over thrown...... but even today many christians are in Iran...
        Iraq... till Bush became president...but even today many christians are in Iraq...
        Thanks...

        September 23, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. vmr

    Americans elected a muslim president (at least 50%) as a leader but muslim leaders and muslim people in middle east countries doesn't show any respect but burn the american flag while accepting american dolllars. If the behavior countinuues like this how american muslim people will get respect in this country. The american muslim people should take a pro-active role and educate their native country people.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • wjshelton

      If President Obama is Muslim, then I am the Pope! Please cite your sources for your claim or ... Never mind. CNN doesn't allow profanity, so I won't write what I really want to...

      September 23, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ed M.

    Islam, by its playbook the Koran, preaches unending war against all infidels until they either convert, pay the protection racket "tax" to Muslims (jizya) or are killed off in Holy War.

    Islam is built on ceaseless violence against all unbelievers.

    It is not to be trusted and its followers cannot pretend the Koran preaches otherwise.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • wjshelton

      Ed, you obviously have never read the Qur'an.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  13. Nasrullah Mohammed

    Mr. Leonado... what are you talking about... Name Calling... what name calling... I did not do that except I just gave them back their own name calling to others... they did that first... I didn't Label anybody... except someone was speaking like a raciest... It is not childish it's the truth... I never said I am any special... but certainly against terroist, voilence and hate... how about you...

    September 23, 2012 at 2:35 am | Report abuse |
  14. Nasrullah Mohammed

    Mr. Leonardo... It's sad that your past experience has beed bad... I am a good citizen... I respect America... The people who are forceful are wrong... doesn't matter Muslim or not... Bragging about anything is also wrong... I am with you on that... But those who think Islam has no freedom are wrong too... it all depends how you look at it...OK... Thanks...

    September 23, 2012 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
  15. Nasrullah Mohammed

    Hi Man... there you go again... I said relax... your meaningless talk is just like next door dog barking all the time... Black or White all are human all are going to die... looks like you eat no food but hate... By the way I live in San Diego... if you live close enough let's meet and talk... why hate... you made your point ... now relax... ok...

    September 22, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Dalila

    Muslims with fear !. Is this a joke? we , all the world are in fear because of their stupidities, I am from Panama and muslims and terrorist here are just the same, and in effect just the same.

    September 22, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Steven Reede

    It's sad that the news of violent mobs, 9 year old girls being married off to 50 year old men, death threats for drawing a picture of a man (not God, a prophet), killing a producer for making a movie (Van Gogh) all reinforce that the stereotypes are in fact true.
    If Muslims in America feel any fear from Christians I'm sorry but your fellow believers are making it difficult for Americans to believe how tolerant and loving Islam is as a religion.

    September 21, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nasrullah Mohammed

      It really doesn't matter whether Americans or anybody else believe how tolerant and loving Islam is as a religion.
      What matters is the truth...

      September 21, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
      • Steven Reede

        I'm sorry Nasurllah but what American's believe is exactly what is important in accepting Muslims into the fabric of society as the author desires. The belief that Muslims produce violence is what drives the fear that spawns the actions the author is writing about.
        If Muslims want American society to accept them then actions speak louder than words, and the actions that get the most attention are violent and destructive.
        I'm married to a Muslim woman from Iran, I love her family and they love me so I know the positive side of that religion but I also know that she can not return to Iran with a Christian husband for fear of a stoning death at the hands of the "loving, peaceful" Islamic clerics ruling Iran.
        I don't know where you live Nasrullah, but try living in Iran as a Christian or Bahai and then let me know how accepting Islam is of other religions.

        September 22, 2012 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
      • Nasrullah Mohammed

        Hi Steven Reede... you are a very reasonable person... I live in San Diego... be my guest... Iran may not treat you... but it doesn't mean all Muslims hate you... let me know if you are serious to meet... may be that will reduce or solve your pain... you are welcome... Thanks...

        September 22, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
      • sam

        Steve,
        Maybe you should read more about Islam from its proper sources rather than base it on story or experience. I can't say priests are child molesters, and if so now ever priest should be out of church for good! Islam proved itself to be a problem solver of humanity.

        September 22, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
      • Steven Reede

        Gee Sam,
        Isn't the Quran a good enough source? I'll admit I read in English but still my opinion is not based on hearsay. My statements about Iran are correct as are the other statements in my postings. Maybe you should try reading the Bible and understanding the Christian side of the equation.
        If Muslims want to be accepted in America, treated as equals and not looked at with constant thoughts of possible terrorism they need to vocally denounce the violent acts by extremists, prevent honor killings, child marriage to old men, stoning women to death on the testimony of a single man while it take four women to counter the testimony of a single man. Would you like me to continue with FACTS rather than speculation?

        September 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  18. John Geheran

    Is it possible to have a civil, open and honest discourse about Islam with the average Muslim? There is so much to be critical of Islam from its early history (e.g., how Islam was spread) to Its sacred texts, ahadith as well as Muslim behavior in the modern world. While Christianity and other religions have experienced their dark moments, Islam stands out as the only belief system that has intolerance, proscriptive violence and rabid hatred of non-believers firmly embedded throughout its literature. But the dualistic nature of Islam is used to effectivly mask its totalitarian philosophy.

    September 21, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • wjshelton

      John Geheran, when you interlace your question about a having a "civil, open and honest discourse" discourse about Islam with phrases like "proscriptive violence and rabid hatred", you yourself have blocked that discourse. As a Muslim, I see that you are NOT open to that discourse. You have already judged us as evil and have no interest in hearing anything from us other than what would confirm your prejudice. Rephrase your question, rethink the basis for you question, and I might consider conversing with you, but until you do, I have no interest in futile, useless discourse with a bigot.

      September 21, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
      • Nasrullah Mohammed

        dr.music.... you are no dr.music... you are a raciest and full of hate... first of all no one can ban Islam on this earth... second thing if America says Muslims can pray then I will America without any doubt... third if you put a gun or a tank on a Muslims face and ask him to convert he will die only as a Muslim... those who change there faith with the fear are not Muslims... you are a person with hate and living in darkness... I don't abuse my language as you do... by the way you are not even a good chritian if you are a christian... you are a shame to yourself... actually all the bad words you wrote reflects you not any Mulim... now go to bed... good night and try to improve your humanity... thanks...

        September 22, 2012 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
    • january2454

      You are right, of course, John.

      It is self-evident to all who have eyes and ears that Islam is a plague on all of humankind.

      September 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
      • Nasrullah Mohammed

        There you go again... in short ... its not Islam but it's you Mr. january2454... a plague to yourself... correct yourself...

        September 23, 2012 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
  19. M

    uh, I'm not a Muslim, but a Christian, and I live in fear of them. But then again, it is certain devoted whacko ones that go through years of training to fly planes into buildings... not ALL the muslims.
    Figured this story was on yahoo, as most of theirs are pretty obvious non-stories....

    September 21, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Illuminatus

    Dear fellow humans, the time when we will be able to reach the next step of our physical and metaphysical evolution is the moment we will be able to get rid of all forms of religion, once and for all.
    We have so much potential, what a waste of time and energy on so futile concerns...
    I truly hope mankind eventually will find the way onwards.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
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