(RNS) Vice President Joe Biden stood with clerics from different religions at Georgetown University on Wednesday (Dec. 16) and condemned the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has followed the recent shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
“Look around. This is America,” Biden said, as he spoke on a stage with clergy wearing garb that varied from a priestly collar to a turban and acknowledged the discomfort felt by many.
The vice president referred to the civil war in Syria and the millions of struggling refugees that some have said should be turned away.
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“I know there is fear and unease around the world,” Biden said. “That fear, though, is unacceptable and completely counterproductive. … When we turn our backs on the victims of persecution, we abandon everything we say we’re about.
“Everyone is welcome here in America,” Biden said, noting that those who choose to immigrate to the United States are often those with the greatest faith and courage.
Biden stressed that terrorist organizations such as ISIS are seeking to destroy the unique brand of multiculturalism found in countries such as the United States.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, also took the stage and pointed to the example set by Pope Francis and other Roman Catholic leaders.
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“We are all one great human family, God’s children,” Wuerl said.
Wuerl admitted much had changed in the world since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but he added: “We must not allow these things to change us.
“Acts of evil, acts of terror happen because there are those who are willing to do them, and then there are those who are willing to be silent,” Wuerl said.
Wuerl said the event at Georgetown was about refusing to remain silent and condemning intolerance.
Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation encouraged the audience to rise above victimhood.
“We’re not helpless victims of fear or bigotry,” Lustig said. “We can choose how to see others.
“May we act as if we were worthy of being created in God’s image. This is our prayer,” he said.
Toward the end, a Georgetown University student, Laila Brothers, spoke of her own experience with discrimination and how she feared for the safety of her Muslim mother, who wears a hijab.
Biden praised the student for her speech and said, “I don’t have a doubt in my mind that the American people will rise to the occasion.”
(Lilly Fowler is a producer at Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly)