The latest story of the failed “underwear suicide bomber” is one more example that homeland security requires something deeper than a revealing image  from some full body scanner. Full body scanners can’t penetrate body cavities or see under flabby folds of skin. The latest technology has its limits.  This recent kerfuffle reminds us that when it comes to the monster of terrorism–we typically react to the symptoms rather than dealling with the root cause–the  breakdown of human community.

By definition, terrorism is all about the power of coercion that wreaks fear and suffering. Yes, in the short run security must be ramped up. But over the long haul, the power of coercion can finally and ultimately only be overcome by the power of persuasion.

Life is all about relationships. Cultivating and supporting healthy relationships is the only thing that can create a strong social immune system capable of repelling the virus of terrorism. The only real solution is to build up our social immune system.

Ever since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and more recent actions of terrorists, the relationship between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans in the US has deteriorated. As events and stories unfold, many American Muslims are feeling defensive, depressed and marginalized.

Although many American Muslim leaders have spoken out against terrorism, the conventional wisdom and perspective of the mainstream media is that American Muslims are too timid.

Offering up a plethora of commentaries, non-Muslim pundits often share opinions that imply if not insist that the American Muslim community is at worst supportive, at best ambivalent about the violent actions of extremists who carry the Muslim banner.

With disturbing regularity the American news media carries headlines about the latest action of a “Muslim terrorist” or “Islamic jihadist” who shouts “Allahu Akbar” while committing some violent act. The 24/7 news cycle contributes to this feeding frenzy. Generalizations and stereotypes about American Muslims and the “world of Islam” abound among the non-Muslim American majority, prompting some to coin the term “Islamophobia.”

While many American Muslims confess feeling marginalized and powerless, non-Muslim Americans are given precious few opportunities to look upon their neighbors as anything but the latest iteration of “the other”. This complex dynamic creates a sense of powerlessness for each.

Taken together, these combustible narratives create an accelerating dynamic of fear and suspicion among Muslim and non-Muslim Americans alike. Comparisons between the current public mindset toward American Muslims as “the other” and the climate that allowed the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, as the “other,” gives one pause.

This fearful and complicated reality reflects the breakdown of the American community

.Everyone is focusing on what has gone wrong.

But focusing on what’s gone wrong only takes us back to the past. It is only as we focus our attention upon what is already working (our assets) that we develop the capacity to create a future lived on higher ground. This proven methodology is known as Asset Based Community Development.

Only as we engage in a new conversation based on building capacities of new understanding, new relationships and community will we transform the old grievance stories (on both sides) of the past and create a new future. The creation of a new community begins with a new conversation.

Let us begin by writing together a new narrative by focusing on where and how Muslim and non-Muslim Americans are working together to live out the American dream. It is time to write a new American map—let’s call it the cartography of the heart.

Please share your awareness of local and national groups, eg. peace and justice organizations, secular groups committed to human rights, organizations committed to peaceful conflict resolutioncolleges and universities, religious and inter-religious initiatives like United Religions Initiative Cooperation CirclesInterfaith Youth Core, the Interfaith Alliance, local Baptist-MuslimJewish-Muslim and Catholic-Muslim dialogue projects, etc.

Do you know of a grassroots effort that could  help us to change this tired, old conversation?

It is time to move from fear to hope, from problems to possibility.  New conversations have the power to create new relationships and new relationships have the power to re-create the world.  I invite you to join me in this new conversation built not on problems and fears but strength and possibility.