The ISIS trap and Islamophobes falling into it

REUTERS/Robert Pratta
Muslims and non-Muslims gather to pray at the Grande Mosque in Lyon, France, on Sunday.

It’s easier, and maybe more pleasing in some weird way, to assume that the vile, hideous attack on innocent civilians in Paris reflects nothing but the deranged bloodthirsty hatred in the heart of ISIS.

Then I read this piece, headlined “The Islamic State’s Trap for the Europe,” by Harleen Gambhir, a counterterrorism analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. ISIS seeks new recruits, especially among Muslims living in the West (for alarming but logical reasons). So what might help the recruitments? Lots of things, including social media and promises of paradise and, yes, deranged bloodthirsty hatred might be in there. But one more, emphasized by Gambhir, is an obnoxious backlash by non-Muslim Westerners that disrespects Islam. She could be right. It kind of makes sense and she is a Harvard grad who is specializing in this very question.

Then I read this piece in the International Business Times,  headlined “Mosque Protests Turn Vicious after Paris Attacks; Muslims Brace For A Backlash They Always Knew Was Coming.” It features non-Muslims outside mosques in Portland, Oregon, yelling things like: “Your Quran is the doctrine of demons! Jesus is going to destroy the Muslims!’ “Islam is a lie!” “You’re nothing more than a pawn of Satan, you demonic Muslim dogs!”

I’m willing to say that no matter what insult someone hurls at your religion, it’s not OK to kill them. But I suspect such conduct toward Muslims is likely to help ISIS reach its recruitment goals.

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Comments (45)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/17/2015 - 09:28 am.

    There’s an old saying:

    Be sure that brain is engaged
    before putting mouth in gear.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/17/2015 - 10:08 am.

      There’s another old saying

      “To sit back hoping that someday, some way, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last – but eat you he will.”

      Ronald Reagan

      I’ve never been concerned about insulting my enemies. Those who are will gain nothing by it.

      • Submitted by Phil Dech on 11/17/2015 - 11:11 am.

        r.e. enemies

        I suppose that works if you know exactly who your enemies are. But you can certainly alienate a lot of people who are on the fence, ironically creating enemies, by overreacting.

        And how would you say the West has been feeding the ISIS crocodile?

        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/17/2015 - 12:29 pm.

          The ISIS crocodile is OUR baby !!

          Without our massive destruction of civil societies and governing infrastructures in the Middle East, there would have been no fertile ground for an ISIS to arise and invade those power vacuums. But in the chaos we created, the conditions were perfect.

          So now the talking heads narrow their public conversations to WHICH military option will work best, a dialogue framed by those invested in our disastrous policies in the Middle East. Hardly a single soul wants to reconsider and re-craft American foreign policy, which is at or near the root of the problem.

          • Submitted by joe smith on 11/17/2015 - 03:31 pm.

            Radical Islam has been at war with “others” for centuries. The creation of a caliphate has been a goal of the extremists long before Iran took our hostages in the late 70’s or before Iraq invaded Kuwait in the early 90’s. To say we started ISIS or Al Qaeda or any of these extremist groups is wrong. We may have contributed to it with our flawed Mid East policies but rest assured the hard line radicals wanted to take over the world and have for long before our bungling of Mid East.
            What about “we must destroy the infidel and make the world be one under Sharia law” do you not understand? The radicals have pledged to bring death to the USA and we are debating on what to call them. Really?
            Are we concerned that the extremists that want to kill us are using ‘Islamophobia” to get folks to blow themselves up in suicide bombings? If you are willing to blow yourself up for a cause I doubt very much that you were pushed over the edge by the USA, France or any other country saying bad things about you or not accepting refugees from Syria. Calling radical Islam a problem is not being Islamophobic, it is being realistic.

          • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/17/2015 - 06:44 pm.

            Please define

            Our current foreign policy in regards to the Middle East. Please be specific so that we can all see the root of our problem.

            • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/18/2015 - 10:04 pm.

              a tall order, but a fair question

              In this space, I can only say briefly what I see as wrong headed, I’m sure there’s plenty I don’t know.

              First, there is the assumption in our foreign policy that we have the right to overthrow unfriendly governments, even when they do not directly threaten the United States. Example: we overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in the 50s and installed our puppet, the Shah of Iran. This was not because Iran threatened the United States.

              Second, we seem to have the belief that we can solve complex and difficult problems with military power. Example: to this very day, I hear people say that we won the Vietnam War militarily, as if there were some fundamental unfairness in the fact that our military might failed. We also overthrew a government in South Vietnam in the early stages of that conflict.

              Third, we rely on bribery of autocrats to quite a degree over the years. This does not truly buy loyalty or partnership nor better government. There are so many examples of this, I don’t dare begin their enumeration, but to show what actually happens to that money, there is the example of Egypt. I read some figures showing that the total financial support to the Mubarak regime from about 1980 to the present amounted to some 35 billion dollars. Is it mere coincidence that the Mubarak family fortune is alleged to have grown to approximately the same 35 billion dollars in the same period of time?

              There is so much more to say, but this space is just too limited for a full conversation on this matter.

            • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/18/2015 - 10:13 pm.

              I forgot to add above…

              … That all these components of American foreign policy have operated in the Middle East and continue to this day. I thought this would be obvious, and so illustrated by the examples I gave that there is a long history of this foreign policy. It’s not confined to the present time nor to the Mideast.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/17/2015 - 12:42 pm.

        Yet Another Old Saying

        As Sun-Tzu put it, “[H]e who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.”

      • Submitted by Sean Huntley on 11/17/2015 - 01:56 pm.

        That was an ingenious way to reinforce Mr. Black’s point. Well done Mr. Tester!

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/17/2015 - 09:28 am.


    Sadly, hateful bigotry is the province of no single religion, or the lack thereof, nor is it limited, in this country, to Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Murderous extremists are similarly not limited to a particular group or region, or religion. A trip to Oklahoma City and the memorial there for those killed in the bombing of the Murrah Building is instructive in that regard. It’s convenient (and sometimes accurate) to condemn Muslim fanatics, but there have been Christian fanatics, too, and surely agnostic and atheist ones, as well.

    So far, what I’ve read suggests, for example, that none of the Paris murderers were actual Syrians, but were French or Belgian citizens. That’s subject to correction after further investigation, of course, but to the degree that it’s true, it’s absolutely NOT helpful for the governors of various states in the U.S. to insist that they don’t want Syrian immigrants. Those kinds of statements are not only reflections of the same sort of “know-nothing” prejudice against immigrants that have been common in this country since large-scale immigration from places outside northern and western Europe began in the late 19th century, but they play very nicely into the ISIS/ISIL propaganda used to recruit more jihadists.

    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 11/17/2015 - 03:48 pm.

      I will politely take issue with your first paragraph.

      Sociopathology and consequential culpability for what is destructive to civilization do not lie in perfect symmetry on either side of a hypothetical center. “Hateful bigotry” and “murderous extremism” are not evenly distributed across the nation’s or the world’s population; they are correlated quite strongly with independent variables that characterize the political, spiritual and existential orientation of individuals and groups. I’d be fascinated to learn of the example of agnostic fanaticism that you have in mind.

      If we do not allow ourselves to name the causes of our ills and the sources from which they emerge, we are consigning humanity’s future to “stuff happens.”

      • Submitted by Tim Walker on 11/17/2015 - 04:21 pm.

        I agree, Charles, and would welcome Ray or any other reader to name some agnostics or atheists whose fanaticism drove them to commit terrorist acts on par with those of religious fanatics.

        And no, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, etc. doesn’t count.

        Tell me a name or two of a crazy mass killer who committed acts of terror because his non-god was better than someone else’s non-god…

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/17/2015 - 07:46 pm.

          Why not?

          Stalinism was certainly atheistic, and just as certainly major league terrorism (just ask Ukrainians, Jews, etc).
          IF you are trying to say that Stalin doesn’t count because his atheism was not the -cause- of his terrorism you might have a point, but since most Muslims are not fanatics or terrorists it would be hard to prove causality in that case either.
          Of course, if you go back historically, the Crusaders might make your case for religious fanatics; that’s why the Jihadists still use the term.

          • Submitted by chuck holtman on 11/17/2015 - 07:09 pm.

            Paul: Tim’s comment aside,

            I specifically referenced agnostics and not atheists. Atheists manifest in two forms: humanists and those who oppose established religions with their own unassailable eschatologies. A few of the latter such as Stalin, Pol Pot, etc, got the horrific headlines but I would venture that 999 out of 1000 who call themselves atheists are of the humanist variety essentially indistinguishable from agnostics. So I think Tim is effectively correct but his claim was sure to prompt a reply such as yours.

            The distinguishing difference is between those who understand that we must make and justify our morality versus those who are content to accept moral dictates from others without any responsibility to justify them, on the ground that there is a different plane, beyond human apprehension, where those dictates are justified. It is very difficult to turn the former into hateful bigots or murderous fanatics, while the latter are susceptible to it.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/18/2015 - 02:34 pm.

              On the other hand

              Agnostics have been defined as atheists who want a back door.
              I’m not convinced that there is either a clear boundary or a basic eschatological difference between people adopting the two labels.
              And I certainly don’t think that Stalin spent a lot of time thinking about his label.
              The last serious Marxist with basic philosophical concerns was Marx (I might consider an exception for the New York Communists of the ’30s).

              • Submitted by chuck holtman on 11/19/2015 - 08:34 am.

                Well, the quip about agnostics is clever. But I’m agnostic

                because (1) a human is not capable of certain knowledge (indeed, if there is a Higher Being, faith may be the greatest blasphemy in denying to that Higher Being the uniqueness of its omniscience); and, most importantly, (2) whether there is a Higher Being or not doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have the slightest effect on the moral judgments one makes about how to conduct oneself in the world. There’s a right thing to do whether God is watching or not. But I suggested that like agnostics, 99.9% of atheists are anti-eschatologists, so you appear to be agreeing.

                Regardless, my point is that folks who recognize and take on their responsibility for their own moral framework and judgments, whether agnostic, atheist or of a faith, don’t become fanatics of hate.

                • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/19/2015 - 03:55 pm.

                  Atheists and agnostics

                  I’m an atheist because, acknowledging the limits of my capabilities, I still refuse to believe in the existence of entities when there is no evidence of their existence.
                  The term ‘Higher Being’ is a slippery one.
                  I will acknowledge the possibility of the existence of beings with greater capabilities than ours, but I cannot see how I could distinguish between a higher but finite being and one of infinite capabilities (the usual definition of Deity).
                  So, lacking any evidence for the existence of a Deity, I will assume that one does not exist, and deal with the world on its and my own terms.
                  As you say, I’m not sure we are in major disagreement.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/17/2015 - 09:29 am.

    And some numbers

    8000 French were killed in traffic accidents in the last year.
    The ISIL attacks are crimes, not an existential threat.

  4. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/17/2015 - 09:47 am.

    Words Matter

    An interesting post.

    I suggest that, rather than dignifying the group with the name “ISIS” or “ISIL” we all switch to referring to them as “Daesh.” The “IS” names imply that they are Islamic and a state. “Daesh” is an accurate transliteration of the acronym for the group’s name in Arabic, but it is regarded as insulting by them (it can mean “to trample down and crush” or “a bigot who imposes his view on others”).

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/17/2015 - 12:28 pm.


      I like it. Certainly seems accurate, and equally accurate in other political contexts, as well. Who knows? Maybe it’ll come into wide use.

      • Submitted by Pat Berg on 11/18/2015 - 04:24 pm.

        Daesh redux

        This morning on MPR, David Greene was interviewing a French official (I don’t recall who). I found it interesting that the French official used “Daesh” in every one of this references to the terrorist group, while David Greene persisted in using “ISIS”. It could have been confusing to a listener who didn’t realize they were using two separate terms to refer to the same group.

        A little curious as to the reason for David Greene’s blatantly obvious ignoring of the terminology – no acknowledgement of it whatsoever – not even to clarify for listeners that it was another name for the same group.

  5. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/17/2015 - 10:59 am.

    Round and Round We Go

    Gambhir seems to make a circular argument, not a useful one. Silly spin on the victim is to blame angle. Not a very original thought, either. Of course, I must trust in Mr. Black’s fair translation of his reference piece.

    As for recruitment….IS seems to be doing just fine in its traditional straight-line methods.
    The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. It’s a unilateral concept. It matters little exactly what we feel or how we react. Please keep your scope properly sighted, Eric.

    If we don’t even agree on what to call these antagonists (ISIL, ISIS, whatever) we have a long way to go in reaching proper conclusions that promote effective strategy. “Daesh” works for me.

  6. Submitted by Bill Willy on 11/17/2015 - 07:12 pm.

    Like clockwork

    As usual, it didn’t take long to get the Immediately Relevant Talking Points Memo out to all Republicans, coast-to-coast, and it didn’t take much longer for them to memorize them and come out with the identical lockstep “perspective” on the latest burning issue before us.

    As was pointed out in this morning’s Glean, “Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt said the U.S. should halt the acceptance of Syrian refugees until screening procedures are thorough enough to prevent terrorists from entering our state.”

    Sounds semi-reasonable, doesn’t it? But the problem with that statement is it implies Kurt Daubt:

    A) has a clue as to what the “screening procedures” are that the U.S. employs (for anyone seeking refugee status from that part of the world); and

    B) is capable of determining how thorough those procedures are now, what “thorough enough” means, or when that point would be reached.

    But never mind that. They main thing is it became clear by somewhere around noon that every Republican on the planet that was commenting on the issue was saying exactly the same thing: Kurt Daubt, Paul Ryan, the presidential candidates, everyone in the GOP, is suddenly a deeply concerned expert on the deeply flawed screening process president Obama’s incompetent refugee screeners are using (which must be the reason for all the Paris-like terrorist attacks we’ve suffered since Obama took office).

    But when it comes to Speaker Daubt’s (and Keith Downey’s) view on the subject, Steve Timmer put it real well today at

    It’s amazing how Republicans seem unable to control themselves when it comes to instantly jumping all over the opportunity to show the GOP’s unsavory underbelly any time they think they smell a hot political opportunity. This one reminds me of those governor-imposed bans to keep all those deadly Ebola carriers from setting foot in their states.

  7. Submitted by John Appelen on 11/17/2015 - 10:48 pm.


    My question is when will the main stream peaceful Muslims that I hear so much about say enough is enough and start aggressively turning against the radicals? And begin working with the authorities to arrest them?

    Our own local Muslim community Leaders were concerned that the outreach program served a secondary purpose of finding and stopping radical members within their society. Why would any peace loving and supporting group of individuals try to block those activities?

    Multiple millions of Muslims are running from their country instead of fixing it. Something is strange in that. Maybe us Protestants and Catholics should start going at it… I do agree that ISIS and Al Qaeda are worse than most. But the idea that they needed Saddam Hussein to keep the Shiites and Sunnis from killing other speaks to deeper and more pervasive problems.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/18/2015 - 09:46 am.

      Fair Question

      Unfortunately, too many social pressures seem to suppress fair answers.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/18/2015 - 02:51 pm.


      These are not democracies where a majority of the population can vote to change policies (the whole world is not American).
      These are multi tribal societies where small but militarily powerful tribes (the Alawites in Syria) can control the military and thus the government. Assad is not someone you want to turn to unless you’re an Alawite.
      Most of the borders in the Middle East were drawn by Europeans (mostly the Brits); aside from Iran and Turkey they have no real history as nations.
      As for Protestants and Catholics; Europe had its own religious wars, not to mention the Crusades.

      The recent attacks in France were conducted by French citizens of North African descent (several generations back). The problem is one that we also have; a lower class of color who resent the advantages that other people have and they don’t.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/18/2015 - 05:42 pm.

        Even There

        Ultimately it is the choice of the citizens whether they want peace or war, even when tribes are involved.

        The USA removed Saddam and gave the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds a chance at a fresh peaceful start. Instead a significant number of them chose to revert to power struggles, intolerance, attacking each other, etc. This is not what I would expect of people who profess to love peace.

        Paris Attackers

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/18/2015 - 07:20 pm.

          The only people who love peace

          are those who have nothing to lose by it.
          Everyone else is trying to improve their position.
          The US removed Saddam and put a corrupt puppet in his place who they hoped would stay bought.
          This did not satisfy either the Shia or the Sunni.
          As for the Kurds, their long term goal is to establish an independent Kurdistan at the intersection of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Hardly peaceful, since other nations occupy Greater Kurdistan.

          And you still have not told me how the citizens of Syria are to remove Assad and his army. Light weapons are not effective against tanks and aircraft.

          As for your USA Today (news lite) link, all it says is that most if not all of the attackers were French (or possibly Belgian) nationals, one or two of whom MAY (their word) have been in Syria at some time.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/18/2015 - 10:10 pm.

            Put In Puppet

            Now are you saying that the USA somehow rigged Iraq’s elections with everyone in the world watching?

            I am not sure “removing Assad” was mandatory for people who wanted peace and happiness for the majority of the citizens. It seems that a large population of Syrians did well under Assad’s rule. And history is showing that the countries in the Middle East need Dictators or they seem to rip themselves apart.

            Remember all the comments here that blamed the mess in Iraq on the USA’s removing Saddam. They seem to think things would have been better if the ruthless dictator Saddam was still in power… I mean he made Assad look like a pussy cat.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/20/2015 - 09:33 am.


              was eight years after Saddam’s death.
              I’m talking about Al-Maliki.

            • Submitted by Bill Willy on 11/19/2015 - 11:41 am.

              Selective Amnesia (again)

              Just of the record, I’m pretty sure most people that think the invasion of Iraq was a monumentally “bad idea” were mostly “offended” by the ORIGINAL pretense for taking that action, which, as you seem to keep forgetting, was ridding Iraq of its mushroom cloud-producing weapons of mass destruction. “Removing Saddam” was Marketing Plan B; the PR fall-back position that seems to have dovetailed nicely with your steady defense and justification of our nation’s (Christian?) actions in Iraq.

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/19/2015 - 01:12 pm.


                Personally I deal in facts, not fuzzy memories.


                “Citing the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, the resolution reiterated that it should be the policy of the United States to remove the Saddam Hussein regime and promote a democratic replacement.”

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/19/2015 - 01:45 pm.

                  If Wikipedia Says it, it Must be Almost True

                  If you look at the substance of the resolution and not the “whereas” clauses, you will see that the use of force was authorized to defend the national security of the United States (by forcibly removing a former ally, cosseted and cultivated by the Reagan Regime?) and to enforce relevant UN Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq, none of which called for the removal of Saddam Hussein.

                  Pub. Law 107-243, 116 Stat. 1498,

                  • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/19/2015 - 10:18 pm.

                    Seems to me the “where as” statements are the rationale for taking action. Ignoring them seems a bit arbitrary when they make up the majority of the bill..

                    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/20/2015 - 09:29 am.

                      Seems to Me

                      The “whereas” clauses cannot override what is stated in the actual substance of the legislation. The only part of the resolution having any legal effect is the part coming after “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled . . .”

                      The Iraq Liberation Act also did not call for the US to invade Iraq, but specifically authorized only the provision of military aid to groups seeking to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/20/2015 - 01:56 pm.


                      “specifically authorized only the provision of military aid to groups seeking to overthrow Saddam Hussein”

                      I think 100,000 troops with their equipment would count as “aid”. 🙂
                      Too bad those groups couldn’t get along and live in peace after the “overthrow of Saddam Hussein”.

                    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 11/20/2015 - 03:54 pm.


                      Why would we expect the Iraqis to live in peace? The history of modern Iraq (which was drawn into place by the UK following WWI) was a history of uprisings and rebellions (1932, 1936, 1941, 1945, 1948, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1968, 1974, 1991). The borders of the country were drawn by Europeans and maintained by dictators who had to fight to keep a lid on the box. The fact that we thought we could produce a different result is one of many signs of the hubris that infected the decision-making of those who decided to go in.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/20/2015 - 07:57 pm.


                      Then let’s reverse course and start supporting Assad? Maybe encourage him to take over Iraq also… It sounds like these folks should have a ruthless Dictator to keep them safe from themselves. Is that what you are recommending?

                      Remember the three options Bush had:
                      1. Maintain No Fly Zones indefinitely.
                      2. Walk away and let Saddam squash internal dissent.
                      3. Invade and give the Iraqi people a 12th chance….

                      Choices, choices…

                    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/20/2015 - 03:59 pm.

                      Why would you expect them to

                      when they didn’t get along before Saddam?

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/21/2015 - 10:51 am.

                      Interesting spin

                      How many times should we try to help an addict, a street person with mental health issues, a single Mom who keeps having kids she can not afford, etc? Often we know the odds of success are low, however hope makes us try.

                      And other than helping the needy and powerless, we have some American interests to protect in that region. (ie Oil/energy, Israel, National Security (ie prevent Terrorist base of operations) Not sure the US folks are ready to walk away)

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/19/2015 - 09:24 am.

          “Ultimately it is the choice of the citizens . . .”

          Unbelievable. DO you really think that ordinary citizens living under any tyranny have a “choice?” Do you really think they could just stay home and make things better? How are they going to do that–introduce a resolution at their precinct caucus? Perhaps that is why the St. Louis was turned away from the United States. Those Jewish people should have just stayed in Germany and worked to improve the system.

          A significant number of the people of Iraq (all conveniently lumped together, as if they were some amorphous congregation of foreigners) chose to “revert.” A significant number did not. A significant number of people in Syria did not choose to be bombed by their government or captured by homicidal theocrats. A substantial number of the people at Planned Parenthood do not choose to be bombed by the Army of God (oh, sorry, wrong demographic).

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/18/2015 - 12:56 pm.

    It’s the era not the religion

    Religious violence is just another of the types of violence human beings engage in, it’s not a particular feature of any particular religion although during some era’s some religions can produce more violence than other. Muslims have a long way to go before they top the religious violence Christians unleashed on the planet 700 years ago. It’s the era, not the religion.

    The problem with religion is that there is no final arbiter, no universally recognized authority that can settle scriptural disputes. So when one group of Muslims or Christians claims to be doing something or another according to scripture and other’s dispute those claims it’s always basically irresolvable. The conflict lasts until the violence stops for whatever reason.

    In the meantime people need to keep their eyes on the ball, it’s not about religion, if some religion we all agreed with was attacking and killing innocents we wouldn’t be OK with that. If the Norwegians had attacked Pearl Harbor instead of the Japanese we wouldn’t have let it slide.

    Attacking and killing innocent people is simply not allowed, regardless of motives. Whether or not these terrorists are Muslim or using Islam as an justification is actually irrelevant, Islam isn’t the problem. The problem is they’re attacking and killing innocent people and fellow countrymen, no matter why they do that, we track them down and end them, period. All this hoo-ha about religion is just noise, ignore it.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/18/2015 - 05:54 pm.

      Who is we

      “We track them down and end them, period.”

      Who is we? And when is “we” going to include more people from the Middle East? Or those of the Muslim faith?

      If we of the West / Christian faith “end them”, we are viewed as Crusaders… If those of the Muslim faith do it, it would be Justice. Now how to get them to step up and do what is right?

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