Ten years ago, my friend and I stood in a small town in France yelling at each other. We had been living on trains for a month and were getting rather weary of each other's company.

As we argued, two guys walked up and flirted with us in French. I snarled, as I was not in the mood. But when one of them winked and shot me with finger guns and I couldn't help but giggle.

Their names were Kasim and Hassan. They spoke Arabic, French, Italian and German — none of which was helpful to my friend and I, who were stuck with English. Yet somehow, as travelling friendships go, we didn't allow language to become a barrier. We went out for coffee and, through my broken French, learned about each other. We learned that they moved to France as children after escaping conflict in the Middle East. We talked about music and TV shows, and we invited them to meet us again at an Irish bar to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.


We spent the whole next night shouting over blaring music. By the time we left the bar we were laughing like old friends. As we made our way back to our hostel, we exchanged goodbyes and they each kissed us on the cheek before they turned to walk home.

Although I knew the pair for only two days, I've thought about them often. I wonder if they have families of their own. I wonder if they still live in France. I wonder if they are experiencing the extreme Muslim backlash that I've been witnessing on social media recently.

Growing up in a conservative suburb of Denver, my friends from high school and I had zero context for Islam. Yet even as my politics began to differ from theirs, I still thought of them as decent people. I didn't expect to watch them use their particular brand of Christianity as a defense for jingoism.


The Muslim community is not the enemy. They are people. Specifically, they are 1.2 billion people, each with a different story. They are people with whom you would find a great deal in common over a cup of coffee — or even a Guinness.

It's easy to close hearts, wallets and borders to those perceived as "others." Stop casting them into that role.

Go out into the great, big world and meet people who do not look or sound like you. It's time to mend the chasm that has been created in the wake of terrorism.

Read more Liz Marsh: coloradodaily.com/columnists.