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Farah Pandith has an urgent message to deliver.

Eighteen years after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center focused the nation's attention on battling al-Qaeda and what has become known as the Islamic State, we need to also focus our attention now on "the new reality of hate and extremism" at home, she says.

"We need to be conscious of the new reality."

That new reality includes the rise of neo-Nazis and white supremacists and other extremist groups and individuals who are spreading "an ideology of us against them" in a multi-cultural country in which civilians own an estimated 400 million guns.

Today's challenge is "not just something over there," Pandith said during an interview over coffee in Lincoln on Tuesday morning. "It's right here in front of us now."

Pandith, who delivered an address to the E.N. Thompson forum on World Issues at the Lied Center for Performing Arts later Tuesday, worked in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, serving at one time as U.S. special representative to Muslim countries. She has traveled to almost 100 countries across the globe and is now a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

"Solutions are available and affordable right now to fight the ideology of us against them," Pandith said. And that begins with "building awareness (and) confronting the reality," she said, while "making sure young kids are protected."

Local communities, local voices and local solutions are critical, she said.

"Extremists disrupt the thinking of adolescents and young adults both online and off-line," Pandith said.

Teachers, schools and parents can all play vital roles in "learning how to debunk what the extremists are feeding them," she said. 

But political dialogue "sets the tone," Pandith said.  

"Do our political leaders use words and language that conveys unity or language that separates us? 

"We are a country that is one and offers equality to all," she said.

"But if a president or a mayor or a governor suggests there are real Americans and those who are not, we are feeding the extremists."

President Donald Trump "has been very clear about what he believes," Pandith said. "He has showcased his narrative that is all about political divisions, non-facts and a hierarchy of race, religion and ethnicity.

"With regard to extremism, he has opened up new channels, multiple and dangerous."

It would help if there's "a political and cultural change in the way we talk about each other," she said. "No one is born hating; you learn how to hate."

Pandith is author of a new book titled "How We Win."

She also spoke at Lincoln High School on Tuesday.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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