We’re surprised at the controversy generated locally by the photo portrait exhibit of Muslim Americans now at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

These pictures aim only to illuminate the prejudices faced today by these people of a “different” religion. As it’s been often said in recent weeks but still bears repeating: Muslims are people who practice the Islam religion.

By the outcry of some local people, you’d think al-Qaida was trying to form a chapter in Park County. About 60 percent of the folks who voted in the Powell Tribune’s weekly online poll supported the exhibit. But, still, the other 40 percent, about 500 people, objected.

Why? Many object to such an exhibit being in this public museum. But what better venue to host such a learning experience except maybe a library or school.

If you’ve not visited the year-old Heart Mountain center, plan to do so before Sept. 18 when this exhibit comes down. With cutting-edge museum science techniques, the museum humanizes and personalizes the entire wartime experience at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center. Putting individual faces on the collective experience of the 120,000 Japanese Americans interned there really brings home the heartbreak caused. It’s no wonder heartache persists today among internees and their families.

So, it’s only natural the center would host this exhibit created by a University of North Carolina student in an attempt to bring forward some of the awareness and education that could help avoid such stereotyping in our post-Sept. 11 world.

Toward this end a related film and panel discussion will take place at Wynona Thompson Auditorium beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Other activities in connection with the center’s second annual Pilgrimage Event include a fundraising dinner Friday and other activities Saturday. (For more information, visit heartmountain.org.)

Those proud Wyoming people who live closest to Heart Mountain and know the internment story best should be among those who have thoroughly learned its lessons. And we should have no fear of anything that pushes those lessons forward.

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