Healing America from the Bottom Up

Healing America from the Bottom Up

by Yehezkel Landau The stunning victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election forces all Americans to rethink our assumptions about the web of social relations in which we live. The political polarization of our society has been strikingly confirmed by the even split in the popular vote. The pollsters and pundits, as part of the comfortable elite, failed to appreciate the depth of resentment stirring among many Americans, not only white males with limited schooling or economic opportunities. The widespread failure to anticipate the election results reflects the silos in which we all operate, reinforced by the selective news outlets and social media platforms through which we receive news and views. The ideological fragmentation of America into segregated, self-reinforcing constituencies makes it impossible for us to hear each other or to conduct honest, compassionate conversations across difference. The consequence of this mutual alienation is a debilitating “blame game” in which our political opponents are held responsible for all the woes besetting our country. It is a short step from this negative generalizing to scapegoating “Others” as a way of coping with our anxieties or expressing our anger. The language of fear, resentment, and scapegoating was prevalent throughout the Trump campaign; yet to a lesser extent it also characterized discourse on the left, when perceived reactionaries were labeled “deplorable” riffraff who threaten the future of our country. But there is no rhetorical symmetry here. Trump’s bigoted, xenophobic, and misogynistic statements attracted supporters who share those hateful prejudices. His endorsement by the Ku Klux Klan is enough to ring alarm bells. Our neighbors who are Muslims, or Mexican immigrants, or...
Anti-Muslim Rhetoric is Sacrilegious and Anti-American

Anti-Muslim Rhetoric is Sacrilegious and Anti-American

by Yehezkel Landau The anti-Muslim rhetoric used by various candidates for political office in recent months has done far more than pollute our public discourse with ugly bigotry and hatred.  That would be alarming enough to justify an all-out campaign to discredit the message along with the messengers. Sadly, the impact of this toxic language, amplified by sensationalist media, is even more dangerous than the reinforcement of negative stereotypes or the scapegoating of an entire faith community. The malicious appeals to fear, resentment, and hatred are a profound threat to the moral values that undergird American society. Those values include tolerance for legitimate differences of opinion, mutual respect, and the constitutionally enshrined right to practice one’s faith without harassment. Beyond that, Islamophobic rhetoric is an attack on religion itself. It is a sacrilege that cannot be tolerated by people who believe in the One God who has created each and every one of us in the Divine Image. As a Jew, I am aware of the anti-Semitic parallels from the last century in this country—including Father Coughlin’s inflammatory radio broadcasts in the 1930’s—as well as in Europe.  I know that a verbal assault on any single group or community is an assault on us all. What starts as a denigration of one religion and its followers inevitably becomes extended to others who do not fit the declared norm, including “heretics” or “infidels” in the rabble-rouser’s own faith community. The United States remains an unprecedented experiment in collective self-government. Its lofty goals and principles are a beacon of hope to people the world over. They convey the highest ideals of...

Religious Leaders Respond to Orlando Shooting

Dr. Tarunjit Butalia, of Sikh Council of Interfaith Relations The Sikh Council of Interfaith Relations stands with religious organizations across the United States in condemning the brutal murders carried out in Orlando this weekend.  The Guru Nanak wrote “God within us renders us incapable of hate and prejudice.” It is our hope that with a united call for peace, the citizens of this country can stand together and recognize that within them all is the power to extinguish bigotry from this world.” Statement by Religions for Peace USA on Orlando, Florida Shooting On behalf of our 50 national religious member communities, Religions for Peace USA lifts up prayers and our deepest condolences to the victims of the sickening attack this morning in Orlando, Florida that left over 50 people dead and 53 injured.  We especially stand with the LGBTQ community who were the target of this vicious attack. There is no excuse for such brutality. Whenever attacks such as this are perpetrated we are confronted with a choice: to mimic the hatred we see or make a bold commitment to overcome it. The interconnected nature of our world leaves us little choice; we must all become peace-makers now. If we respond to every act of violence with a thirst for revenge, we will undoubtedly succeed in little more than inflicting unspeakable suffering on one another. Religions around the world call us to our highest and best values — those which lead us to courageous peace-making on every level.   We, therefore, urge people everywhere, to make a fresh commitment to building a world of peace and justice and doing all we can to renounce violent language and actions...

Combating Islamophobia with Our Shared Humanity

Combating Islamophobia with Our Shared Humanity by: Tarunjit Singh Butalia   With the US presidential primary season in full swing, some of our aspiring presidential candidates have begun to raise slogans of exclusion – particularly targeting Muslim Americans and their faith. The underlying assumption seems to be that if you vilify certain ethnic and religious minorities, then your prospects of becoming a presidential candidate are enhanced. Such divisions in the fabric of our nation have been tried in the past but fortunately have failed miserably.   These recent events remind me of an incident that occurred a few weeks before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 while I was visiting with my doctor. On entering the small waiting room, a three-year-old child playing in the corner looked up at me (wearing a turban) and exclaimed to his mother “Mom — there is the bad guy.”   Then silence descended on the waiting room. There were only the three of us in the room — the child, his mom, and me. The child went back to playing with the legos. The mom and I silently looked at each other for a few minutes or so but it seemed like eternity.   What could one say to a 3-year-old who shared what was on his mind? How could I get mad at this little child for exhibiting such prejudice? These are the questions that went through my mind and probably through the mind of the embarrassed mother.   But soon my thoughts shifted to the ill-fated morning of 9/11. I remember being in New Hampshire that morning getting ready to go to...

Leaving America: The Land I Want to Move To

Leaving America: The Land I Want to Move To BY OMID SAFI  This is a question that comes up in almost every conversation I have these days. Almost every single Muslim friend of mine asks the same question. Many Hispanic friends. Quite a few gay/lesbian friends. Many progressive friends. “Where would you move to?” The tone is always the same. It is a hushed kind of fearful concern. It is a different tone now than it was a few months ago. Back when Trump was a walking Oompa-Loompa Orange joke with a bad hairpiece, it was almost a kind of wistful joke. Haa haa haa. Look at us. We’re posting articles about most desirable places to live around the world. You know, like this list of best cities in the world and this piece on Norway being the best country to live in and this article on the 10 best places to live abroad. Sure, we would love to have a place with socialist policies of Scandinavian countries, Mediterranean weather, and Vancouver/Toronto cosmopolitanism. My friends and I would have long, semi-serious conversations. Here are the places that many of my friends have suggested: Turkey? Love, love Turkey. Amazing, cosmopolitan history of Muslims, Jews, and Christians living side by side. Istanbul, truly one of the most gorgeous cities in the world. Problem: increasing authoritarian tendencies in the government. Canada? Oh sweet, friendly neighbors to the north. So cosmopolitan. So polite. So much like America, but with a better socialist healthcare system. Fewer guns. Until recently, there was the problem of having a Prime Minister who was basically George W. Bush-lite (Steven Harper). But now he has been replaced by...

How is Religious Bigotry Playing into Current U.S. American Politics? By Rabbi Amy Eilberg

For months now, we have been bombarded by exhortations about “making America great again.” This mean-spirited and polarizing campaign slogan speaks of an American greatness that I do not recognize or honor. A completely subjective Google search identified the following definitions of American greatness that ring true for me:   We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [sic] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Declaration of Independence) Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.  (Emma Lazarus, engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty) This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in. (Theodore Roosevelt, http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/site/c.elKSIdOWIiJ8H/b.9297493/k.7CB9/Quotations_from_the_speeches_and_other_works_of_Theodore_Roosevelt.htm) Admittedly, the search was conducted by a died-in-the-wool liberal, raised by parents who were as devoted to the Democratic Party as to the Jewish people.  National greatness, of course, is a deeply subjective thing. For a less partisan definition of national greatness, one might ask how the religious texts most honored by Americans throughout our history have defined national identity. In the Five Books of Moses (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), one commandment appears more frequently than any other—thirty-six times, in fact.  It is the command to love, embrace, and do justice for the stranger. We are commanded to champion the needs of the “stranger, the...

How is religious bigotry playing into current U.S. American Politics? By Rev. Dr. Michael Reid Trice

Edmund Burke wrote prior to the American Revolution that: “No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its power of acting and reasoning as fear.”  The United States experienced irrational fear of German Lutherans in the 1890’s, fear of communism in the 1950’s Cold War, and fear today of Muslims in the American War on Terror.  Fear is not unnatural.  It can save one’s life by heightening response-time during a threat at-the-moment.  But there are different forms of fear.  Fear as unchecked anxiety in the public square is a caldron of irrationality, which anticipates awful events by awful people.  There is no  doubt that attacks by terrorist cells in Brussels, Pakistan, Mogadishu, Iraq, Egypt, Bangladesh, and more, provide significant cause for existential alarm to the cause of civilization itself. After all, no person has the right to kill his neighbor out of an ideological conviction.  This is the labor of demagogues, stupidity and hate, that must have no legitimate place in the human future. Even as this is the case, the world is infused with anxiety today.  Heightened anxiety has a strange effect on us.  Using Burke’s words, the “passion of fear” can make human beings seek out some person or group that we perceive will free us from the fear we are experiencing.  The process works like this: We choose a scapegoat who we brand as both the source of our fear and, as Rene Girard points out, is also our salvation from our fear.     Apply this logic to the treatment of Muslims in the United States.  If Muslims are assumed by popular consensus to...

Dr. Omid Safi

Omid Safi is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010. Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam. Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.   Articles: Leaving America: The Land I want to Move to...

Our Muslim Neighbor – Knoxville

Religions for Peace USA seeks to envision a nation in which people of faith and goodwill live together in respect and mutual support, creating paths to peace and justice.  When dangerous mentalities and climates of distrust arise that threaten to obstruct this pathway, Religions for Peace seeks to offer a more positive way forward.  One such offering, formed in recognition of the growing Islamophobia in our country, is the Our Muslim Neighbor initiative. Our Muslim Neighbor seeks “to create a social climate that renders anti-Islamic sentiments immoral and unacceptable.”  We believe relationship building to be the best way of accomplishing this goal.  One way we seek to foster relationship is through a program entitled A Seat At The Table.  These dinners bring 10-12 people of different faith and cultural backgrounds together to share a meal.  During the meal, participants are invited to share their stories.  These dinners seek to dispel harmful prejudices and dismantle incorrect depictions of the Islamic community.  As relationships help eradicate fear and hatred, stories bring people into relationship by transforming abstraction into a real connection with one’s neighbor.  From these dinners we hope attendees choose to host their own gatherings and that ASATT produces a large, interfaith network passionate about creating a positive vision for its community. The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Center for American Progress named Middle Tennessee as one of the most Islamophobic regions in the United States.  With this is mind, the nationally envisioned OMN campaign chose Nashville, TN as its pilot location and has experienced a good deal of success in the area.  Religions for Peace expanded to Knoxville...

Rabbi Brown

Rabbi Joshua Brown is Rabbi at the Temple Israel in Omaha, Nebraska. Rabbi Brown completed his studies at Miami University of Ohio in 2002, with a Bachelor of Arts in Family Studies and Social Work. He graduated from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion with a Master of Arts in Jewish Education and was ordained with a Masters of Arts in Hebrew Letters in 2008. Josh brings with him a wealth of experience in education, camps and social justice, as he served the last three years as Rabbi-Educator at Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, North...

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