Islamophobia isn’t a joke

Friends-

At a town hall event on August 27th, Rep. Steve King (R – Iowa), specifically referred to China’s crackdown on the ethnic Uighur minority and other Islamic groups. But then he said,

“They want them to put on Chinese clothing and eat Chinese diet, which includes trying to force the Muslims to eat pork,” King said. “That’s actually the only part of that that I agree with, everybody ought to eat pork. If you have a shortage of bacon, you can’t be happy.”

Taken in context, it appears that Rep. King may have thought he was bringing attention to the issue, while also attempting to make an inside joke to his constituents. Iowa is the top pork-producing state in the U.S. However, this is also not the first time King has scorned Islam’s dietary restrictions. In a 2018 Breitbart interview when discussing his district’s meatpacking plants, he objected to the plants employing Somali Muslims, saying,

“I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops.”

While King is not the only American lawmaker who has made Problematic Statements, this is also not the first time that King’s statements have sparked controversy. He has been condemned by his Democratic and Republican colleagues alike for his repeated use of Islamophobia, anti-Semitic, and white supremacist rhetoric.

And that rhetoric is dangerous. At Tanenbaum, we understand the devastating effects rhetoric such as this can cause, often with devastating and deadly consequences.

Tanenbaum unequivocally condemns Islamophobia and all forms of religious bigotry. We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and xenophobia, and hold not just our elected representatives—but ourselves and everyone around us—to higher standards.

You can be part of the solution. Together we can create a groundswell of credible, responsible voices against religious hate. One way is to use our Combating Extremism resources, Explaining Extremism and Addressing Islamophobia and Five Ways to Counter Extremism on Social Media for practical approaches to opposing and discussing extremism.

In partnership,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

 

Beyond Grief

Friends—

This weekend left no time to grieve. Instead, there was only time for fear. More Americans have died at the hands of white domestic terrorists since 2001 than from any other type of terrorist attack in our country. Men, women and children of every religion, race, nationality, age, gender, ethnicity, sex and class are being gunned down at school, shopping and during prayer. And many of us no longer feel safe.

It’s time to understand the phenomenon that spurs on white terrorism, to recognize the many ways it is fueled (including through social media) and to do something. If you haven’t yet read our overview of White Supremacy, I encourage you to do so now. And when you’re ready to respond, consider our resource 5 Ways to Combat Extremism on Social Media—because we’re all responsible for finding a pathway back to safety and communities where differences are respected.

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

How you choose to react depends on who you—and who we are.

Friends—
 
I am sad—again. Once more, on behalf of Tanenbaum, I send our sympathy to the families of the deceased and injured in Saturday’s Synagogue shooting in California. 
 
I am also troubled. Because the violence isn’t a surprise. Hating others based on their religion is now normalized.  
 
While the reality is that only a minority of individuals take hate to the extreme, with a new attack every week, it doesn’t feel that way. It seems easier to define and castigate other people based on their differences. It takes more for us to see people, acknowledge them, be respectfully curious, and inclusive.
 
Which direction you choose is up to you—and up to all of us. 
 
That’s why Tanenbaum persists through heartbreak and today’s hate-filled realities. That’s why we work to stop daily acts of bigotry, counter extremism, and support our Peacemakers—women and men who stand up to violence in Sri Lanka, Yemen, Indonesia, and Bosnia—people just like you and me.
 
Choosing to engage with people who are different isn’t always an easy choice. Yet, it is a choice we can make. And that includes those of us who already embrace differences, those who are wary, and even those who perpetrate hate.
 
Don’t believe me? Check out this clip on one former white supremacist taking another to his first meeting with a Jewish person. You’ll see that we can reach across differences. 

With sorrow and fierce determination.

Joyce S. Dubensky

CEO, Tanenbaum

Coptic Christians are still being targeted, when will this end?

Friends,

On November 4th, the New York Times published an article, Egypt says it killed 19 militants after deadly attack on Christians. The attack occurred last Friday, November 2nd, when gunmen opened fire onto three buses as they departed from the Monastery of St. Samuel, in the desert south of Cairo. The attack killed seven people in one bus and wounded 19 people total. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

We’ve been watching the ongoing persecution of Christians and our hearts ache. Tragically this is not a new phenomenon. In May of 2017, Tanenbaum published a blog post condemning a similarly violent attack which targeted another bus filled with Egyptian Coptic Christians. 

Why has there been no change?

On Sunday at the World Youth Forum, Egypt’s President Sisi responded to the attack, by affirming religious freedom for all and reiterating his commitment to fight discrimination. In contrast, critics maintain that freedom of religion is currently in an uncertain state under the current Egyptian administration. 

In this moment of sorrow, Tanenbaum stands with the Coptic Community in Egypt, with Christians worldwide and with our global community—including all people, from all, or no, traditions.

We have a responsibility to pay attention, to stand up to the hate that fuels violence and terrorism internationally and domestically, and to make sure that we do not let hatred inform our hearts and minds.

The time is now, 

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

Tree of Life – Pittsburgh Synagogue

Friends–

With a heavy heart, Tanenbaum condemns the violence that erupted yesterday morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue near Pittsburgh. At least eleven are dead. Families irrevocably shattered. At least six injured. And a shooter who was reportedly making anti-Semitic comments as this slaughter unfolded.

The scale and gravity of this attack, coming only a week after bomb threats, scares all of us—as Americans and as individuals from a variety of minority religious tradition in our diverse country. This shooting is part of a larger pattern in which people are being targeted for their beliefs—religious and also social and political.

Bigotry and violence have no place in America. The discourse that divides, dehumanizes and demeans civility lays the groundwork for violence. That is why we must all stand shoulder to shoulder with those who exercise their sacred right to pray together, to practice their faith, to peacefully assemble, and to advocate for their beliefs.

Tanenbaum strongly urges all communities and groups to reject the violence of hate and the discourse that breeds it. This includes the anti-Semitism so horrifically visible at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Our hearts are with all those who lost loved ones and were injured. Our commitment is to you and to our national values.

We stand—always—for a world that respects and protects our differences—including our different ways of believing.

 


Image: Vector Illustration

The New Task Force on Religious Liberty—What’s Going On?

Dear Friends,

Behind many of the headlines, there is a forceful debate on what the 1st Amendment means in 2018, and how to practice religious freedom in a country that is increasingly diverse—religiously and non-religiously.

On Monday, Attorney General Sessions announced the creation of the Religious Liberty Task Force. His speech touches on our history and some of our historic values, reflects what moves him, and talks to the actions the administration is taking (and has taken) with respect to religious liberty.

His speech is informative. But for us, it also raises questions. (See the full speech delivered by Attorney General Sessions here). As you’ll see, his words raise foundational questions for all of us…

  • How do you put religious freedom into practice in a country where there are a variety of different beliefs?
  • What is the proper role of government—when the Constitution says it cannot establish religion?

Check out our reflections on the Attorney General’s remarks and some more questions to consider, by clicking here.

And please, tell us what you think. Make no mistake. Religious liberty—and what it looks like—is one of the key issues facing us today.

With respect and concern,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum


AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The Muslim Ban – Who’s Next??

Dear Friends:

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Travel Ban, which we believe to be a Muslim Ban, is a disheartening moment for people dedicated to religious pluralism. At it’s essence, the travel ban targets people of a particular religion. In this case, it’s Muslims… but it leaves open the question – Who’s next?

We have steadfastly opposed the Muslim ban (see A Hidden Impact of the Muslim Ban), and we’ve partnered with others who have joined together in amicus briefs opposing the ban. Today, we joined our friends at the Islamic Networks Group (ING) and it’s Know Your Neighbor Campaign, in issuing Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters Statement on Travel Ban Supreme Court Ruling.

The statement’s call to dialogue with your neighbor is a call to action. And one place where you can start is our Guidelines for Conducting Open Conversations, a “how-to” guide to help you share and discuss all of our Combating Extremism resources.

This is a time for everyone who believes in religious pluralism to take a stand. By downloading and sharing our resources, by speaking out – and listening – we can undermine and untangle the misinformation that feeds injustice.

In solidarity,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

Masterpiece Cakeshop – The Five Key Takeaways

Friends,

I don’t know if you’ve been following the Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuit or the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in that matter yesterday—but we have. It’s the case of a religious man, a baker, who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

At Tanenbaum, we see this case as raising core questions of our national identity. We actually filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court because this case challenges us to answer:

  • How can we live respectfully and honor our differences as a religiously diverse country?
  • What do we do, when core principles that guide us—like the right to freely practice our faith and the right to live and go into stores without suffering discrimination—clash?
  • Where do we draw the line between a religious baker who objects to baking a cake based on his deeply held beliefs, and a gay couple protected by their state’s anti-discrimination laws when they want to purchase goods for their wedding?

In the decision, a majority of the Court agreed that the case presented difficult questions. Rather than answer those difficult questions, however, the Court focused on the conduct of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which it described as “inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality.” In fact, the Supreme Court held that their deliberations reflected “religious hostility” and were neither “tolerant nor respectful of” the baker’s religious beliefs.

By ruling that the underlying procedures were unfair and declining to reach the difficult questions, the Court put these foundational questions off for another day. But that is only one of The Five Key Takeaways from Masterpiece Cakeshop.

1. “IT’s not over”… The court’s ruling was narrow… the question of how to implement religious freedom when it results in not complying with anti-discrimination laws is yet to be determined.

2. YES! Those who implement the law must be neutral and practice respect (including respect for religion and diverse religious beliefs)! The principle behind the court’s narrow decision is spot on. Those who implement our laws must do so in an even-handed, neutral way and that means…they cannot demean / evidence bias against / or ridicule religious beliefs (or non-religious beliefs) with which they disagree during a legal proceeding. And that principle applies both to regulatory commissioners and judges in our courts, whether they are secular or deeply religious.

3. The Court says the LGBTQI community deserves dignity…but members of that community still have to ask, “What happens when I get married?” Though the Masterpiece Court spoke of the critical need to respect LGBTQI people in the public square, there is now an aura of uncertainty for the gay community. Yes, they can legally marry. But they still have to ask: “Will I be able to purchase the wedding cake, flowers, or hire the best photographer in town?” AND, “Will I be able to adopt a child?”

4. The U.S. Supreme Court mandates tolerance in the application of the law, religious freedom, and in our treatment of the gay community—but what do we really mean by tolerance? The Court tells us what it doesn’t look like. But what does it look like? And how do we put it into practice?

5. The Supreme Court has a critical role to play in how our country moves forward. Objections to providing services based on religious beliefs can have long-term implications for religious freedom—and whether it survives for all of us. Freedom of religion is preserved in the First Amendment. To put it into practice, however, we rely on anti-discrimination laws that require people to provide goods and services no matter someone’s religion. Those same anti-discrimination laws also protect people against racial bias, age discrimination, bias based on ability status, and in some states, bigotry based on sexual orientation. If the religious beliefs of someone choosing to serve the public are legally able to undo these laws when it comes to a person’s sexual orientation, why can’t those same religious beliefs allow for discrimination based on a customer’s religious or non-religious beliefs? Why couldn’t a baker refuse to bake a cake for an interfaith couple, because one of them was Jewish and her Christian partner might be led astray? Or because the couple were atheists? Muslims? Sikhs?

So where does the ruling leave us, as a country? That, my friends, is up to us.

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

 


Photo credit: AP

5 Reflections on London and Virginia

Flowers left in memory for the victims of the attack at Finsbury Park Mosque. June 2017 | Getty Images

Dear friends,

Once again, on a Monday morning, we awoke to news that made us stop in our tracks— terrorism and the slaughter of a 17-year-old girl on Father’s Day because she was Muslim. Again, we mourn and extend our condolences to the families, friends and communities who are suffering these losses most directly.

Below are my 5 Reflections on London and Virginia:

  1. I am heartsick. But I also realize that the volume of the horrors has a numbing effect on too many of us.
  2. As numbness to the deaths sets in, fear is escalating at the randomness with which terrorism and hate crimes are becoming a daily norm.
  3. Terrorism is not limited to any one group or ethnicity. Just look at the perpetrators of these two crimes and you’ll see what I mean.
  4. Terrorism targets all of us— including Muslims.
  5. And the question… How is it that London and Virginia grab at our heartstrings— but we barely notice atrocities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Somalia, India, etc.?

With great sorrow,

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

Behavior vs. Belief: A Heated Debate

Bernie Sanders | Credit Win McNamee/Getty

Senator Bernie Sanders recently faced criticism for his questioning of Russell Vought during Vought’s confirmation hearing for Deputy Director for the Office of Budget Management. Sanders brought up a blog post in which Vought wrote that Muslims who “have rejected Jesus Christ” stand “condemned”. Sanders called this language “hateful” and said he would vote against Vought’s confirmation. Many leaders from a variety of Christian denominations have responded that Vought’s belief is a core tenant of Christianity, and one shared by many Americans.

Those who thought Sanders’ comments toward Vought were inappropriate, or even unconstitutional, argue that he was imposing a religious test on Vought. Some Muslim advocates have defended Sanders, saying that in the current political climate it’s important to ensure that nominees will treat all Americans fairly. This difference of opinion perhaps stems, not only from the different political or religious ideologies of those who are responding to the encounter, but also in whether they viewed Vought’s beliefs or his behavior as under attack.

One of Tanenbaum’s core principles is that when religious issues emerge in the workplace, employers should  focus on behavior and not belief. Employees are free to believe what they want to believe, and it is not appropriate (or, in many cases, legal) to argue with someone about their deeply held convictions. That said, it is appropriate to have standards for behavior in the workplace, and to require employees to meet those standards. For example, an employee may believe that homosexuality is an abomination, and is entitled to that belief. If, however, the employee starts harassing LGBT colleagues or posting defamatory statements on the company’s intranet page, such behavior would threaten to create a hostile work environment and the company would then be within its rights to discipline that employee.

Similarly, Vought has both a moral and constitutional right to his religious beliefs, including his belief that non-Christians will go to hell. If Sanders was criticizing Vought simply for holding that or any other religious belief, it would be inappropriate. However, Sanders’ office has since stated that he was concerned, not with Vought’s beliefs themselves, but whether the expression of those beliefs would prevent Vought from “carry[ing] out the duties of his office in a way that treats all Americans equally.” That criticism is far more valid because it focuses on what Vought’s behavior would be like if confirmed.

In the future, politicians who are concerned about nominees’ statements on religion should be careful to frame their concerns around the nominee’s behavior, not their beliefs.

By: Eliza Blanchard
Assistant Director, Workplace & Health Care Programs