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The World Around Us: Live Webinar Wednesday, May 27th

The World Around Us
Lessons from Combating Supremacism for the Religiously Inclusive Workplace

LIVE WEBINAR: https://tiny.cc/0mbwoz
Wednesday, May 27th | 12:00 – 1:00 pm ET

Mark Fowler, Deputy CEO, Tanenbaum
Arno Michaelis, author of My Life After Hate/ co-author of The Gift of Our Wounds.

Join Tanenbaum Deputy CEO, Rev. Mark Fowler and Arno Michaelis, author of My Life After Hate and co-author of The Gift of Our Wounds, to better understand what hate and supremacism look like today. This conversation will draw on Arno’s insights as a current leader in the peacebuilding field and the former founder of a worldwide skinhead organization. Learn more about how workplaces are impacted in the current socio-political environment and how they can respond.

Click here to register for the webinar today!

Learning is the Most Important Process in a Human Life

Guest blog post by Arno Michaelis, author of My Life After Hate/co-author of The Gift of Our Wounds


I’ve learned a lot in my 49 years. I spent 7 years of my life leading and organizing white nationalist hate groups, before brave people who I claimed to hate lead me to a better place. Another 7 years in the rave counterculture, shaking my ass to house music in an environment that was the polar-opposite of hate and violence. Then, on the MLK Holiday of 2020, I celebrated a decade of working internationally in the peace building and counter-violent extremism sphere, preventing and intervening in violent extremism of every sort. Today it is my personal mission to bring about a society where all people are valued and included.

Here are some things I’ve learned that I feel are important to understand during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Human beings have been conditioned to narrow our minds to binary thinking in response to trauma. This is an evolved trait that for the bulk of our 200,000 years of existence has enabled us to survive. When early Homo sapiens were faced with a saber-toothed tiger, we had to recognize the threat and conceive an escape plan instantly. Spending even a moment in contemplation meant we’d end up as dinner.

Today, we live in an exponentially different world, yet we retain the same survival instincts. While physical threats are certainly still a thing, our struggle for survival is no longer simply trying to avoid being eaten by large predators. And for billions of people, our struggle for survival is no longer simply about finding food and shelter. The fact is that up until society was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we just weren’t struggling like we used to. We didn’t have to, thanks to modern advances in agriculture, economy, and technology.

Now, with worldwide shelter-at-home orders in effect, massive, sudden unemployment, and the grim toll of the COVID-19 virus itself, our survival struggle is once again front and center. We are all suffering because of the pandemic, in one way or another.

As noted above, when people suffer, they instinctively seek binary answers: yes/no, black/white, good/evil, etc. They seek certainty. And binary answers are the raw material of all violent extremist narratives. Variations of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” are common to the rhetoric of every form of religious and political extremism, as are stories of oppression and feelings of victimhood. We want to believe that we’re with the good guys, and that we’re fighting against the bad guys. When our respective lived experiences lead us to feel an affinity towards a particular identity or ideology—essentially, a story—unprocessed suffering can lead us a step further to hate those who lack that affinity.

In the society we all took for granted not too long ago, most people had healthy ways to process their trauma: faith, music, art, sport, hobbies, academics, etc. Every person who was able to process their suffering, in whatever way was their jam, became someone who wasn’t going to transfer the hurt to someone else.

Because of the pandemic, conventional means of coping are no longer an option. Now, if we’re not working in a field deemed “essential”, most of us have nothing to do but sit at home, connected to a global information system that we rely on to communicate, order groceries, and somehow keep ourselves entertained. That same system is also really good at producing echo chambers.

All violent extremist narratives are interdependent. The far-Right requires a far-Left for the ideology to function, and vice-versa. Violent Islamists exist in symbiosis with Islamophobes. Extremist beliefs are so dependent on their perceived opposition that at least as much time and energy is spent defining the out-group as is defining the in-group. As we all suffer through the pandemic, it’s all too easy to willfully forget that we’re all suffering together, and convince ourselves that there’s an ominous bad guy behind COVID-19. In this way, self-organized groups of people convince themselves that their version of the story is reality, affirm and validate each other, and then galvanize and separate themselves from those on the other political or religious pole—extremists who are equally convinced of their own version of reality.

This is how and why extremist ideologies flourish during times of great struggle. Because life has suddenly become hard, it becomes easy to regress to binary thinking that feeds violent extremism, directly or indirectly. The upheaval of the certainty that once ensured our survival can lead us to our doom today.

In order to transcend the lure of such extreme convictions and certainty, we must intentionally work to see ourselves in others, and to see others in ourselves—especially when who they are, or how they think, falls outside of our perceived in-group. Failing to do so feeds violent extremism.

Which is why we must direct our energy towards healing, and connection, rather than tripling-down on our political beliefs. Faith in the basic, primal goodness of humanity is the soil that nourishes our finest evolved qualities: kindness, compassion, courage, forgiveness, and love.

Today, more than ever, we need these noble aspects of our human experience in order to process our individual and collective trauma in a healthy way, just as we need to wash our hands, wear masks, and isolate ourselves to stop the spread of COVID-19.

We have the power to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic more enlightened, more connected, and more able to progress towards a society where all are valued and included. Or we can spiral downwards in a might-makes-right mess of separatism and strife.

Engaging with our faith and our love, choosing to listen and learn rather than dictate and dominate, is what will make the difference.

by Arno Michaelis
Author of My Life After Hate/co-author of The Gift of Our Wounds

 


 

Listening Is Hard

Friends –

Following an evening of Courageous Conversations, the audience’s key takeaway was the power of listening. Though it sounds simple…it’s anything but. These days, we’ve stopped hearing each other. We talk over one another. We prepare our responses while people are speaking. We don’t even consider listening. It’s the new normal. And it’s contagious.

Former white supremacist, Arno Michaelis and former Muslim supremacist Mubin Shaikh, shared powerful stories of how civil conversations helped pull them out of extremism – conversations we should all be aspiring to have. And Kiran Thadhani described why dialogue works.  

Arno shared that everything he did during his extremist days was designed to cultivate hostility. He deliberately provoked people, and he wanted (and expected) people to react with hostility and even aggression. But when random people treated him with kindness—like a woman behind a counter at McDonald’s—he was rendered powerless.

Mubin discussed how 9/11 disoriented his radical beliefs. And how he went to Syria to deeply study and debate the Qur’an with a Sufi master. Mubin recalls how the Sufi master’s demeanor and approach had the greatest impact on him. He was nice, always very loving, smiling and happy. Through this engagement, Mubin “pulled a 180 and became an adversary of his old extremist self.”

Panelist Kiran Thadhani, from Seeds of Peace, rounded out the discussion by sharing how dialogue helps create change. It’s not a method for winning an argument, but rather one that helps build a foundation for answering today’s burning question, how do we all exist here together?

Together, we unpacked the power of kindness and courage, and how Courageous Conversations, even when we differ and they are uncomfortable, present an opportunity for interrupting extremism and division.

I invite you to watch and then share the evening’s footage, and then consider holding a Courageous Conversation of your own.

With courage,

Joyce

A Path Forward: Confronting Hate in America

Ken Parker, prior to leaving the KKK and NSM.

Knowing anti-Semitism is on the rise again. Seeing what happened in Charlottesville, then Pittsburg. Hearing the chants, “Jews will not replace us.” In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, we have to ask the hard question.

Are there some people—bigots and extremists—who are so extreme, they just can’t change?  Our answer, “NO!”

Support for this can be found in Deeyah Kahn’s beautiful, courageous and heart-wrenching Netflix documentary White Right: Meeting the Enemy. In the film, on the Unite the Right rally and the white nationalists who participated, Kahn introduces us to white supremacist leader and Born Again Christian, Ken Parker. At that time, he was active in the Nationalist Socialist Movement (NSM) and a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). 

Ken hands over his Grand Dragon robe to race relations expert Daryl Davis

The film captures what Ken had to say during the 2017 rally

Jews and homosexuals, they should be exterminated, every single one of them.” 

I absolutely despise Jews, so yes I’m a racist.”

“I will never break bread with a Jew! Ever.”

Today it’s different. Ken is now a “former.” He retired from the NSM and the KKK and denounces hate groups. Part of his evolution included a process of reconciliation, and Ken reaching out to the very people who he used to vilify.

Ken Parker with Jewish Holocaust Educator, Tamara Meyer

Tanenbaum’s Combating Extremism campaign partnered with Arno Michaelis, a former leader in the skinhead movement and now a peacebuilder, who pushed Ken to meet his first Jew—something he vowed never to do.

Arno introduced Ken to Tamara Meyer, a Jewish Holocaust Educator, and to race relations expert Daryl Davis, and videotaped Ken “break bread with a Jew.”  And now, in partnership with Arno, we are proud to present what happened.

A Path Forward: Confronting Hate in America, affirms that a powerful way to move forward through hate is with empathy, understanding and respect. Take a look. And let us know what you think.

 

Controversial Conversations

Friends-

Yesterday was #GivingTuesday and we’re thankful—for all of you who made donations. So, to show our appreciation, we’re making today Tanenbaum #GratitudeWednesday. Because, notwithstanding all that plague us, including religious bigotry and hate, there’s much to be grateful for, including a pair of Tanenbaum friends who exemplify how to move beyond hatred to love.

As part of #GratitudeWednesday, we’re sharing some clips and photos of Arno Michaelis, a former White Supremacist, and his Sikh partner for peace, Pardeep Singh Kaleka, taken during one of our recent events, Controversial Conversations. And we thank you, because we can only hold these learning conversations with your support.

For the first time ever, we live-streamed the discussion on Facebook and Instagram! And we learned a lot about white supremacy, Sikh beliefs in our humanity, and how Pardeep began healing after his father was killed (by another white supremacist).

And again, my thanks,

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

Combating Extremism – A Dangerous Symbiosis

Dear Friends,

Last month, we shared information about a specific extremist ideology—white supremacy. But no extremist movement exists in a vacuum. With this month’s Combating Extremism materials, we take a look at extremism from another angle: how extremists on opposing sides invigorate each other.

Listen to reformed white supremacist Arno Michaelis in this month’s video resource: “Without that enemy, I don’t think we would have grown anywhere near as strong as we did or as fast as we did.”

After watching, let us know: Do you think Arno’s right? Or instead of the two sides fanning each other’s flames, are there ways for extremists to embrace respect and dignity for all?

I’d love to hear what you think…
Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

P.S. Please download, share and use our monthly resources. Encourage friends, neighbors, educators and community leaders to sign up to receive our free Combating Extremism materials.

P.P.S. Also, check out Arno’s story and how he left his white supremacist life in this additional video interview.

CALL TO ACTION: HELP PROTECT THE LIFE AND SAFTEY OF PEACEMAKER IN ACTION, RICARDO ESQUIVIA

Last week, Tanenbaum received troubling information that Peacemaker in Action, Ricardo Esquivia, is facing severe political persecution in Colombia. Recently, a key associate of Ricardo’s was arrested on false charges and several others received written death threats. There is also evidence that the military is building a case against Ricardo, accusing him of being a guerrilla allied with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Though there are many details that still need to be confirmed, we believe the threats against Ricardo and the members of his peace movement are real and that their lives and safety are at risk.

Ricardo received Tanenbaum’s Peacemaker in Action award in 2005 for his work as a driver of peace and community development in Colombia. For over 40 years, Ricardo has helped conflict-affected communities peacefully reconcile differences and build a better future. Despite his work for peace (or because of it), Ricardo has been repeatedly threatened, baselessly, with detention or legal action. It is time to end this harassment of a proven servant of the Colombian people.

This is a situation where the Peacemakers in Action Network and YOU can have a huge impact. The Peacemakers prepared a Statement of Solidarity to show their support and encourage the public to act. By calling on the leaders identified within the Statement, YOU can help ensure the safety and freedom of Ricardo and the members of his peace movement.

The Peacemakers in Action Network stands as a voice for peace and justice. Today, they call on YOU to ensure the Colombian authorities to heed our collective demands and end political persecution of Ricardo Esquivia and his associates in Montes de Maria – immediately!

 

What you can do:

 

Follow the steps outlined in the Peacemakers in Action Network Statement of Solidarity

 

Sign this petition