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President Obama’s Condemnation of Islamophobia is Admirable – and Overdue

Yesterday President Obama addressed thousands of American-Muslims at the Islamic Society of Baltimore during his first visit to a mosque in the United to condemn anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“We applaud President Obama for his important demonstration of solidarity with the Muslim community – yet we also believe his speech is long overdue,” said Tanenbaum | Center for Interreligious Understanding CEO Joyce Dubensky. “In this climate of increasing religious bias and discrimination, he has taken an important step forward in demonstrating how respect can be put into practice, as modeled by our First Amendment.”

Tanenbaum said that as citizens, we should encourage our political leaders to unify divisions within Americans, including religious differences. Regarding the upcoming political election, Dubensky stated, “Regardless of political affiliation, it’s the responsibility of our next president to take an early stance against the stereotypes, hate and alienation that result when people think that terrorism and Islam are synonymous.”

Tanenbaum offers a range of educational curricula and other materials including its Combating Extremism resources, which help teachers and individuals address extremism constructively in classrooms and communities.

Peacemakers in Our Midst by Joyce Dubensky, CEO

A lot of my work at Tanenbaum involves our Peacemakers. Men and women who are driven by religion to pursue peace and confront violence, hate and horror, even when doing so puts them at risk – either because they may be injured or because their freedom may be circumscribed. These Peacemakers are a special breed, coming from places where the world’s most violent crises often play out. Perhaps because this is my perspective, I have been particularly moved by the tragic deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson and Staten Island, and I have also been touched by the local peacebuilders in our midst, who are trying to help us move beyond the pain and toward justice.

These are very difficult and complicated times. Community members question the seeming intractability of racial tension in America, the use (and abuse) of power by police officers and the fairness (and unfairness) of the judicial system.  Many are angry and frustrated, moved by a profound sense of injustice. And yet, we see police in New York who have shown restraint and significantly upheld our freedom to protest. Additionally, there are those who seek to capitalize on the unrest – by perpetuating the divide, looting, and menacing law enforcement and community members alike.

Standing amid all this tension are anti-racist religious and spiritual leaders, who are working locally and tirelessly to promote peace.

In Ferguson, religious leaders called on their community to respond peacefully to the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown case, and to take positive action such as by working collectively and voting. In New York City, spiritual leaders across many faiths have also united to pursue justice following the death of Eric Garner during an arrest by police. Some of them have protested and watched as members of their communities were incarcerated, while others have called on their congregations to speak with one voice for equal treatment for all

In response to the death of Eric Garner, a coalition of NYC religious and spiritual leaders are calling on our political leaders to make changes that they hope will help rebuild the community’s trust with police officers and government officials. In a signed letter, they delineated a series of actions they hope will move us forward, including a call for NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to appoint Special Prosecutors to investigate and prosecute incidents when there is a question of excessive force and wrongful death involving police officers.  Whether in response to their voices or otherwise, I am delighted to note that Mr. Schneiderman has now asked Governor Cuomo to take state action to enable such a process to move forward, subject to subsequent legislation.

These generally unknown anti-racist religious and spiritual leaders in New York are not household names like Martin Luther King, Jr.  But even though they are not widely acknowledged, they are active in our midst, seeking to heal our communities and to restore trust.

So, while we always support the Tanenbaum Peacemakers working in places like Iraq, Nigeria, El Salvador and Israel, we also pause today, and thank those who are working at home, striving to make our communities safer for all of us.

– Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO