Posts

MUSLIM BAN: History Repeating Itself?

Dear Friends,

The current news cycle is reporting that President Trump will soon issue an executive order temporarily banning all travel to the U.S. by men, women and children from seven predominantly Muslim countries and precluding most refugees from entering our country. While it appears that these bans will be time-limited for most, they may be indefinite when it comes to Syrian refugees.

In the name of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and basic human decency, Tanenbaum calls on President Trump to refuse to issue an executive order that would bar a single religious group from entering the United States.

This potential policy bears the harrowing hallmark of U.S. treatment toward refugees during the Holocaust. Then and now, such policies—even if short-lived—can amount to a death sentence. During World War II, the U.S. turned away thousands of Jewish men, women and children fleeing imminent extinction in Europe, fearing they might be “Nazi spies.” Upon return home, actual Nazis sent these innocent individuals to Auschwitz to die. Their only crime: being Jewish.

Today, the refugees are people fleeing terror, whether from terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Shabaab, or from governments that slaughter their citizens as collateral damage. Even if there is an executive order that makes an exception for persecuted religious minorities, such as the many Christians suffering in the Middle East, every indication is that this would not include the Muslims who are also living in imminent danger—in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. Their only crime: being Muslim.

Terror does not discriminate, but a ban like this would make the U.S. a nation that does.

Equally alarming, a ban on Muslims with visas or those seeking them would have consequences that most Americans would not support. Students currently in the U.S. would not be able to visit their families abroad, because they might not be allowed to return. Muslim U.S. citizens awaiting the arrival of a spouse or other loved one might not be able to reunite. Fears of deportation and internment would heighten for Muslims living in the U.S. And all Americans, not just those from the Muslim community, would be further disconnected, as unfounded stereotypes about our Muslim neighbors become the law of our land.

And the refugees. While strong safeguards must be in place to identify those that are a threat, we must remember that, whether Jews from Europe during the 1940s or Muslims from the Middle East and Africa today, we are talking about innocent men and women just like us, who seek only to save their lives, and the lives of their children, by finding a safe-haven in a nation founded in the name of religious freedom.

Our government’s decision to deny refuge for Jews, who left their homes out of desperation, will forever remain a stain on America’s claim to being a moral compass. Let us not make the same mistake again.

With commitment to our nation’s values,

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

Five Reflections on America in Transition

This article was published on the Huffington Post Blog November 25, 2016 


In my capacity as the CEO of Tanenbaum (an organization that tackles religious conflicts so that difference will be respected), the 2016 election was hard. The identity politics and lingo of hatred were the opposite of the kind of country we want to live in – from the targeting of Muslims, characterizing homeless Syrian refugees as automatic extremists, to the sudden and growing reality of swastikas in the public space, and the economic, social and racial divide within the country.

In the weeks following the election, I’ve had the chance to reflect with the people around me. It’s been a haunting journey with fear, sorrow, hope and a few hard lessons learned. With respect, I share my Five Reflections with you now.

Reflection #1 The feeling that “I’m in real danger” is palpable.

Immediately after the election, I felt a need to reach out to people I care about, just to touch base. I heard from friends who had supported the President-elect, but were upset about the hate rhetoric and worried that it might not recede. Others shared concerns – their responses left me breathless.

From my Sikh doctor friend, who is also a Major in the U.S. Army:

“I feel that the tone [during and after the election] has created animosity and division. This will be yet another crucible that Sikhs, Muslims and other minorities will endure. … The Republican Party needs to show America that it still cares about ideals such as diversity and religious freedom that have made us great. So far their silence has shown a complicit support of hateful rhetoric and has many of us wondering if America is really two very divided nations?”

From my friend, a successful professional woman, and a Muslim:

“I will never, ever, ever forget the night my babies went to sleep crying in fear. the sick feeling in my stomach got even worse with the appointment of Bannon.”

From an African-American Communications expert:

“I’m dumbfounded by the number of people who voted for Trump who didn’t do so because they are themselves racists, xenophobes or misogynists, but because the racism, xenophobia and misogyny that Trump spewed didn’t even register for them. Of course, being blind to it (or turning a blind eye to it) equates to tacit approval of those mindsets and that’s what so shocking and frankly frightening, especially when it comes to my own mixed-race family that I feel now I must be on constant guard to protect.”

From an academic leader who is Catholic:

“I am trying to ‘lead’ as faculty staff and students struggle with how to respond, from offering sanctuary to undocumented students, to forming a ‘resistance movement.’ Sadly, there has also been some ugliness. Sigh.”

From a Christian woman who cares for other people’s children and their homes:

“What will happen to women in America?”

Reflection #2: The fears are grounded in reality.

In addition to the news of protestors, the debates on whether to acknowledge President-elect Trump as our duly elected leader, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported an uptick in hate crimes after the election (based on reports, not all of which could then be verified). This was alarming given the FBI’s 2015 report that hate crimes had escalated, with a 67% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2014 to 2015. I am terrified by how some people with racist views have gone public and now seem comfortable freely expressing their prejudice. When did anti-Semitism stop being a dirty word?

But I’m also seeing the ugliness up close, within my personal community.

From a colleague:

“My son’s school had mass protests today after these messages were found yesterday: ‘F—k stupid Latino immigrants … F—k N—s … ISIS is calling, Muslims can leave … (Heart) Trump!’ He was leading the charge (yes, I’m proud of him).”

Photographed at a university in New York | 2016

Photographed at a university in New York | 2016

From a Union Employee Campaigning in Virginia:

“My whole life, I never felt anything about race. But when I was in Virginia knocking on doors for the election, the people would slam the doors in my face, shouting N—.”

Reflection #3: Some people are feeling paralyzed – while others are in “doing” mode, to protect an inclusive social fabric.

I personally witnessed responses from people in my community, and noted with surprise that I had moments of challenge with moving forward. I am a true believer in respectful exchanges and the power of listening to understand rather than confront. So I surprised myself when I attended a one-year old’s birthday party and met someone I had not known from the Midwest.

Though I am almost always a friendly type, I found myself uncomfortable – an unusual experience for me – wondering how to talk about the election and whether we would be able to do so. Though I opted to jump in, as per usual, it was not without trepidation. And that is new. For the record, we shared a concern about division in our country, and what we agreed is a surge in the normalization of hatemongering.

Yet, across the country, and certainly in New York, people dedicated to justice and respect for all came together. Tanenbaum was among the supporters of an important community gathering called #IAMAMERICA, spearheaded by Debbie Almontaser and our interfaith community, which believes in all of us.

Several of my friends donated to causes that protected the people and the rights that they feared will be lost. One Jewish woman, a lawyer in a major firm, sent out a November 9th email titled “This is not about politics” and encouraged her colleagues to make contributions to organizations that pursue justice.

# 4: Listening to One Another is Hard —- but Informative!

Even from those closest to me, who share my values about trying to put the Golden Rule into practice, I saw how communicating across the divide is not always easy – particularly about the last election. For me, it is important and it happened in an unexpected way.

From my plumber Tony:

I have the world’s best plumber. And when the bathroom started leaking into the dining room, he showed up and quickly, cleanly and with kindness took care of what could have been a holiday nightmare. We’ve always been friendly, and we got to talking about the election. I listened hard, and one thing was crystal clear. Tony had voted for better business opportunities.

“I learned a long time ago that there are two types of businessmen. The good guys who do a good job, charge a fair rate and have to beg to be paid so they can feed their families. And the guys to tell you like it is, what they’ll do, and get paid. President-elect Trump cares about us. He’ll fight for us.”

Tony’s not a hater, bigot or a person who stereotypes cruelly. He is a reason we must not stereotype President-elect Trump’s supporters.

Reflection #5: Amid hate crimes, top government appointments that stir anxiety among many, and the emergence of neo-Nazism (and the alt-right), there are reasons for hope.

These are days when our President-elect properly condemned bigotry and, then, during a meeting with the New York Times, said he disavowed the alt-right, white supremacy gathering held in Washington (where hate-rhetoric about Jews prevailed and gestures from the Third Reich could be seen). As a master of Twitter, however, we note that he could do so much more – like strongly condemning acts of the religious harassment, racism and prejudice, and violence.

And right after the election, I was struck by insights I would not have expected, but appreciate. I read an op-ed by Glenn Beck, who urged on all of us the importance of listening – to those you fear and disagree with. For me, hearing Mr. Beck speak of overcoming the divide, a man I used to consider only divisive himself, was a reason for hope. Equally striking was Nick Kristof’s insight that Liberals readily condemn the stereotyping of Latinos and Muslims, but have been quick to stereotype Trump voters. Honest reflection is a step on the path forward.

Establishing a just society and putting it into practice is a long-term effort. One that is always characterized by fits and starts. We have just come out of a fraught election. For those concerned with justice that honors our differences, this is a time for vigilance. Many have rational fears from the months of divisive rhetoric, recent hate crimes and the fears of more.

Yet, now is the time to take a risk and reach out to people whose religious, political, social convictions are different, and even opposite, from our own. A good place to start may be with the people closest to you – or your plumber. It is time to hone the elusive skill of listening to learn. And what better time to start than during the holiday season?

Election 2016: Now What?

Dear Friends,

Election 2016 (and the years of escalating acrimony that preceded it) has shaken our core beliefs about ourselves and our country. Across our nation, we’ve lost a sense of shared values about what it means to be an American, to live in the United States, and how to be great in the 21st century. Political leaders defined opponents as the “other” while touting fallacies as truths. We heard them, and we believed them. Why? Because we don’t talk with each other.

Now, we are left with a fractured American identity, fictionalized realities that breed stereotypes—and tribalism that is too often rooted in our religious, ethnic and social differences. But there is an antidote: listening to one another.

We haven’t been doing much of that lately. Instead, we’ve heard people talking over one another, loudly declaring their truths and demonizing those who are different. The result was predictable. Right now, we find ourselves in separate camps – women and workers; Hispanics, Blacks and whites; Jews, Christians and Muslims; the alt-right, the passionate populists and the progressives.

So this is a moment of choice. We can remain among our tribal comrades and view others as a threat. Or, we can find our way out of the pit.

One place to start is with dialogue. All too often dismissed, engaging in deep exploration with someone of opposing beliefs can be a more courageous act than taking up arms. It can arouse deep-seated issues of identity, vulnerability, and a sense of being wronged. And it can also open up possibilities for understanding.

This election has left our nation battered. Now, we need to find ways to move forward, to find ways to cooperate and, at the very least, to practice tolerance of one another. One way is to adopt listening as our civic duty – not necessarily to agree, but to hear others and reject dehumanization. Really hearing one another can be an act of compassion, and a practical and potent weapon for change. It is a way back to respect

At Tanenbaum we think of it this way. Tolerance is our bare minimum. Respect for the humanity in each of us is our vision. And if “we the people” take the first step, start talking with each other and recognize our shared humanity, perhaps our leaders will follow.

With ears open,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

Girl shot by Taliban speaks out: Tanenbaum’s Top 5 News Stories

Malala Yousafzai, Girl Shot by Taliban, Makes Appeal at U.N. • Report: Americans hold different views of what “religious” means COMMENTARY: The truth about religious freedom in the military • Atheist Study Reveals That Non-Believers Are Just As Varied As People Of Faith • Zimmerman trial verdict filters into pews and pulpits

Last week's top stories, from our perspective:

Malala Yousafzai, Girl Shot by Taliban, Makes Appeal at U.N.
In a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls in Pakistan, called on world leaders to provide “free, compulsory education” for every child.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” Ms. Yousafzai told young leaders from 100 countries at the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.” (Photo credit from The Guardian, T Mughal/EPA)

Report: Americans hold different views of what “religious” means
What does it mean to be a religious person? A new study shows a divide between those who believe it's about acting morally and those who equate it with faith. Nearly six out of 10 Americans (59 percent) say that being a religious person “is primarily about living a good life and doing the right thing,” as opposed to the more than one-third (36 percent) who hold that being religious “is primarily about having faith and the right beliefs.”

COMMENTARY: The truth about religious freedom in the military
Rev. Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, and Rev. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, challenge the assertion that there is a war against Christians in the U.S. military. An excerpt:

Our government and our military must protect the rights of all members of the armed forces regardless of faith or belief. And they must be blind to the virtues of any one faith over another. All service members should feel comfortable practicing their faith — or not practicing any faith — as they protect our nation.

Atheist Study Reveals That Non-Believers Are Just As Varied As People Of Faith
Researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga report that atheists are just as heterogenous of a group as people of faith, in a study done by doctoral student Christoper F. Silver and project manager Thomas J. Coleman III.

Many previous religious surveys placed people without religious beliefs into a catch-all category known as the "religious nones," but that oversimplifies the wide spectrum of opinions that fall into that group. The report idenfified six different groups of religious non-believers: Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics (IAA), Activist Atheist/Agnostics (AAA), Seeker Agnostics (SA), Antitheists, Non-theists and Ritual Atheist/Agnostics (RAA).

Zimmerman trial verdict filters into pews and pulpits
Clergy around the country spoke to congregants about the Zimmerman trial last weekend. This Washington Post article examines some of those clergy members in and around DC.