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“This is a Moment of Mourning, Understanding, Reflection, Learning and Unlearning” – Dishani Jayaweera

“This is a Moment of Mourning, Understanding, Reflection, Learning and Unlearning” – Dishani Jayaweera, Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action

We can barely imagine what it must feel like to be in Sri Lanka today, as it reels from devastating attacks that targeted Christians on Easter Sunday and killed more than 300 people. Or what it is like in Paris when you can’t celebrate Easter at the nearly 900-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral. Or how the parishes of three burned Black churches in Louisiana are persevering and coming together to rebuild.

We can barely imagine. And like many, I lack the words. But Tanenbaum’s Peacemaker, Dishani Jayaweera, doesn’t have to imagine. After a lifetime working for peace, with diverse religious leaders and communities across Sri Lanka, she said it all… “We are in Deep Pain.”

But religious peacebuilders, like Dishani, don’t waiver. And her large and dedicated network of local interfaith peacebuilders are working hard to prevent further violence. Speaking from her core Buddhist beliefs, Dishani shares how she, as a Sri Lankan peace activist, is processing the shattering violence, fears and finding her commitment to stay the course. As she wrote to her friends late last night, “To face the reality we need BIG hearts… Sharp brains … billions of hands….Let’s come together…”

With a heavy heart,

Joyce

P.S. Help support Dishani and our other Peacemakers in Action Network.

Kia Kaha

Dear friends,

When I woke up this morning, I planned to send out some reflections on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. But then, once again, in a way that is still shocking, numbing and terrifying, I read of another slaughter driven by religious bigotry and hate. 

This time, the place is New Zealand, in a city whose name evokes the Christian roots of its European settlers, Christchurch—but is home to a rich and diverse community including women, men and children of the Muslim faith. 

Today, it was this Muslim community that was gunned down, during a sacred time of prayer. Just like the Jewish community observing the Sabbath in Pittsburgh, the Christians conducting a prayer service in Charleston when Dylan Roof began shooting, and the Sikhs preparing for prayer in their Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Sadly, it’s clear that the New Zealand slaughter is not an accident of fate. It is part of the systematic murder of believers during their holiest times. Our hearts hurt and I cannot imagine the families in New Zealand today, their shock, their tears and how they will now have to live with a new and emptier reality.

But I am also furious. Because hate is a word whose meaning has been diluted. We hear it over and over, and our capacity to understand what it really means has been dimmed through repetition, name-calling, demonizing and repeated slaughters by white supremacists who target people based on their beliefs, color and identities. But hate is powerful and it motivates too many people. Through a manifesto publicly circulated by the killer, he concedes this when he “credits” the language and violence of American hate for rousing him to protect white supremacy and target Muslims.

When are we going to learn that hate words inspire violence? Isn’t it time to marginalize those who normalize hate and the idea of using violence? Isn’t that a way to rebuild our society?

The death of 49 Muslims in New Zealand today is a horrific and personal tragedy for each family affected, for the Christchurch community, the country of New Zealand and all of us. It is also reminder of the lessons that we need to heed and the extremism we need to resist.

Kia Kaha,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

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

The Right Way to Talk about Extremism & Religion

Dear Friends:

There is no other way to say it. Extremism is rising as our country grows more polarized. Church shootings. Synagogue desecration. Muslim and Sikh youth harassed. Equally troubling are the countless other injustices that fail to make the headlines. It can feel unsurmountable, but there is hope.

Over two years ago, we launched Tanenbaum’s Combating Extremism campaign to get us talking and listening to one another—and especially to those whose beliefs and ideologies differ from our own. Because that is where the hope lies. In each of us.

This means taking responsibility for what we know—and what we don’t. And it means finding out the real facts.

That’s why our Combating Extremism resources are designed to counter misinformation and/or our lack of information about some of today’s most pressing and complex religion-related issues. So that our conversations are based on accurate, objective facts.

To help you share—and discuss—what you learn from these resources in positive ways, Tanenbaum created a “How To” guide for this installment of Combating Extremism:

Guidelines for Conducting Open Conversations; and
Guidelines for Conducting Open Conversations – A Summary

Based on Tanenbaum’s 25 years of work, we know that conversations are critical to bridging divides, which can help prevent individuals from feeling marginalized—a risk factor believed to increase some people’s susceptibility to extremist ideology.

Join us in our efforts to stop hate and Combat Extremism. Let’s get talking!

With an open heart—and open ears,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

P.S. Whether you convene a formal conversation, engage in an off-the-cuff discussion with family, friends, or colleagues, or simply review and/or pass along Tanenbaum’s Combating Extremism resources on social media or in person, we encourage you to send an email to combatingextremism@tanenbaum.org and let us know. Please include stories that highlight how your ideas or behavior (or those of other participants) shifted, if available, as a result.

P.P.S. When you support Tanenbaum, you help us in the battle for a world where people across beliefs live side by side, free from extremism, persecution and hate.

Myanmar: When Nationalism Gets Violent – Combating Extremism

Dear Friends:

Often, it is easy to feel disconnected from world events. But what we are seeing in Myanmar, fervent nationalism—at the expense of religious respect for diversity—is tragically, and dangerously, a current global phenomenon.

Since we sent you our most recent Combating Extremism campaign resources about the Rohingya Crisis only a few weeks ago, the U.N. Secretary-General has called for Myanmar to grant the Rohingya, now a stateless people, legal status. He has also called for an end to the violence against the Rohingya, and for the more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to return home—though many of their homes were burned to the ground.

The crisis is still so severe that two U.S. Congressmen have publicly called for the U.S. to take action to help end the ethnic cleansing. And there are also reports that U.S. senators are looking to pass legislation that sanctions the Myanmarese military and their business interests.

To fully understand this crisis—and other crises in which religion and nationality are linked—it is important to understand the history of a people. That is why for this month’s installment of Combating Extremism, we dig even deeper into the Rohingya Crisis and Rohingya identity.

With vigilance,
Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

Rohingya: On the Brink of Genocide – Combating Extremism

Photo Credit: Kevin Frayer | Getty Images

Dear Friends:

The photos are heart-wrenching. In one, a woman embraces the lifeless body of a toddler. In another, a teary-eyed young boy holds out his hand, desperate for food. These are the faces of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority community in Myanmar—now facing ethnic cleansing. Maybe you’ve seen their faces in the news:

Persecuted by Buddhist extremists for decades, the Rohingya are also part of one of the largest refugee communities in the United States.

That is why, for this month’s installment of Combating Extremism, we invite you to learn more about the Rohingya and to start a conversation in your community about extremism and this crisis:

The Rohingya Crisis is a stark reminder that extremism touches people from all religions. By combating extremism anywhere, we combat extremism everywhere.

In solidarity,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

P.S.: If you want to support the Rohingya, here is a list of organizations taking action.

P.P.S.: And if you want to support Tanenbaum’s work in bringing clarity to these complex issues, please donate here.

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

Violence continues against Egypt’s Coptic Christians

Egyptian Coptic Christians march on May 26, 2017, following a funeral for victims of Friday’s terror attack. | NBC News

Dear Friends,

This week, as Tanenbaum celebrated 25 years of combating religious hate, I felt compelled to begin our anniversary Gala with a moment of silence for the victims, their families and the people of Manchester. It is days later and the assault on Coptic Christians in Egypt has continued; this time a bus filled with men, women and children, traveling to a monastery in Minya province, were ambushed by gunmen in uniform.

The attacks in Manchester and Egypt were both claimed by ISIS – and Egypt has responded to this latest terror attack with airstrikes on training camps in Libya. Egypt’s Coptic community has suffered ongoing violence and terrorism since 2011, including the Palm Sunday church bombing in April.

Today, we stand with the Coptic Community in Egypt, with Christians worldwide, and with our global community, from all traditions and none.

We have a responsibility to bear witness and to do everything we can to stop hatred that fuels violence and terrorism. At times we may feel powerless, yet we have real impact as we practice respect and speak up for what is right in our own communities. This is a time to let our hearts be informed by real facts. Because if we don’t, we risk losing our own humanity to profound sadness and fear.

Joyce S. Dubensky,
Tanenbaum CEO

P.S. There are things you can do today. Learn more about the ancient Coptic Community in Egypt; Check out what is happening in the Middle East with Christian persecution; and support those working with refugees and to fight for justice.

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.