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Extremism Spreading With Coronavirus

Friends,

The Coronavirus is changing everything—how we live and how we think. As the number of confirmed cases surge, we are all facing a public health crisis, assaults on human rights and dignity, and – for many of us personally, questions of life and death.

With sorrow but not surprise, we are also watching a predictable uptick in hate and extremist violence around the world. (Read more). Chaos creates uncertainty. Uncertainty fuels fear. And fear is a trigger—for extremism.

● There has been a dramatic surge in the targeting of Asian communities all over, exasperated by an increase in xenophobic rhetoric and mischaracterizations of the virus as Chinese. (Read more).

● A Sikh gurdwara was attacked in Afghanistan, killing 25 worshippers. (Read more).

● The New Jersey Department of Homeland Security (NJDHS) warned of white supremacists taking advantage of the pandemic to cause chaos. (Read more).

● Borders are closing to refugees all over the world, as are fears that they will spread the disease (Read more).

● The ADL warns that extremists are using the COVID-19 pandemic to mainstream their conspiracy theories, xenophobia and anti-Semitism—including with escalating online and social media attacks and by blaming Jews for causing the pandemic. (Read more).

Whether in person or online, all forms of extremism are deadly. Our response? It’s time to build solutions and support everyone in our international community. It is through social support—even as we practice physical distancing—that we can counter hate and save lives.

You can help from the safety of your own home. Our resource, Five Ways To Counter Extremism On Social Media can help you take a stand against the extremism that is still present and waiting to pounce.

None of us know what the coming weeks and months will bring, but we do know this: None of us are in this alone. Our community is strong, and we will help each other pull through,

Joyce S. Dubensky      Mark Fowler
CEO                              Deputy CEO


 

Peacebuilding in Nigeria: Debunking a Violent Discourse

Isa, a Fulani herdsboy in Nigeria | Credit dotun55

Daniel Green is the Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding Intern at Tanenbaum. A note from Daniel: As a Tanenbaum intern, I have the unique privilege of participating in Peacemaker in Action Network calls every few weeks. Pastor James of Nigeria provided an update on Nigeria that had me curious about the dynamics of conflict in his region. Below is a researched account of the current multidimensional conflicts in Nigeria through the lens of Pastor James and Imam Ashafa’s latest efforts.


Violence in Nigeria is mounting to a point of crisis, and the Boko Haram insurgency only accounts for a fraction of it. In central Nigeria, an ongoing conflict between semi-nomadic herdsmen and farmers has swelled in recent years. Over the last four years, the frequency and severity of violence have persisted at alarming rates, with 3,600 deaths between January 2016 and October 2018. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has been blamed for a paucity of state intervention, and in some cases, for allowing the assailants de factoimpunity.” In a vacuum of law, order, and prosecution, attacks and reprisals are carried out by both communities.

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa work throughout Nigeria and the world. Some of their work takes them to the sites of these atrocities, to the interstices of warring groups. Leading their Interfaith Mediation Centre, the duo preaches peace and forgiveness in an attempt to reroute the lives of young militants and shift the bellicose ideologies of the old. However, peacemaking in this climate is particularly onerous.

Tensions first arose between herders and farmers in Nigeria in association with ecological and geographical challenges. As the majority Muslim Fulani herdsmen historically grazed their cattle in the northern Sahelian belt, which borders the Sahara Desert, their communities were the first affected by increasing drought and desertification. Contemporaneously, Boko Haram has carried out regular attacks in the North, extorted protection money from locals, and recruited younger residents for radicalization. With few alternatives, herders have moved their cattle southward, where ecosystems range from “derived savanna”–forest cleared for cultivation–to humid forests. Complicating the issue further, Nigeria’s population has surged since the mid-twentieth century: from 57 million in 1963, to 198 million in 2018. The U.S. government projects that between 2016 and 2050, Nigeria’s population will grow from 186 million to 392 million, making it the world’s fourth most populous country. In order to account for increasing food demand, farm settlements have expanded rapidly, swallowing up more and more tenable land. Thus, with herds encroaching on the prized arable central and southern regions of Nigeria, an almost Malthusian struggle over land and resources ensued.

A majority of assaults unfold over the so-called Middle Belt, a swath of land comprising several latitudinally central states. Those most affected lie to the center-east: Benue, Adamawa, Plateau, Nasarawa, and Taraba States, as well as Kaduna State, where Pastor James and Imam Ashafa base their operations. In mid-2018 the International Crisis Group (ICG) reported a spike in violence. Over 1,300 deaths between January and July of that year were attributed to clashes associated with herders and farmers. Over the same period, ICG estimated the displacement of approximately 300,000 individuals. After ICG’s 2018 report was published, a portentous statistic surfaced throughout Western reports on Nigeria’s tribulations: as of July, the “farmer-herder” violence had become six times deadlier than Boko Haram’s ongoing insurgency. The surge in violence has deeply troubled Pastor James and Imam Ashafa, who call ceaselessly for young Nigerians to lay down their arms and to accept forgiveness. However, amid the tangible horrors, a discursive polarization has further threatened the prospect of peace.

For Pastor James and Imam Ashafa, conflict mediation became more complicated when an ethno-religious element entered popular discourse. As Pastor James remarked in a recent Peacemakers in Action Network call, the conflict “has taken a new dimension.” 

“Especially in regions where Christians are dominant, these attacks are perceived to be motivated by some form of religion,” Pastor James explained on a March 20th Peacemakers in Action Network call. Assailants often attack sacred places, he said, kidnapping pastors with the idea that ransom money can be extracted from their congregations. Targeting a community “of the cloth” serves a dual purpose–if not only to extract funds, to disintegrate its social standing and organizational capacity. With such a high rate of attacks on religious institutions it is not inconceivable that largely Christian farming communities would tend to perceive these brutal assaults as religiously motivated and targeted. After all, the Muslim Fulani represent about 90% of Nigerian pastoralists.

“However,” said Pastor James, “this does not stop at only Christian communities. In Muslim communities in the north of Kaduna State, [armed bandits] are also killing people, rustling cattle, raping women, kidnapping for ransom and taking the money, sometimes killing the captives after the money is received.” The distinction, Pastor James argued, is that these attacks in the northern states are not given a “religious coloration,” whereas attacks in Christian communities are. On an earlier call, in January 2020, Pastor James argued that the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), a Boko Haram affiliate, is vying for religious war in Nigeria. “ISWA is trying to instigate interreligious violence by killing their victims and saying they are killing them because they are Christian,” James said. Regardless of these discursive colorations, members of all communities are victims.

Crucial to an accurate understanding of this conflict, or these conflicts, is a conception of multidimensionality. In fact, when Pastor James remarked that the violence had “taken a new dimension,” what he meant was that it had taken yet another dimension. Media outlets have struggled to approach the crisis in Nigeria with nuance and tact. Western publications as reputable as the New York Times and the Washington Post have been criticized for their portrayal of African (and Asian) conflicts as black and white confrontations, as Manichean divides. This style of war reporting, in which two antagonistic sides are framed in intractable war, can have adverse effects on the potential of reconciliation and peace. In this case, lines have been increasingly drawn along religious affiliations. Even the Los Angeles Times published an article titled, “Guns, Religion and Climate Change Intensify Nigeria’s Deadly Farmer-Herder Clashes.” It is because of and against these circumstances that Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa call for peace at the grassroots level. 

The duo’s plea is twofold. First, they argue that spirituality is essential to the process of reconciliation, not to the mechanics of conflict. The predominately Muslim Fulani herders, and the majority Christian farmers cannot be construed as two monolithic groups. Many among their ranks share a longing for peace. “[A] thing that religious leaders can do is to call for prayer regularly in their places of worship and also have time to educate the people on how to be safe, where to go, what to say and what not to say,” Pastor James said. Religious leaders have an enormous capacity to organize individuals at the community level, and in a country whose government and security forces intervene in conflicts only selectively, this mechanism is crucial to the peace process. Further, by “what to say and what not to say,” Pastor James does not mean that Nigerians ought to abdicate their freedom of speech to local churches and mosques. Rather, he posits that religious leaders can educate communities on how to discuss the violence that unfolds before them. This brings us to Imam and Pastor’s other point.

The second prong of the duo’s appeal is discursive. Because the violence in the Middle Belt and northern states is multidimensional, Nigerians must refrain from frivolously dispensing blame on this and that group. As Pastor James explained, violence reverberates in Fulani and Christian communities alike, be it wrought by cattle rustlers, armed kidnappers, farmers, herders, Boko Haram militants or any sort of violent profiteer. “Together, those who are concerned about the safety of their people can come together and condemn the attacks of violence against every individual and call them criminals, not by calling them by a particular name, but by calling them criminals and rejecting that action,” Pastor James urged. 

The ideology and theology of Pastor James and Imam Ashafa’s peacebuilding is predicated on the fundamental equality of individuals, the recognition of their humanity, and the mutual respect or perhaps even love on which it is based, and to which it leads. Agapé, it has been called. It is a concept with which all Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action are intimately familiar. It is an idea that will prove a crucial component in reconciling Nigeria’s disheartened communities.

By Daniel Green

“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