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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

A Sikh Captain America in Central Park: Top 5 news stories

Captain America in a turban • Poll: American Jews identifying as more cultural, less religious • Is Christian-owned Hobby Lobby boycotting Hanukkah? • The Religious Dorm at the Public University When Holidays Collide, You Get The 'Menurkey'

Last week's top news, from our perspective:

Captain America in a turban

An American Sikh man put on a Captain America costume and explored New York City. The piece he wrote about the experience is fun, funny, enlightening, hopeful, and more.
 

Poll: American Jews identifying as more cultural, less religious

The percentage of Jews who identify as Jewish solely by culture or ancestry rather than religion has jumped from 7 percent to 22 percent since 2000, according to the poll, the first comprehensive survey of American Jews in more than a decade.
 

Is Christian-owned Hobby Lobby boycotting Hanukkah?

The national craft store owned by conservative billionaire Steve Green seemingly refuses to carry merchandise related to Hanukkah because of Green’s “Christian values,” and some Jews are taking offense.
 

The Religious Dorm at the Public University

Kosher dorms, Christian fraternity houses and specialized housing based on values have become part of modern college life. But the dorm on Troy's campus of 7,000 students is among a new wave of religious-themed housing that constitutional scholars and others say is pushing the boundaries of how much a public university can back religion.
 

When Holidays Collide, You Get The 'Menurkey'

In a rare convergence of the calendar, Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights that typically commences close to Christmas, fall on the same date in 2013: Nov. 28. And Thanksgivukkah has become a bold platform for expression, with creations ranging from sweet-potato latkes to the "Menurkey."

The reason for the fuss: It is a holiday mashup that has happened only once before—in 1888—according to those who track the Jewish calendar. And it is one that isn't set to happen again for potentially another 70,000-plus years.

Hate Crime Opponent Becomes A Victim: Top 5 News Stories

Hate Crime Opponent Becomes A Victim Abercrombie to Change "Look" Policy After Religious Discrimination Ruling Virginia candidate says non-Christians worship ‘false religions’ The Evangelical Orphan Boom Atheism starts its megachurch: Is it a religion now?

Last week's top news, from our perspective:

Hate Crime Opponent Becomes A Victim

Last year, Prabhjot Singh wrote an op-ed calling for the government to track anti-Sikh violence. This month, he became a victim of a similar attack near his home in New York City. He talks with NPR host Rachel Martin about the attack, and what he hopes comes out of it.

His gratitude is particularly hopeful: "I feel very fortunate that it wasn't worse because I've certainly seen worse. I'm deeply fortunate that my child and my wife, who I dropped off at our house just seven to 10 minutes earlier, weren't with us."

Abercrombie to Change "Look" Policy After Religious Discrimination Ruling

Following a spate of anti-discrimination lawsuits, the company will have to change its "Look" policy to accommodate all forms of religious dress. Specifically, it can no longer penalize employees for wearing hijabs, which were long considered an affront to the company's "all American" ideal.

The court battles began in 2010, when a then 18 year-old Halla Banafa sued Abercrombie for denying her a stockroom job at the Abercrombie Kids store in Milpitas, on grounds that she wore a headscarf. Another Muslim woman named Hani Khan sued the company in 2011, alleging that she had been fired after a manager objected to her headscarf as well.

Virginia candidate says non-Christians worship ‘false religions’

Jewish groups called on the Republican candidate for Virginia’s lieutenant governor to explain a sermon in which he said non-Christians are engaged in a “false religion.”

E.W. Jackson, a pastor, on Sunday preached at the Restoration Fellowship Church in Strasburg, Va.

“Any time you say there is no other means of salvation but through Jesus Christ, and if you don’t know him and you don’t follow him and you don’t go through him, you are engaged in some sort of false religion, that’s controversial,” Jackson said, according to a recording first reported Monday by the Washington Post. “But it’s the truth.”

The Evangelical Orphan Boom

Evangelical adoptions picked up in earnest in the middle of the last decade, when a wave of prominent Christians, including the megachurch pastor Rick Warren and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, began to promote adoption as a special imperative for believers.

Atheism starts its megachurch: Is it a religion now?

Yesterday, The Sunday Assembly—the London-based “Atheist Church” that has, since its January launch, been stealing headlines the world over—announced a new “global missionary tour.” In October and November, affiliated Sunday Assemblies will open in 22 cities: in England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, the United States and Australia. “I think this is the moment,” Assembly founder Sanderson Jones told me in an email last week, “when the Sunday Assembly goes from being an interesting phenomenon to becoming a truly global movement.” Structured godlessness is ready for export.

A scary week of hate and violence: Top 5 News Stories

Scores Are Killed by Suicide Bomb Attack at Historic Church in Pakistan  Kenya: 'If You Were Muslim They Let You Go Sikh Columbia Professor, Attacked In Possible Hate Crime Navy Yard shooting puts Buddhism in spotlight: Column Virginia GOP Official Refuses to Apologize for Anti-Semitic Pope Joke

Last week's top news, from our perspective:

Scores Are Killed by Suicide Bomb Attack at Historic Church in Pakistan

A suicide attack on a historic church in northwestern Pakistan killed at least 78 people on Sunday in one of the deadliest attacks on the Christian minority in Pakistan in years.

The attack occurred as worshipers left All Saints Church in the old quarter of the regional capital, Peshawar, after a service on Sunday morning. Up to 600 people had attended and were leaving to receive free food being distributed on the lawn outside when two explosions ripped through the crowd.
 

Kenya: 'If You Were Muslim They Let You Go

Witnesses to the attack on a shopping centre in Nairobi say gunmen executed anyone who could not recite an Islamic prayer.

Saadia Ahmed, a radio presenter from Nairobi, said: "We heard three explosions outside the building then all of a sudden we heard gunshots and people ducked down.

"A lot of people were shot while they were trying to escape.

"I saw one of the gunmen with an AK-47 and later two of them were talking and it sounded like Somali or Arabic."

Ms Ahmed said the attackers released people who were able to prove they could speak Arabic. The current death toll stands at 68.

Sikh Columbia Professor, Attacked In Possible Hate Crime

A Columbia University professor was assaulted on Saturday night in what police say is being investigated as a hate crime.

According to a New York Police Department source, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, who is Sikh and wears a turban and a beard, was attacked at 8:15 p.m. while walking along 110th Street near Lennox Avenue in upper Manhattan. An unknown suspect or suspects shouted anti-Muslim statements, knocked the professor down and punched him numerous times in the face.

Navy Yard shooting puts Buddhism in spotlight: Column

Aaron Alexis allegedly shot and killed 12 people in cold blood before being killed himself by police on Monday at the Washington Navy Yard.

Alexis was a government contractor and former Navy reservist. But was also a Buddhist who, according to news reports, chanted frequently, wore an amulet of the Buddha around his neck, and regularly attended services at Wat Busayadhammavanaram Meditation Center in Fort Worth, Texas. How are we to make sense of this anomaly — a follower of the Buddha who shoots to kill?

Our stereotype of Buddhists as peacemakers is not unfounded. The Buddha was by all accounts a man of peace, and ahimsa (non-violence) has long been a Buddhist value.

Virginia GOP Official Refuses to Apologize for Anti-Semitic Pope Joke

A GOP official in Virginia refused to apologize for an anti-Semitic joke, although the party’s candidate for governor called it inappropriate.

“I did not tell an anti-Semitic joke,” John Whitbeck, the Republican Party’s chairman in its 10th Congressional District, in northern Virginia, told the Free Beacon on Wednesday. “I told a joke I heard from a priest at a church service.”

Whitbeck, introducing Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general and GOP candidate for governor, at a rally on Tuesday related a joke with a punchline that had Jews seeking payment from the Vatican for the Last Supper.

A weekend of staggering bloodshed

Today is a scary day to read the news. Over the weekend, premeditated attacks on a shopping mall in Kenya and a church in Pakistan killed 68 and 78 people, respectively. Both attacks were carried out by radical Islamist groups that targeted non-Muslims.

In New York City, an American Sikh man was assaulted by a group of young men. While they beat him, they yelled “Get him!” as well as “Osama” and “terrorist.” His teeth were dislodged and he sustained multiple fractures throughout his body.

Tanenbaum strongly condemns each of these extremely hateful acts, acts that destroy our shared humanity. We imagine a world that respects difference and where every person is safe. As Dr. Prabhjot Singh, the victim in the New York City attack, said, “I want it so that my 1-year-old has nothing to fear…”

Today, we send our thoughts and prayers to all those who are dealing with devastating pain. We will continue to combat religious prejudice in an effort to eliminate these horrors.

(Photo credit: Mohammad Sajjad/Associated Press)

One Year Since Sikhs Slaughtered: Top 5 News Stories

The State Department announced this week the creation of its first office dedicated to outreach to the global faith community and religious leaders.Sikhs Remember Tragedy By Embracing Faith •  Pope on homosexuals: 'Who am I to judge?' • Iran’s supreme leader issues edict on banned sect, tells people to avoid dealing with Baha’is • This Heroine Wears a Burqa to Fight Evil • State Dept. seeks to broaden religious reach

Last week's top stories, from our perspective:

Sikhs Remember Tragedy By Embracing Faith

On August 5th, 2012, a gunman opened fire at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, just south of Milwaukee. He killed six people. This August, the temple will hold a series of events to honor the victims, including a continuous recitation of the Sikh holy book, cover to cover. It's a ritual that happens at both happy and sad events, and is intended to bring peace and solace. (Photo credit from Mother Jones)

Pope on homosexuals: 'Who am I to judge?'

On the flight back to the Vatican from Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis fielded questions from reporters in the plane's press compartment. The Pope answered many questions, but the one gaining the most attention is: when asked about the Vatican's alleged "gay lobby," the Pope replied that while a lobby might be an issue, he doesn't have any problem with the inclination to homosexuality itself: "Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?" he said.

Iran’s supreme leader issues edict on banned sect, tells people to avoid dealing with Baha’is

Iran’s supreme leader is urging Iranians to avoid all dealings with members of the banned Baha’i sect in a possible prelude to further crackdowns on the minority.Iran already bans the Baha’i, a religion founded in the 1860s by a Persian nobleman considered a prophet by followers. Muslims consider Muhammad the final prophet. Many consider Baha'is to be among the most discriminated against religious minorities worldwide.

This Heroine Wears a Burqa to Fight Evil

A new cartoon in Pakistan features an unusual role model for female empowerment: a woman who uses martial arts to battle colorful villains such as Baba Bandooq, a Taliban-esque figure who tries to shut down her school, and Vadero Pajero, a corrupt politician. In the cartoon, a schooteacher, Jiya, transforms into the heroine by donning a burqa. There are supporters and detractors abound.

State Dept. seeks to broaden religious reach

​The State Department announced this week the creation of its first office dedicated to outreach to the global faith community and religious leaders. The State Department said the new office “will focus on engagement with faith-based organizations and religious institutions around the world to strengthen U.S. development and diplomacy and advance America’s interests and values.”

Thanksgiving: Violent acts leave some thankful for their lives

This is a week for reflection and gratitude and many of us have much to be thankful for – notwithstanding conflicts, including those in Israel and Gaza, and Hurricane Sandy's devastation. 

Unfortunately, some of our neighbors are grateful just to be alive – not because of natural disasters but because of members of their community.  Two incidents of violence, one extreme, were perpetrated at houses of worship in recent days.

In Queens, a man was stabbed repeatedly from behind while opening the Masjid Al-Saaliheen mosque for prayer on Sunday. Fortunately, the victim survived and is recovering at his home.  During the attack, the would-be murderer shouted anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic slurs. 

Just seven days before, according to several news sources, a white male about 17-22 damaged expensive cars at the parking lot of a gurudwara (a place of worship for Sikhs) and then threw stones at a young child who was playing in the parking lot. The incident took place in Georgia. The alleged perpetrator escaped after causing $10,000 worth of damage.

These attacks are simply not acceptable.  Violence against any group based on their religious beliefs tears our society apart.  It’s our responsibility to denounce violence based on religious difference at every occurrence.

One way to prepare is to learn more about our neighbors from unfamiliar cultures. Discover more about the Sikh community in the United States, visit http://unitedsikhs.org/.  To learn more about Islam, check out our Muslims & Islam in the United States fact sheet and Diversity in Islam fact sheet. 

During these days of celebration, I encourage you to be thankful for our diversity. Diversity strengthens us personally and as a society – and supporting diversity is one of the keys to lasting peace.

Wishing each of you a holiday filled with reasons to be grateful.
 

Happiest Thanksgiving,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

Irony of Ironies – An International Day of Peace?

Dear Friends,

Today is the International Day of Peace.  It should be a day of hope and optimism.  But it is not. 

Daily violence reminds us that peace is often elusive, hard to achieve, and too often sabotaged by small groups with disproportionate impact. So for me, the International Day of Peace is not a day of hope. 

Rather, it is a reminder to imagine what is possible and a call to work harder to defeat the forces of religious prejudice, division and death. And they are all around us. In only the past few weeks, we have repeatedly witnessed divisive, violent, and even deadly conflicts over our differences and different ways of believing. And we know there is more to come.

Just last month, we were shocked when six Sikhs were murdered as they attended a religious service in Wisconsin.  While the motive for the attack will never be definitively known because the shooter took his own life, we do know that he associated with white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.  It is likely that the killer took aim out of hate. What we do not know is whether he truly intended to target Sikhs or whether he shared a common misperception that Sikhs are Muslims and was acting out of anti-Muslim hatred.  For the families of the dead, it doesn’t matter. A man with a gun hated.  And he destroyed families forever.

It was less than two weeks after the Wisconsin attack that the offices of the Family Research Council were targeted by a gunman.  When approached by a security guard, the gunman reportedly announced, “I don’t like your politics,” and then shot the man.  Fortunately, the victim survived.  The Family Research Council’s political stances are informed by particular, strongly held Christian beliefs.  And the violent attack targeted those beliefs. Here again, a violent attack based on religious prejudice.

Last week, it was an anti-Islamic film’s impact that overtook the news. Created in the U.S. by an Egyptian Coptic Christian who claimed to be an Israeli Jew, the film was used to spew hatred at every turn.  Translated into Arabic and promoted by individuals who seek to demean Islam, the film inflamed by depicting the prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and homosexual.  We know the division and violence that quickly ensued.  While a coordinated attack was executed on a U.S. Consulate in Libya which ended the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Jews were blamed for creating and/or funding the film, feeding historic angers and escalating anti-Semitism.  Islamic extremists advocated for retaliation against America for the blasphemy.  Demonstrations against the film sprung up in Muslim-majority countries across the Middle East and beyond.  Though some involved sought to peacefully protest, violence made the news, with the destruction of property and, more disturbingly, more deaths and devastated families. 

I wish that were all, but it is not.  We have a glimpse of a future where ads are being placed on New York City subway platforms that explicitly promote hatred toward Arabs and Muslims while surreptitiously seeking to drive a wedge between two religious groups that have suffered bigotry in the U.S. – Muslims and Jews.  Next week, the American Freedom Defense Initiative is slated to put up advertisements that read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”  It concludes with two Stars of David framing the words, “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” 

In each of these instances, religious differences are being used to inflame.  The result: a world where the faithful of every religion are at risk of being targeted, harmed, and maybe killed. 

On this day dedicated to peace, I believe we have to acknowledge the realities around us.  But I also believe that we can use this day to imagine what is possible and then take action to realize it.  Each of us can take personal responsibility for overcoming divisive voices – by living lives marked by respect, by being a vocal ally of those targeted, and by joining a global movement that says “Enough” to the hate.

IMAGINE…a more peaceful world that respects difference.  We are committed to making that vision a reality.

In peace,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

(pdf version)

Tragedy in Wisconsin: News Roundup

In the news this week: Sikhs Killed in Wisconsin, a Missouri mosque burns, Romney ad raises religion, and other stories.

In the shadow of the White House, as speakers called for unity, trays of food circulated the audience: wraps, potato chips, and choley chawal, a chickpea and rice dish.
 
The candlelight vigil for the victims of the Oak Creek, Wis., Sikh temple shooting symbolically completed what a gunman interrupted on Sunday (Aug. 5) — the langar, a Sikh ritual meal for anyone who wishes to take part.
 
Wednesday’s vigil was one of many nationwide to respond to violence with peace as the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund called for a “National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity.”
 
The attack Sunday “attempted to make Americans afraid of their fellow neighbors, and it is something that the Sikh community has faced time and time again,” said Sartaj Singh Dhami, co-director of RestoringThePride.com, a Sikh advocacy group.
 
“Through resolve, through respect, we will overcome. This is a gift that Sikhs can give to all Americans.”   Washington Post
 
A mosque in Joplin, Missouri, was burned to the ground early Monday, just over a month after an attempted arson at the Islamic center, officials said.
 
Authorities are investigating the cause of the latest fire. The mosque's security cameras were destroyed in the blaze, according to Sharon Rhine of the Jasper County Sheriff's Office. CNN
 
The ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday challenging an amendment to the state's constitution it contends violates the religious rights of prison inmates.
 
On Tuesday, Missourians overwhelmingly approved the so-called "right to pray" amendment. The measure says the state can't infringe upon public expressions of religious beliefs, that students have the right to voluntarily pray in schools and that all public schools must display a copy of the Bill of Rights.
 
Critics of the amendment, including the ACLU, warned that it would lead to a flood of lawsuits, particularly a section that said no student "shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs." Sacramento Bee
 
A new TV ad from Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee asks voters whose values they share, then goes on to charge a component of President Obama's health care law as a "war on religion."
 
The ad, released Thursday morning, starts with a narrator asking, "Who shares your values?" It goes on to say the president's health care law is a "plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith."   CBS News
 
Rocked in recent years by sex-abuse scandals and crises in leadership, the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland has been struggling to keep its members close.
 
But this week, a new global survey on faith and atheism has revealed that the crisis of faith in Ireland may be much worse than previously thought.
 
According to the poll released by WIN-Gallup International, the traditionally Catholic country has seen one of the steepest drops worldwide in religiosity. Huffington Post

 

Catholic Bishops Concerned About Religious Freedom: News Roundup

In the news this week:   Catholic bishops voice new concerns over religious freedom, a Muslim group is suing the FBI and Border Patrol, the American public says religion news is too sensitized, and other stories.

As promised, the country’s Catholic bishops are ramping up their campaign against what they see as attacks on religious liberties, particularly those of religious conservatives.
 
On Thursday the bishops released a proclamation that expands their concerns beyond those they’ve focused on in the past year — such as the White House move to require some faith-based social service groups to include contraception coverage for employees in their health care plans and a push to have them consider same-sex couples as potential adoptive or foster parents.
 
The document, which U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops staffers said last month was in the works, mentions objections to new local measures, including one in Alabama requiring churches to turn over illegal immigrants and another in New York City limiting the right of churches to use public school buildings for worship on weekends. Washington Post
 
The local Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Michigan) has filed a lawsuit against the FBI and the Customs Border Patrol agencies for alleged "invasive religious questioning" and "prolonged detention" of Muslims at the U.S.-Canada border.
 
The line of questioning of Muslims reportedly included how many times a day they pray and who else prays in their mosques, according to CAIR-Michigan officials.
 
"Invasive religious questioning of American citizens without evidence of criminal activity is not only an affront to the Constitution but is also a waste of taxpayers' dollars," said CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid.    The Detroit News
 
Five death-threat letters, the last of which arrived in February, have followed a Sikh American family during the last decade as they moved to various neighborhoods in metropolitan Washington.
 
“Because there seems to be a recurring threat to this family, it is of even greater concern to us,” said Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a Washington-based advocacy group. “Given the frequency with which this family was subjected to such incidents, (we) could not take the case lightly, or assume that it this was a childish prank.
 
The group, which is representing the family, said it also could not rule out the possibility that the family is being stalked. Sikh News Network
 
A majority of the American public says religious news coverage is too sensationalized, while less than 30 percent of journalists agree according to a survey released Thursday. Deseret News
 
Don’t believe what the national media tells you, says Dr. Richard Land, a leader with the Southern Baptist Convention, Mitt Romney doesn’t need to worry about his Mormon faith being a problem for evangelical voters at the voting booth.
 
“The fact that we don’t believe that Mormonism is a Christian faith doesn’t mean we would not vote for someone who is Mormon, if they are pro-life,” Land told TIME in an interview on Tuesday. “Romney’s biggest problem with evangelicals has been that he hasn’t been Mormon enough. If he had always held his positions on abortion on marriage that his faith holds, there would be far fewer doubts about him.”
 
Nonetheless, Land said that he expects the national news media to try to make an issue of Romney’s faith in the coming months, in an effort to damage the Republican candidate’s chances.   Time
 
The high tide of "new atheism" may have passed, the archbishop of Canterbury has said in his Easter sermon. Rowan Williams said the atheism v religion debate appeared to be moving on from what he called "a pointless stalemate".
 
"Recent years have seen so many high-profile assaults on the alleged evils of religion that we've almost become used to them; we sigh and pass on, wishing that we could have a bit more of a sensible debate and a bit less hysteria. But there are a few signs that the climate is shifting ever so slightly," he said at Canterbury cathedral. The Guardian