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A Piece for Peace

Extremism and white supremacy – A conversation with Arno Michaelis

We were so happy to host an event at Foa & Son with our friend, Arno Michaelis. Previously affiliated with the white supremacist movement, Arno has now rejected extremist philosophy – and is working with youth to counter the danger that it poses. We were able to have an intimate conversation among a few of our close friends, diving into topics such as: extremist narratives and the conditions in which hatred thrives, addressing extremism across cultures, the utter exhaustion from harboring hatred, and personal transformation.

It was enlightening for many when Arno described a personal moment of clarity. While watching his young daughter playing with children of varied backgrounds at daycare, he realized that the children did not see color. They simply wanted friends to play with. He saw parents lovingly greet their children and he recognized qualities of his relationship with his daughter in them. By being open to new experiences, shared humanity is the antidote to hatred.

To learn more about Arno’s work, visit My Life After Hate.

For high quality photographs, please contact Nicole Margaretten, Communications Manager at nmargaretten(at)tanenbaum.org

 

When Vaisakhi Is More Than a Holiday

Darbar Harmandir Sahib - the "Golden Temple"

Darbar Harmandir Sahib – the “Golden Temple”

Have you ever wished someone a happy Vaisakhi?

Most people have no idea that the Pentagon is holding a major celebration to celebrate Vaisakhi. Or that Vaisakhi is the birthday of the world’s fifth largest religion. Why? Because the Sikh community as a whole, is often ignored in this country. The time has come to know more about our Sikh neighbors.

Let’s start with the FBI’s most recent Hate Crimes Statistics (released 12/2014) because the findings are telling. Race is still the leading cause of hate crimes in the U.S., followed by sexual-orientation and religion. Among major religious groups, Jewish people are most likely to be attacked (60.3 percent) followed by Muslims (13.7 percent) and people from “other religions” (11.2 percent). Unfortunately, those statistics do not separately track anti-Sikh hate crimes, only including them within “other religions.” Fortunately, this practice has now come to an end. Following years of advocacy, the FBI is finally implementing a system to track anti-Sikh bias, along with bias against many other self-identified religious groups. It’s about time. Because the Sikh community is being attacked.

Last summer in New York City, Joseph Caleca yelled “Osama!” at Sandeep Singh before running him over and dragging Singh for 30 feet. Only days later, a group of teens, male and female, attacked another Sikh man walking to dinner with his mother. These are not isolated incidents. The Sikh community is repeatedly targeted by verbal and physical violence. Sometimes the perpetrators escape apprehension. But in the case of Sandeep Singh, community activism led to Caleca’s arrest and an indictment for attempted murder and hate crime charges.

Such incidents are only one way this community is singled out. Visibly distinct, observant Sikh men wear turbans and have uncut beards. In a society still grappling with diversity, it is therefore no surprise that Sikhs experience workplace discrimination, bias and stereotyping.

Consider New York’s Police Department. Its dress-code requires officers to wear religious head coverings beneath the uniform cap and to maintain short beards, measuring less than one millimeter. With few exceptions, the NYPD refuses to accommodate Sikhs, in contrast to police departments like the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington D.C., which began allowing Sikhs to wear turbans and have full beards in 2012.

There are also daily indignities (or micro-aggressions) that grate at the soul. Take the Sikh who goes to the hospital and is asked to complete the patient intake form. Often, it includes a question about religious preferences and provides a list of religious identities. Many patients find this practice welcoming, while the facility simultaneously learns about their possible needs. But if you’re Sikh, this is not necessarily your experience. Several NYC hewospitals continue to omit Sikhism on these forms, despite repeated requests for inclusion. So when a NYC Sikh patient is hospitalized, the only choice is “other” — even though more than 50,000 Sikhs live in NYC.

Such blatant disregard for an entire community is costly. In one NY health care facility, a nurse shaved and trimmed an elderly Sikh patient’s beard, eyebrows and mustache one month before his death. The patient was religiously mandated never to cut his hair, and his family, who had never seen him shaved or with trimmed hair, did not recognize him. The result, of course, was a law suit.

But perhaps most disturbing, is how Sikh children are tormented. For one Sikh student, this meant being held to the ground by a classmate who forcibly cut his hair. For other children, it means being taunted and called names like “terrorist” and “Osama.”

It does not have to be this way. We can stop acts of hatred and prevent bullying with the help of parents and teachers. Starting at a young age, children can learn that people have different ways of believing (or not believing). And holidays like Vaisakhi provide an easy opportunity for that teachable moment.

With institutional changes, we can improve our neighbors’ lives. What if the NYPD not only pursued hate crimes, but also had Sikh officers who understood the community being targeted? How much better would a Sikh patient’s health care be, if hospital staff knew that being Sikh meant that certain decisions about their care might be made — and knew enough to ask what was needed? And just think how our students would be better prepared as members of the global society, if they understood that diversity, including differences of belief, is not something to fear or hate?

The FBI and the Pentagon are taking steps toward improved relations with the Sikh community. By showing respect for Sikh traditions, they are standing up against bias, hatred and violence. This matters for all of us. Because no one is exempt from exclusion and violence. Today’s bystander may be tomorrow’s victim. And that means we must stand together now.

– Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

The Unintended Consequences of Pamela Geller’s NYC Bus Ad

Pam Geller’s recent New York City bus ad depicts a man with a scarf wrapped around his head beside the quote, “Killing Jews is worship that brings us closer to Allah” attributed to Hamas MTV. A federal judge ruled that the ad, slated to run on NYC buses and already running in San Francisco and Chicago, are protected by free speech. And the MTA is now banning all political advertisements.

Without question, freedom of speech is a core value and the foundation of our democracy. As such, it must be preserved. But how do we respond to hate speech that is intended to divide us and incite hate? Regardless of Geller’s motive, it is clear that her ad fuels bigotry toward Muslims, by instantaneously conflating 1.6 billion people with the visible few, who perpetrate violent extremism. So what should the MTA do? How do we responsibly balance freedom of speech with messages that may incite violence in our communities?

It sounds simple and it’s said often. The first step is to fight speech with speech. Together, it is our responsibility to condemn, confront and debunk advertisements that perpetuate false stereotypes and marginalize our neighbors. Ironically, in Geller’s fervor to protect her prejudiced view of democracy for people who think like her, an unintended consequence of her actions looms over New York City. Political discourse – one of the bedrocks of democracy – is being shut down by the MTA as they prohibit all political ads. While that may save us from having to witness Geller’s venom in our neighborhoods, our right to free speech will be taken from us and, indeed, all of us will bear the consequences.

On the bright side, however, Geller’s actions have yielded another unintended consequence. Because of her actions, Muslims, Jews and Christians are working together in a united front against her hate-inciting initiative. And that is what our democracy is really all about.

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 Second King Hearing on Muslims, Conflicts Facing Female Muslim Atheltes, and More: News Roundup

In the news this week: a second King hearing, female Muslim athletes face wardrobe conflicts, Norway discovers unexpected school racism, and other stories.

Representative Peter King (R-NY) has scheduled a second hearing (Washington Post) on the “radicalization of the Muslim-American community" for June 15th. This hearing will focus on the radicalization of convicted felons by fellow inmates (CNN) while incarcerated. It is expected to draw much of the same opposition as the first hearing, specifically by those believing the hearings are a McCarthy style witch-hunt and assault on Muslims.
 
This week brought two cases of female Muslim athletes struggling to compete while respecting their religious traditions. The Iranian women’s soccer team (Washington Post) was disqualified mere minutes before a crucial Olympic qualifying match because they wore Islamic headscarves. The team designed special headscarves in an attempt to satisfy a new FIFA rule, but officials deemed the scarves illegal. The team plans on protesting the ruling. In the states, a female Muslim weightlifter (CNN) has motivated the United States Olympic Committee to review their attire policies. Athletes are mandated to keep their elbows and knees uncovered so that judges can see that a competitor’s elbows and knees are locked during a lift. The committee has committed to discussing whether the same determination can be made if an athlete sports a tight uniform.
 
The government of Norway commissioned a report to investigate religious racism in schools and was shocked by the results. Views and News from Norway reports that, “most worrisome for school and city officials was the high level of Jewish students, 33 percent, who reported harassment at least two to three times a month.”
 
A California man accused of attacking a Sikh taxi driver (Sacramento Bee) in November has been sentenced to 13 years in state prison. The conflict originally arose over a disputed fare, but when the driver decided to drop the issue the defendant continued by shouting racial slurs and punching the driver in the face repeatedly. A second defendant who had a lesser role in the attack was previously sentenced to felony probation.
 
The Huffington Post reports that, “the Department of Defense has recently established the first Hindu Military Chaplain program in American history. Army Captain Pratima Dharm, who currently works as a Chaplain Clinician at Walter Reed Medical Center Hospital, took on her new role as the Army's first Hindu Chaplain as of May 16.” This is particularly important to the changing demographics of the United States and its armed forces. There has been a significant increase in South Asian immigrants in the past decade, resulting in a greater number of Hindus in the military.
 
This week has also brought us substantial updates in the proposed California circumcision bans. The individual driving Santa Monica circumcision ban (USA Today) withdrew after the issue turned highly religious. She was quoted as distancing herself from the group responsible the San Francisco ban effort (LA Times), MGMbill.org. Speaking of MGMbill.org, its leader has taken heat for co-authoring a comic book that includes some arguably anti-Semitic language and imagery.