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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 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.