Iman trip to Nazi camps spurs project to fight religious hate speech
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Iman trip to Nazi camps spurs project to fight religious hate speech

Just weeks after returning from unprecedented investigation of Nazi-era death camps, American Jewish and Muslim interfaith activists have announced their intent to form a national organization aimed at combating religious hate speech in all of its forms.

During a Capitol Hill briefing on Sept. 22 – in which several D.C.-area Muslim leaders reported to lawmakers about the recent educational trip they took to Auschwitz and Dachau – the Muslim and Jewish activists vowed to join forces in an effort to battle anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic rhetoric that they say too often imbues contentious national political debates.

The yet-to-be-named project will “set up a structure that would give” moderate Muslim leaders “a megaphone” from which to denounce extremism, said Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Carlstadt-based Center for Interreligious Understanding. A lead organizer of the group, he also helped plan the August trip to Auschwitz and Dachau.

The interfaith activists also will work to prevent the proliferation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic tract that is easily procured in the Muslim world and many Muslim American communities.

The group’s other core organizers – who also were present at the Capitol Hill briefing – include Marshall Breger, an Orthodox Jew who is a law professor at Catholic University in Washington; Sayyid Syeed, national director for the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances; and Mohamed Magid, imam and executive director of the ADAMS Center (All Dulles Area Muslim Society).

Members of the group were scheduled to gather in the District for their first formal meeting on Tuesday, and, following that, to hold a briefing at the National Press Club in Washington. Organizers said they eventually aim to bring Christian leaders into the project as well.

The effort comes as Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Reform movement, have independently stepped up efforts to combat anti-Muslim bigotry.

Syeed said the group represents a natural evolution in the growing relationship between the American Muslim and Jewish communities.

Syeed also recalled that after returning to America following the trip to Auschwitz, he was greeted by a vitriolic national debate surrounding the proposed Muslim community center located several blocks from Ground Zero in New York City.

“This has been a difficult time” for Muslims, as many Americans are gripped by Islamaphobia, Syeed said, adding that as the mosque debate intensified, “we noticed that the Jewish community has come forward and been the most public supporters of the mosque.”

The new interfaith effort, he added, is a byproduct of this relationship.

Bemporad noted that the seeds of the group were sown as debate around the Muslim community center intensified.

“I see similar patterns in the way Muslims are being treated to the way Jews and even Catholics” have been treated at earlier times in America’s history, he said.

Added Suhail Khan, another lead organizer of the group and senior fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement: “Rather than holding hands and singing Kumbaya,” the group will “bring people together to be the responsible adults in the room” by addressing controversial issues that can adequately be addressed by the religious community.

Washington Jewish Week

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