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Archive for the ‘Inter-Culturalism’ Category



A Call for Love in the Face of Hatred: Rabbi Lerner’s talk at Muhammad Ali’s Memorial

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

In case you who missed it, here’s Rabbi Lerner’s talk at Muhammed Ali’s funeral.His vision is all the more relevant given the horrific killings in Orlando and the way it is being used to promote fear, hatred and Islamophobia. It has gone viral on social media and inspired over a million people already. If it inspires you as well, please read below for how to be an ally with Rabbi Lerner to help build the world he describes.

Wondering why Rabbi Lerner got invited and how to respond to the handful of naysayers who have been upset by Lerner’s powerful message? Please read below.

Muhammad Ali had known Rabbi Lerner as a friend and ally in the 1960s and early 1970s when both were indicted by the U.S. government for their roles in opposing the war in Vietnam. He then wrote Rabbi Lerner to praise his book with Cornel WestJews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin.Approximately seven years ago, he decided to invite Rabbi Lerner to represent the American Jewish community at his memorial service. Rabbi Lerner only received a phone call invitation from the Ali family four days before he got on an airplane to Louisville.

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Instead of Being Silent

Jun14

by: on June 14th, 2016 | No Comments »

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is something about people dying that I cannot fully make sense of. When it’s a group of people, and even more so when it’s at the hands of other people, I have nothing inside me that feels prepared to know how to make sense of it, what to say to myself, to others. Silence then becomes appealing. Yet silence allows hatred to continue.

What does love look like in the wake of violence I cannot grasp? What does love mean when one of two contenders for the most powerful political position in the world is responding with targeting entire groups of Muslims?

It is love, for me, to explicitly say that the killing in Orlando wasn’t actually the largest mass shooting in US history, no matter how often this message is repeated. Why? Because it’s an invitation to remember people who, at the time of their mass killing by the hundreds, were considered other, and to have their lives count, at least now: the 400 Tolowa Indians in Yontoket in 1853 and the 300 Black people in Tulsa in 1921, as just two examples.

It is love, for me, to note to myself that this recent carnage brought together in a terrible tragedy three groups of people all of whom are made other, all of whom are targets of violence, violence which often goes unnoticed: LGBT, people of color, and Muslims. My heart sinks at the horror of imagining that a subtle hierarchy of whose life counts is woven through the fabric of US culture. Today, Islamophobia is on the rise. In Trump’s world, for example, the fact that these were mostly Latinos, another group he has maligned, shrinks in comparison with the killer being a Muslim. No, I won’t go for that. I want to go for love, for knowing and proclaiming that all violence counts. I want to join Alan Pelaez Lopez in remembering “that xenophobia teaches us to only celebrate and empathize with white immigrants,” and to claim that all humans are precious. As Michael Lerner said: “We are one global ‘we,’ and we must never let any part of us become the target that is somehow made a ‘legitimate’ target.”

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President Obama & Hiroshima: A Pathway to National Atonement

May27

by: on May 27th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

President Obama’s speech today in Hiroshima did not contain the word “atonement.” Nevertheless, the spirit of atonement was carried throughout. It was not only the most remarkable speech of Barack Obama’s presidency, it is arguably the most remarkable speech given by any U.S. president, ever.

In concluding his speech, President Obama said:

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

There are so many areas in which to critique President Obama’s tenure in office, and yet there are times, like today, that I am grateful to have a sitting president whose core intention is to seek the greater good of all humankind.  Yes, it is disappointing that he has presided over a wholly corrupt military system and has done nothing to change it: namely, a military system that lures young men and women with financial and emotional enticements to fight the nation’s wars, all while the rest of the nation, whatever their politics, goes about the charade of “supporting the troops,” as if morally tolerating the corrupt military machine that has and is devouring their lives can remotely approximate the notion of loving fraternity.  We have a long way to go as a nation, from President Obama to the men and women of Mainstreet, to atone for our toleration of this ongoing assault on the sanctity of human life.

Yet I give President Obama credit for at least endeavoring throughout his presidency, and the last two years in particular, to create the emotional space for the American people to atone for our sins as a nation.  Politicians do not succeed at their primary craft – winning elections – by creating that emotional space, and that largely holds true for Barack Obama as well.  Yet that space, that space for genuine national atonement, has been carved by this president.  It may be a small space for now, but it is something that we can, I believe must, expand upon.


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The New Anti-Semitism: Islamophobia

May16

by: Ron Hirschbein on May 16th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

It is acceptable to advance anti-Semitism in film – provided the Semites are Arabs. I call this habit of racial and cultural generalization “The New Anti-Semitism.” I call it “new” not because stereotypical screen Arabs are new (they aren’t) or because anti-Semitism against Jews is dead (it isn’t). I use the word “new” because many of the anti-Semitic films directed against Arabs were released . . . at a time when Hollywood was steadily and increasingly eliminating stereotypical portraits of other groups.

- Jack Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

The new anti-Semitism extends far beyond darkened movie theatres to the spotlight shining on Donald J. Trump, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. What if Trump had substituted “Jew” in his diatribe against Muslims? What if he told enraptured followers that: Jews should be banned from entering the country until we can figure out what’s going on. And imagine: He’d require Jewish-Americans to register with a government database, and mandate special identification cards. Warrantless surveillance of American Jews and their places of worship would become the new normal.

It’s possible that such blatant anti-Semitism might have derailed his candidacy – but who could say for sure in these peculiar times? In any case, I suspect that degrading Jews would evoke more outrage than the calumny visited upon Muslims. Indeed, Trump’s followers celebrate Islamophobia, but is this anti-Semitism?

Jews and Arabs are both Semites. To cite a headline from the Israeli paper Haaretz: “Jews and Palestinian Arabs share genetic roots”; they’re “blood brothers” – much to the chagrin of the Semitic-deniers. Jews and Arabs also share a history, theology, and language. Linguists readily uncover the Semitic roots of Hebrew and Arabic. No wonder our prayers for peace bear a family resemblance – shalom and as salaam. But there is no peace. And there will be no peace until Jew and Arab stop mirroring hateful stereotypes of one another.

To be sure, in theory, Islamophobia cannot be reduced to prejudice against Arabs – only about 15% of Muslims are Arabs. In practice, however, Islamophobes keep it simple. The pervasive, Islamophobia mobilized and exploited by Trump and too many others is not the product of a nuanced analysis of the demographics of the diverse Islamic world. It is not tempered by the lessons of history found in works that should be required reading in these times, studies such as Hofstadter’s Paranoia in American Politics. The Arab is the Islamophobe’s idee fixe.

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Nazi Policy and Black Victims—Before, During, and After the Holocaust—from Africa to Berlin to North Carolina

May16

by: Edwin Black on May 16th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

In recent years, too many in the African American community have expressed a disconnect to Holocaust topics, seeing the genocide of Jews as someone else’s nightmare. After all, African Americans are still struggling to achieve general recognition of the barbarity of the Middle Passage, the inhumanity of slavery, the oppression of Jim Crow, and the battle for modern civil rights. For many in that community, the murder of six million Jews and millions of other Europeans happened to other minorities in a faraway place where they had no involvement.

Surviving Herero after their escape through the arid desert of Omaheke in German Southwest Africa (modern day Namibia) circa 1907 (Ullstein Bilderdienst, Berlin)

However, a deeper look shows that proto-Nazi ideology before the Third Reich, the wide net of Nazi-era policy, and Hitler’s post-war legacy deeply impacted Africans, Afro-Germans, and African Americans throughout the twentieth century. America’s Black community has a mighty stake in this topic. Understanding the German Reich and the Holocaust is important for Blacks just as it is for other communities, including Roma, eastern Europeans, people with disabilities, the gay community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many other groups in addition to Jews. The dots are well known to many scholars – but rarely connected to form a distinct historical nexus for either the Holocaust or the African American communities. This is understandable. The saga behind these connections started decades before the Third Reich came into existence, in a savage episode on another continent that targeted a completely different racial and ethnic group for death and destruction.

But the horrors visited on another defenseless group endured and became a template for the Final Solution. Students of the Holocaust are accustomed to looking backward long before the Third Reich and long after the demise of the Nazi war machine. African Americans should do the same.

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Creating a Better World

Apr7

by: Father Benjamin J. Urmston on April 7th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

As a veteran of World War II who has celebrated his 90th birthday, I’m not often moved reading current events and commentary.  But the consistent  and hopeful writings by Tikkun and Rabbi Michael Lerner are a refreshing contrast to news that ignores contexts and heartfelt analysis.

The first act of the American Revolution began in 1776. I think it remains for us to write the second act and perform it. This second act would truly bring liberty and justice for our world, for each human person, created in the image and likeness of God. This second act would be non-violent, courageous, imaginative, and comprehensive.

Tikkun advocates that the U.S. implement a form of the Marshall Plan that would bring security to Palestinians, the Jewish people, and others in our uneven world.

Instead of joining our allies in an effort to control our enemies, wouldn’t it be better to work together with all nations to promote human rights, an inclusive world economy, common security for all? Now we tend to exaggerate the faults of our enemies and minimize our own faults and the faults of our allies.

My amateur analysis concludes that we are not living in a workable, rational world.  We can’t be a human family at war with one another  and a sharing, cooperative people living in peace on the same planet. We need designs for a workable, moral world.  The present structures outside us and attitudes within us need to change.  I’m glad Rabbi Michael Lerner and many others are leading us in the right direction, cooperation over domination,  love over fear.

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For Hindu Americans, Long-Term Hopes for Pluralism About More Than Just Days Off

Feb10

by: Murali Balaji on February 10th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Tulsi Gabbard, America's first Hindu member of Congress. Creative Commons/AFGE

At a time when our struggle for civil and human rights seems daunting given the vitriolic political climate, one of the most striking lessons from history is that movements for social change never go smoothly.

In fact, one of the lessons many of us fail to appreciate from the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is how many internal struggles there was among the various groups and leaders that were calling for change. Ava DuVernay’s masterful Selma captured some of these struggles from the perspective of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., but there were many ideological, geographical, cultural, and religious fault-lines that hindered attempts to articulate a unified message for full equality and suffrage.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act, some of those tensions remained, even as groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and NAACP continued to try to impact long-lasting change.

Today, new battlefronts in the call for civil rights have emerged, most notably for recognizing the rights of religious minorities in a rapidly diversifying country. Religious pluralism is no longer just an ideal, but a reality that cities and communities across America are coming to grips with.

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For many Jews, anti-Arab racism hits home

Dec9

by: Keren Soffer Sharon on December 9th, 2015 | 12 Comments »

Following the devastating attacks in Paris, right wing forces have been fanning the frightening flames of anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. There have been calls for increased surveillance of Muslim communities, unconstitutional registration of American Muslims, and religious tests for Syrian refugees seeking safety in the United States.

A transit camp (maabarah) for Mizrahi immigrant refugees in 1952

I am Mizrahi. I’m a Jew, and like many Mizrahim, I’m also an Arab. We Arab Jews have a unique perspective to offer on the Syrian refugee crisis, and on the Islamophobic and anti-Arab backlash that we are seeing in this country and across the globe. For me, anti-Arab racism is not something abstract. It’s not something that needs a historical analogy to feel visceral. The hatred and fear directed toward our Arab and Muslim friends is an attack on the Arab heritage of Mizrahim and on our rich history as Jews.

Mizrahi Jews (meaning “Eastern”) are Jews who for over 2,500 years were indigenous to the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Asia and the Balkans. For much of this time, Mizrahim were deeply rooted in the Muslim-majority societies in which they lived. Our ultimate displacement was the result of several historical forces, including the establishment of the state of Israel by Ashkenazi (European) Jews with the support of imperial powers.

In the late 1930s, Ezra Haddad, an Iraqi Jewish author and historian, proclaimed, “We were Arabs before we became Jews,” in Al-Akhbar, an Iraqi daily newspaper. Before British and French colonialism, Arab Jews, Arab Muslims and Arab Christians shared communities, identities and homes – in the deepest sense. My mother’s maiden name is Soffer, which means “scribe.” My ancestors were Torah scribes in Basra, Iraq, dating as far back as anyone in my family can remember. There was no place my family would have called home before Basra. Like other Iraqi Jews, my family was part of a thriving Jewish community living among other religious minorities in a society that was widely tolerant of non-Muslims. We shared the physical, cultural and psychic space that made us all Arab. It is only recently, through the centralizing of the Ashkenazi narrative as the dominant Jewish story, that our identity as Jews is supposed to override our identity as Arabs.

There is no history to support the claim that Jews and Muslims are, or have ever been, perpetual enemies. Let us not forget that when both religious groups were expelled from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, it was Muslims who welcomed Sephardi Jews (meaning “from Spain”) into Morocco and parts of the Ottoman Empire. And contrary to the notion that Jews were never safe in Muslim-majority territories, it was actually the Christian territories where they faced the most virulent forms of Antisemitism. Jews and Muslims were both demonized and targeted during the Spanish Inquisition under the same system of Christian hegemony that would later form the political foundations of white supremacy as we know it today.

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Open Letter to Dr. Ben Carson

Sep21

by: on September 21st, 2015 | 8 Comments »

Dear Dr. Carson,

I write to express my disappointment at best for your statements on the NBC Sunday broadcast of “Meet the Press” on September 20, 2015. Host Chuck Todd raised the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s failure to correct an audience member in a town hall meeting in New Hampshire last week who asserted that President Obama is a Muslim, and then he advocated for the forceful deportation of Muslims from the U.S. Todd then asked you about your take on the controversy, to which you replied that a Muslim should not become president of our country: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

As a highly educated person, as a candidate for the presidency, and as someone who has co-authored, along with your wife Candy, a book titled A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties, you should have a more enlightened understanding of our nation’s foundational document.

In the book you write generally about the “basic principles” of the Constitution and how “they relate to our everyday lives.” You go on to state: “I believe that making a difference starts with understanding our amazing founding document, the U.S. Constitution.” You assert that both you and Candy wrote the book to “help defend” the Constitution “from those who misinterpret and undermine it.”


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Help Wanted to Pressure US Embassy Official

Aug13

by: on August 13th, 2015 | 16 Comments »

A friend of mine, Eritrean-American journalist Michael Abraham, is without resources or means of subsistence in Nairobi because a white US Embassy official will not give him the proof of his US citizenship that he needs to work as foreign correspondent or obtain emergency assistance from media rights groups as a journalist in distress having lost everything in the bloody South Sudan war. He has been offered both employment and assistance, if he can show his passport.

He can’t, because his passport is being held by a hotel manager who will not give it back until he pays the money he owes the hotel. But without a job, he can’t repay the hotel.

The embassy is refusing to provide a temporary proof of citizenship which would enable him to get a job as journalist. Isn’t that illegal? What can Michael do from here? Is there anyone reading this with the legal knowledge to give him free advice?

Here’s the whole story, which appears to be yet another tale of a white official acting racist. I have written it up as a press article, but I haven’t yet found any publication interested. When there is another unarmed Black citizen shot every few days in the US, I guess no one is up for paying attention to a Black citizen being blackballed by our embassy thousands of miles away. But if you have any legal advice, please do email me. The story in full:

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