FREMONT — His name was never spoken in two hours of speeches, but Donald Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric and the Islamophobia it has churned up were roundly repudiated Sunday, as Bay Area civic and religious leaders told Muslim residents and neighbors: You are one of us and you are not alone.
In brief but emphatic and sometimes passionate speeches, about two dozen pastors and rabbis, mayors and activists spoke at Hands Around the Mosque, an interfaith event intended to build understanding.
“We can smell fascism when it’s arising, and it’s beginning to arise in the country,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the Berkeley-based Jewish Tikkun magazine. “It scares us.”
Children sing during “Hands Around the Mosque” at the Islamic Society of East Bay in Fremont, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. This is part of an American Muslim Voice Foundation initiative, the Miracle Movement of Peace and Friendship to foster a tighter sense of community among diverse Americans. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) ( Nhat V. Meyer )
But looking out at the 250 people gathered at the Islamic Society of East Bay, organizer Samina Sundas of the Palo Alto-based American Muslim Voice Foundation pronounced, “This is the most beautiful sight.”
Adults — wearing clerical collars and yarmulkes, shawls and scarves — and children filled folding chairs set on out the plaza of the elegant, domed mosque, as the Islamic call to prayer began the program.
“If all of us sit down with each other and talk to each other, all the ignorance and fear will just fly out the window,” Sundas said.
Many were propelled to participate by their own religious teachings.
Christians are uniquely challenged to actively build bridges of understanding among religions, said the Rev. Vincent Raj, of the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real on the Monterey Peninsula.
The Hebrew Bible commands “remember the stranger with kindness, said Rabbi Neil Penn, of Beyt Tikkun in Berkeley.
The event included guests clasping hands as they formed a circle in the plaza of the mosque, to express a movement “from fear to friendship” in public attitudes toward Muslim Americans.
But even as they rejected the politics of hate, the messages of acceptance were delivered not to be directive, but reflective.
“Americans after 9/11 have been quick to condemn, too quick to pass judgment,” said Scott Haggarty, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.
And Abbot Jianshu Shifu of the Zen Center of Sunnyvale, reminded people that there were no good and bad people, just people who do go and bad deeds.
Learner, cofounder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, blamed not Trump supporters, but an economic system that is squeezing, disenfranchising and alienating most people. “We need to address the hunger in people for an alternative,” he said, and transform the social order.
Since founding American Muslim Voice in 2003, Sundas has held peace picnics, peace conventions and invited the broader community to celebrate the Muslim feast Eid, and always has fed the participants. She ran out of food only once, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, when 600 instead of 300 people show up.
On Sunday, after a candlelight vigil, the feast of Pakistani food — served in the sanctuary of the neighboring St. Paul Fremont United Methodist Church, because the center lacked space for the crowd — proved to be enough to go around. Sundas was happy.
She had hoped to present a counter vision, to the politics of rejection, of what America could be — and is. “We could send a loud and clear message to the world: In California, this is how we do things. We support each other with kindness with love and with compassion.”
There were over 20 speakers representing religious communities in the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Jain, Unitarian, Quaker and Muslim communities. At least two other clergy speakers were Tikkun subscribers and NSP-affiliated. Each of us were told we had max of 3 minutes. Here’s what I (Rabbi Michael Lerner) acutally said:
I bring you greetings from the Jewish community of the East Bay. We in the Jewish community will not let Muslims be attacked while others stand by silently. We are with you. We remember the Holocaust and the smell of fascism, and that smell of fascism is beginning to appear in the U.S. today–and we at the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives are committed to struggling against that fascism. Statements of solidarity that we are hearing here today are very important and need to be repeated in every county and state in the U.S. But that is not enough. We also need a smart analysis of why this is happening and a strategy to combat it.
There are, of course, many people, probably about 20% of the American electorate, who are racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, Islmoaphobic and/or xenophobic. But there are also a large section of the U.S. electorate who do not fit into these categories and yet are responding to those who give voice to the anger and frustration that many very decent people are feeling in their lives. Those feelings are generated by their daily experience living inside a capitalist economic system which daily tells them that if they haven’t “made it” into the top 20% of the population economically it’s because they aren’t deserving to be there, that they are failures in some way.
And that same system tells them that the only way to be a “success” is to maximize lots of money and power for themselves, acquire lots of material things (homes, cars, boats, gadgets, etc). Daily in the world of work they experience that every one seems to be out only for themselves. “Looking out for number one” is the basic worldview of capitalism, and to be a rational person in this society means to maximize your own advantage without regard to the consequences for others.
The result is that many people feel surrounded by others who care only for themselves, and this makes them feel lonely, not knowing who to count on, and very scared that nobody will be there for them when they are needed. These are legitimate fears, given the nature of capitalist society, and it leaves people feeling angry and upset and not knowing where to turn. So when some people articulate these fears, and then blame the problem on some of the traditional “OTHERS” of our society (generally African Americans and Native Americans, but in the last few decades increasingly those OTHERS have included feminists, gays and lesbians, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and liberals and progressives of every sort) people get attracted because then they no longer have to blame themselves for being failures.
The desire to be truly seen and recognized as valuable just for who they are and not for what they can make financially or perform in the capitalist marketplace is a totally legitimate need. What we spiritual progrressives need to do is address that same need but help people see that it is not their own failure, but the failure at the heart of our competitive marketplace oriented society and its ethos of selfishness and looking out for number one that is the heart of the problem. To counter that, we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org/covenant put forward a new bottom line. Instead of judging things productive, efficient or rational to the extent that they maximize money and power, our New Bottom Line says that corporations, government policies, our economic system, our education system, our legal system should all be judged efficient, rational and productive to the extent that they support our human capacity to be loving and caring for each other and for the earth, environmentally and ethically responsible, generous and kind, responding to other human beings as embodiments of the sacred and not just in terms of how they can be “useful” to us, and responding to the universe and the planet earth with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of all that is (rather than thinking “I wonder if there’s something here I can turn into a commodity and sell to make money for myself”). Popularizing and building a movement around this New Bottom Line, while decreasing the self-blaming of people and helping them find a more positive way to channel their legitimate anger and frustration at the selfishness and materialism of this society is what our NSP– Network of Spiritual Progressives is about. We invite you to join us at www.spiritualprogressives.org/join
P.S. Don’t ask me how i fit all that in to 3 minutes–maybe they let me run over a little since many of the speakers didn’t use their full 3 minutes. But I spoke very quickly, yet apparently not too quickly, because the response was very strongly positive.