Monday, March 7, 2011

'Today I am a Muslim Too' - A Rabbi at the Times Square Rally

Equipped with a rain jacket and umbrella in anticipation of the damp afternoon forecast, I headed down to Stamford yesterday lunchtime to take a bus into New York City with members of the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies.  This is a diverse and wonderful Muslim community that draws members from across Fairfield County.  Members from this community were the first Muslims to partner with our Fairfield County 'Tent of Abraham' interfaith dialog group when we started our three-faith community programs 5 years ago.  We have since partnered with them many times, and their teenagers participate with our teenagers in an annual Teen Interfaith-Interaction program every Spring.

Why was I spending my afternoon with this community on a trip into New York City?  At relatively short notice, a multi-faith coalition had come together for a rally yesterday afternoon near Times Square to protest the congressional inquiry due to start this week, chaired by House Homeland Security Chair, Peter King, looking into Radicalized Islam in the USA.  King has claimed that Muslims within the USA are an increasing threat because they are being radicalized on our home turf, and Muslim communities are not cooperating sufficiently to identify and root out these radicalized elements.  It is important to know that these claims have been challenged by government departments who work with Muslim communities on a regular basis.  For a balanced article on this inquiry and the lead-up to it, a good piece in the Washington Post last week is worth reading.

As residents of Connecticut, in the wake of a fringe evangelical group parading outside a Bridgeport mosque shortly before Ramadan last year with placards declaring that 'Islam is the Devil', and a mosque in Hamden being vandalized last week for the third time in a year, the concern that Muslim American citizens are being targeted and victimized solely on the basis of their faith is something that should be of concern to everyone, but especially to other minority groups, faith-based or otherwise.  As Jews, we should always be especially concerned when we see anything that looks like government-sponsored stirring up of popular opinion and fear toward one group of citizens.  And King's inquiry certainly looks like that to many people of faith.

The rally organized in New York City yesterday was an interfaith effort, with Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Buddhist speakers (apologies for any omissions).  Rabbis for Human Rights was one of the supporting organizations who tried to help get the word out at what was short notice to pull a rally together.  Nevertheless, despite the short time-frame and the appalling weather, about 500 people attended the rally.

My bus-ride down to the city was a wonderful opportunity to listen and hear about many of the experiences of the men, women and children who were attending the rally.  Mothers coming with their children because they don't want their American-born children to grow up hearing from their government that they are somehow less American or more suspect because of the faith that they practice; friends who have reduced their international traveling because of the scrutiny and treatment they have experienced at the airports; debates that Muslims have among themselves about profiling (we were all of the opinion that one should profile for violent fanatics, and there are ways of better identifying potentially dangerous individuals, but faith or ethnicity were not very good indicators of these traits).  We also talked about what it was like for one Egyptian-born woman who just happened to have gone home to visit her sister when the Revolution happened; we talked about the ethical components of the Halal food industry (our Kashrut agencies could learn a lot from our Muslim colleagues on this issue).  And then we helped each other figure out what statements we wanted to put on the placards that our coordinator, Dolores, had brought, and what images would accompany them.

The placards turned out to be a wonderful idea, especially as the youth who were with us produced some beautiful and moving statements, simply put.  When we reached the rally we ended up in the front of a second area that had been partitioned off on the side of the road where the rally was taking place.  With their placards hanging over the barriers, a number of news channels and photographers came by to capture our group.  The ethnic backgrounds of the members enabled them to do interviews with the press in English, Spanish and Urdu.  Calmly we expressed our love for all peoples, and our objections to an inquiry that is divisive and detrimental to the safety of millions of American Muslims who are peace-loving; people we are proud to call our friends and neighbors.

The vibe was very positive, and we found ourselves engaged in conversations with others who had come to the rally; Muslim, Quaker, Christian, Jew.  There had been a very small group that identified themselves as tea-party connected who had intended to counter-demonstrate but they seemed to disperse quickly.  We found ourselves being greeted by one woman who was very concerned that we knew the Truth about Jesus and was not satisfied to hear Muslims tell her that they loved Jesus and the love that Jesus taught; our lack of belief in her particular understanding of Jesus was something that troubled her greatly.  We politely took her literature and were able to continue with our main purpose for being there when the wonderful police officer stationed at the front of our section politely suggested she move on.

A couple of hours later, the rally almost over, we made our way out.  The rally made but a small dent in the rhetoric that I am afraid we will have to listen to in the coming week.  Realizing that they could not stop the inquiry, many Muslims are now trying to participate so that they can communicate the message that they want to be heard; it is too dangerous to leave this inquiry in the hands of those who have already drawn dangerous conclusions devoid of factual information and seemingly unaware (or, God forbid, uncaring) about the potential consequences of their words to spur more violence against Muslim communities in the USA.

I urge all people of faith to speak out against King's inquiry.  It is a misplaced and misguided response to the real, ongoing concerns about terrorism, fundamentalists and fanatics.  Targeting the entire American Muslim community is wrong, and dangerously so.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

1 comment:

  1. I would have loved to have been there too! Please let me know next time. It's my ever-present prayer that our shared humanity will lead us to peace and compassion above fear and hatred. Thanks for being a voice of love and tolerance for the Jewish community.