I have written several articles on the increase in polarization and fragmentation that we have been witnessing in the wake of the presidential campaign and the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the US. The rhetoric of acrimony that is palpable the world over undermines the traditional notion of self-determination, rule of law, a return to the process of internal political dialogue, negotiations, and political accommodation in a democratic nation. We still have a lot of work to do in order to repair schisms.
Democracy does not limit itself to numbers or majoritarian rule, but to substance. There is no room for the subjection of religious minorities to a centralized and authoritarian state in a democratic nation. Self-promotion in the name of democracy, which is a given in autocratic and oligarchic forms of government, must be strongly discouraged by constitutional means and methods. Democratic growth and evolution cannot be sacrificed at the altar of arrogance, which is bred by ignorance.
Yesterday, I was invited to the annual banquet of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which was held at Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City. I availed myself of the wonderful opportunity to interact with leaders of diverse faith groups and members of the interfaith alliance at this plush event. My conversations with those erudite, cultured, and ecumenical people reinforced my hope in a multinational, multireligious, multiethnic, and cosmopolitan future.
One of the first people I talked with was Mike Korenblit, President of the Respect Diversity Foundation. I have the privilege of being on the Speaker’s Bureau of that foundation. Mike thougtfully observed, “When I’m asked why interfaith work is so important, I mention two cities: St. Louis, Missouri and Victoria, Texas.
St. Louis is where a Jewish cemetery was desecrated. Within 24 hours, the Muslim community had raised over $70,000.00 within a week’s time to repair their cemetery. They had planned to raise $20,000.00.
In Victoria, Texas, another hate crime occurred when a mosque was burned to the ground. The Rabbi, and other Jews from the community, very soon after the incident, went to the Imam’s house and gave him the keys to the Synagogue. The Rabbi said, ‘Please use our house of worship, for your prayers, for as long as you need.’
When people of different religions and backgrounds work together in their own communities, they learn to respect each other and are much less likely to attack each other for being different. That is what interfaith is all about – humanity to each other.”
The noteworthy ability of William Tabbernee, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, to employ the postcolonial lens and anti-conquest narrative in his analysis of political and historical events makes him a kindred soul. William underlined, “In these critical times, it is vitally important that the whole interfaith community stand in solidarity with the Muslim community. Destructive Islamophobia based on ignorance and fear is so pervasive that it can be removed only building relationships with members of the Muslim community, which will enable us to overcome the arrogance of ignorance.
Islam is a beautiful religion from which we can all learn to pray, fast, and to move closer to the one God whom we all worship in our own way.”
I had the great pleasure of first meeting Reverend Kris Ladusau of RK Buddhist Dharma Center of Oklahoma at the Raindrop Turkish House where I was awarded the Woman of the Year. At the end of my keynote speech, Kris Ladusau thanked me for having brought spirit to the event, which warmed the cockles of my heart. Yesterday evening, I talked with Kris about the significance of building intersectional alliances in a hostile political climate. She articulated her gratitude and joy at the camaraderie seen at CAIR’s event, “I am feeling grateful tonight as I share a table with representatives of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches at the Annual CAIR dinner in downtown OKC. Once again I am reminded of the importance of gathering together both in celebration and also to reinforce our commitment to being of service to the world.
Now more than ever, there is a need for connecting with others. Deep relationships based in mutual respect are manifesting within our community, providing a joy that is palpable. This gives me great hope for a positive future.”
Former President of the Interfaith Alliance, Dr. Carl J. Rubenstein, didn’t mince words while observing, “Considering that the fringe has now become the mainstream, interfaith work is critical to reclaim and maintain the center of our society as respectful and tolerant of others. It is the need of the day to prevent the fringe from becoming entrenched as the center.”
John Borrego of the Episcopal Church reinforced my notion of America, which is that of a mosaic carefully crafted from the assemblage of diverse materials. In drawing a beautiful analogy, John pointed out, “Jesus of Nazareth was not afraid to reach out to the Samaritans, with whom Christians had ceremonial disagreements. He did not hesitate to reach across lines, because division is ridiculous.”
I was unable to stay for the keynote because of other commitments, which seem to pile up at this busy time of year, but I did manage to have a brief chat with the speaker, Arsalan Iftikhar, who is the author of How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms. In a conversation that was interspersed with tidbits about my politics and work on Kashmir, Arsalan commented, “The rise in anti-Muslim sentiment is at an all-time high. But the outreach from allied communities and intersectional political allies is the silver lining in the very dark heart of bigotry and xenophobia.”
Although I left the event early so I could join my family at a Nawroz (Persian New Year) celebration, I knew that my faith in camaraderie, humanity, and the resilience of the human spirit had increased tenfold. The cliché, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” doesn’t seem that cliched after all.