For almost twenty years, the Pluralism Project has tracked incidents of violence and denigration expressed toward Islamic Centers and Muslims in the U.S. While incidents of this sort are not new, the virulence of negative voices today is new. Even after 9/11, the community response to attacks on mosques often revealed something more heartening at the local level: people who stood in great numbers with Muslim neighbors to say, “This is not who we are as Americans and as people of faith!”
There are still strong voices articulating this response, like that of Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama, and it is heartening to see the many public figures who have spoken out. Even so, we all have to be very concerned about the tone of Islamophobia that is running rampant across our country. Our daily headlines are rife with stories of opposition to new mosque projects in California, New York, and Tennessee; vandalism and arson at mosques in California, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas; and an alarming increase in bias and hate crimes targeting Muslims and Islamic Centers. We must continue to work together to defuse the toxic messages that undermine our foundational civic and religious values. For many of us, that task happens first and foremost in the classroom. As we welcome new students on our campuses this fall, let us engage this powerful teaching moment: What is our civic responsibility as Americans? What is our moral and ethnic imperative as people of faith and conscience? How can each of us, in our varied disciplines and vocations, be engaged in the challenge of religious pluralism?
On September 11, immediately following Rosh Hashanah and Eid al Fitr next week, Terry Jones, senior pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, and author of Islam is of the Devil, will host International Burn a Koran Day at his church “in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam.” Though Jones has been dismissed by some as a fringe leader, and ignored by others who don’t want to fan the flames of his incendiary message, his vision has found traction among a select group of Americans, and has troubled many around the world. (As of today, the Facebook page for this event touts over 7,000 fans.) September 11, honored as “Patriot Day” since 2002, is a day of remembrance for the victims of 9/11. Yet what Jones and others promote is a revisionist history; they fail to acknowledge that among those who died that day were several hundred Muslims, and that American Muslims and Muslims leaders around the world have persistently denounced terrorism as incompatible with Islam. We cannot stand by as fellow Americans distort our public ideals, our very sense of who counts as American, as a patriot.
Part of our counter-message about Jones and others might be to lift up the work that is happening within the Muslim American community. For example, this past week Muslims in La Jolla, California, held a “Share the Quran” iftar, or meal to break the Ramadan fast. Guests received copies of the Quran as part of CAIR’s “Share the Quran” campaign. “The purpose of the event,” according to CAIR San Diego, “was to invite neighbors of all faiths to come together and to get to know one another in light of the anti-Islamic rhetoric surrounding the New York City Islamic center project in Manhattan and the planned ‘Burn the Koran’ in Florida.” Such initiatives – that are at the same time local and national in scope – invite people to come together to build relationships with one another, and in doing so dispel the stereotypes that extend to the public square.
As in the past, the Pluralism Project is engaged in research that attempts to understand not only the forces of fear and division, but also the many movements and initiatives that strengthen the common fabric of our society. Let us know what is happening in your part of the country or the world.
This past summer, as you know, we hosted our first ever fellowship program. Four graduate and postgraduate students, two community associates, and one college level intern from around the country joined us for a summer of researching and writing a new series of case studies on the challenges of multireligious America. Through weekly workshops, we helped each other refine our work, and developed a collegiality that has continued over the past few weeks through email exchanges. This group of remarkable scholars embodies the collaborative spirit that we are all called to in this time, and gives me hope for the future of education and public discourse. Thank you, Alex Kern, Nancy Khalil, Todd LeVasseur, Melissa Nozell, Brendan Randall, Dawinder “Dave” Sidhu, and Kristin Stoneking for your contributions to the Pluralism Project, and to the communities in which you work and teach.
With all best wishes,
Photo Contest Winners
We were delighted with the response to our summer photo contest. Thank you to all who participated. Congratulations to grand prize winner Dwight Morita of Kailua, Hawaii for his photo, “Floating Lanterns.” Congratulations to the other photo contest winners: Scott Allan Stevens, Iwona Biedermann, Jonathan Cox, David W. Damrel, Joshua Fahler, Rev. Heron/Tara Sudweeks Willgues, Nushmia Khan, Erin Loeb, Rebecca Luberoff, Dwight K. Morita, Melissa Nozell, Inbal Perlman, Amanda Pruitt, Prerak D. Shah, Anne Teich, Alexandra Tourek, and Sraddha Van Dyke! Their photos are all featured on the new slideshow on our redesigned homepage, www.pluralism.org Click on any photo for more information.
We have yet to select a grand prize winner for the video contest, and look forward to announcing that in our next e-newsletter. We encourage you and your students to continue to submit photos, videos, and film trailers to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for possible inclusion on our homepage!
International Youth Delegations
Through our International Initiative we seek to gain a better understanding of how the challenges we face with regard to religious pluralism in the United States compare to those of other multi-religious societies across the globe. As part of this work, we regularly engage with international delegations.
In early June, our summer fellows and staff received a visit from Dr. Caroline Suransky and Prof. Henk Manschot of the Kosmopolis Institute of the University of Humanistic Studies, in Utrecht, the Netherlands. In collaboration with the Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries (Hivos), the Kosmopolis Institute offers the “Promoting Pluralism Knowledge Program,” an international academic-practitioner collaborative in India, Indonesia, Uganda, and the Netherlands. The Program is currently in the process of applying for affiliation with the Pluralism Project through our International Initiative; we look forward to exploring further linkages with them. Dr. Suransky and Prof. Manschot are pictured above with our summer fellows and Project staff.
In late July, we hosted an Iraqi Youth Leadership Exchange program sponsored by the State Department and the Global Youth Leadership Institute (GYLI) for a case study workshop. Pluralism Project staff, summer fellows, and alumni received the group of Iraqi teenagers, American teens from New England, program facilitators, and host families. The purpose of the exchange program was to introduce youth to civic engagement and interfaith dialogue in Greater Boston. Two Pluralism Project summer fellows, Brendan Randall and Kristin Stoneking, taught interactive case studies, providing the delegates with a foundation from which to share their own experiences about religious and cultural pluralism in Iraq and the United States.
In early August, Pluralism Project Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre moderated a panel of local women leaders in a discussion on women’s roles and leadership in faith-based and interfaith organizing. The event, held at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, was part of Empower Peace’s “Women2Women International Conference,” an annual conference for over 100 teenage women from the United States and the Arab and Muslim world who come together in order to build “much-needed bridges of understanding and trust between improbable allies, uniting them across shared interests and purpose.” The panel was preceded by an orientation to the Center, and to Islam in America; delegates also had the opportunity to participate in or observe evening prayers. Lohre helped organize the panel, which included Jenny Peace, managing director of the Center for Interreligious Leadership Education (or CIRCLE) at Andover Newton School & Hebrew College; Janet Penn, executive director of Interfaith Action in Sharon, Mass.; and Malika Rashdan, director of ICNA Relief Boston.
AAR Reception Save the Date
The Pluralism Project will host its annual reception at the American Academy of Religion on Friday, October 29 from 9-11 PM in the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. This year’s program will explore new developments in our Case Study Initiative, which seeks to apply the case method to the disputes and dilemmas of multireligious America. Highlights from our recent case study workshops, courses, and our 2010 Case Study Summer Fellowship program will serve as a starting point for discussion.
Religious Diversity News
You can follow the trajectory of news stories over time by utilizing the “continuing stories” feature in our Religious Diversity News (RDN) database. For example, you can follow the Park51/Cordoba House controversy through articles we have collected over the summer months. Sign up to receive weekly news updates by filling out our “Connect” form online. You can also explore the most recent news in the scrolling newsbox on our homepage, www.pluralism.org
We invite you to consider making a donation to the Pluralism Project. 100% of your tax-deductible donation will go directly to supporting the Pluralism Project’s mission, and will enable us to engage the next generation of student researchers. For more information, click here.