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Ameena Jandali joined other East Bay speakers including a representative from Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office at Albany’s first Annual Peace Day on Sunday, September 23rd. The event was sponsored by the City of Albany’s Social and Economic Justice Committee and was the brainchild of Albany’s mayor, who proposed the idea last year as an event dedicated to preventing war.
Speakers stressed the need to work for peace both at home and abroad. Ameena’s talk focused on the importance of promoting peace at home, as follows:
Thanks for inviting me to speak today. It is heartwarming to see so many individuals and groups concerned and working proactively for peace and justice in our society. As we speak, a group of interfaith and community leaders, families and individuals are taking part in a march and interfaith event in Antioch to protest the arson/vandalism hate crime that occurred there on August 12th. This is an example of what makes the U.S. truly unique and gives hope to us even in difficult times where the hope for peace in the world looks dim.
There are those in this country and in the world who seek to capitalize on our differences to divide us, but there are a growing number of people who understand that we are all in this country and world together and that understanding and peace are stronger and more powerful tools than tanks and guns. Numerous groups have gone through similar periods of our history, from native Americans, African Americans, Irish, Jews, Italians, Germans, Japanese, Communists, and most recently Muslims. The rhetoric and the hyperbole may have different characteristics, but the goal and the results are the same: to de-humanize and vilify the other, and create a situation where the “other’s” life or liberty, or happiness is of no consequence.
As we speak, the nation is witnessing the case known as Jena Six, which is about six black boys ranging in age from 15 to 17 years old are charged with attempted murder for schoolyard fight after nooses were hung from a tree and face up to 100 years in prison without parole. The fight took place amid mounting racial tension after a black student sat under a tree in the schoolyard where only white students sat.
Racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia are all different sides of the same coin – and all are equally condemnable. De-humanizing and vilifying the “other” is the first step towards genocide. The same kind of media representations, rhetoric, and propaganda that was used before the Holocaust was used in Bosnia to instigate fear and hatred against neighbors who had lived next to each other and intermarried for centuries. Once a race, ethnicity or religious group has been sufficiently demonized, it becomes much easier to put forth the notion that that group or country are a threat to our security and our way of life.
That is why it is incumbent upon those who truly believe that all people were created equal speak out for justice, equality, and peace, even in the face of the worst type of propaganda. Remember the memorable words of Pastor Martin Neumueller leading up to World War II “First they came for the communist, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t Communists. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me”.
Here at ING we are trying to challenge the stereotypes and build the bridges that in many cases did not exist before 9/11, and reach out to faith and other communities to forge bonds of understanding. One example of this is our two year old ongoing relationship and dialogue with the Jewish Community Relations Council of the East Bay, who are part of the march and interfaith event taking place in Antioch today. For the past two years we have met regularly and attended each other’s religious events, and have focused our discussions on what we have in common, not what tears us apart.
One of our most recent events was a Mimouna celebration that commemorated a traditional event rooted in Morocco, when Muslim neighbors would keep the leavening for their Jewish neighbors during the Passover, and the Mimouna celebrated the return of the leavening. After returning to their homes, the Jews, as was customary, took a basket full of Passover delicacies to a Muslim acquaintance. The basket contained an egg and meat pie (a Jewish delicacy), matzah and salads. The good relations between Jews and Muslims continued for many generations. Today American Muslims and Jews are trying to re-discover that relationship.
It is time for people of all faiths and backgrounds to seek what unites us, and to recognize the humanity in all of us. The Muslim Holy book, the Qur’an speaks to the issue of human differences in the verse: “O Humankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you” (Quran 49:13).
It is that vision – of a world where our differences are a source of celebration, not division, and the belief that it is our common humanity that should bring us together, not the cycle of hate and violence that produces only more of the same. Today is one example of a step in that direction, a step towards peace and harmony for all members of the world community.
To conclude, I end with the Muslim greeting of peace: Salaam alaikum – peace on all of you.