Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's Going To Be Good

What a difference a hate mail can make!

On the day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, November 23, the Evergreen Islamic Center (EIC) in San Jose, CA, received a hate mail that set off a chain of events that not only diminished the haters but in the most moving and celebratory way, reaffirmed our faith in America. I have written about the overwhelming support we received from our fellow-Americans from near and far in an article in the San Jose Mercury News, so I will not repeat the details here.

What I want to focus on is the gathering of over 400 Americans at EIC on Sunday, December 11 – Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, atheists and, of course, Muslims -  to denounce hate and Islamophobia and express solidarity with us.

Speaker after speaker invited the writer(s) of the hate letter to meet Muslims and overcome their prejudice against a minority of Americans (about 3 million in a population of about 330 million Americans). Rabbis, priests, reverends, clergies, young and old took to the stage to invite Americans to celebrate our common humanity. “There is enough love to go around,” declared the president of EIC, and so true it was!

Supervisor Dave Cortese reminded the gathering that San Jose was one of six metropolitan areas of the world lauded and emulated for its religious harmony. Mayor Sam Liccardo reiterated his vow to make San Jose a sanctuary city for undocumented workers and students if Donald Trump’s government attempted to deport them.

Symbol of support from Shira Goldman of Tarzana, CA

Imam Tahir Anwar quoted Martin Luther King, Jr: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 

That 400 people of different faiths had given up the leisurely pleasures of a Sunday afternoon to travel to EIC and spread the message of love was a testament to the greatness of ordinary Americans.

Perhaps the most moving remarks came from Reverend Kiley of the Silicon Valley Faith Group who said, “I see the tapestry of this community with deep belief in love.” He then quoted a poem by Edwin Markham:

He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in!

The year 2016 will go down as one of the most traumatic in history. The plight of refugees, the deaths of innocents, the accelerating pace of global warming, all capped by the election of an unexpected and unpredictable candidate to the highest office in America has put most of us on edge. 

But despair is the hallmark of the weak. It is in our power – ordinary Americans driven by a sense of duty, responsibility and love – to overcome policies that challenge our bedrock values. Things will not fall apart; the center will hold for it is the best among us who are full of passionate intensity while the worst lack all conviction.

Paraphrasing the Beatles: Take a sad year and make it better.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Generous Americans Teach Us the True Meaning of Thanksgiving

(You can also read the article here.)

On the day before Thanksgiving this year, the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose, CA, received a postal mail that contained these lines:
“There’s a new sheriff in town – President Donald Trump. He is going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And he’s going to start with you Muslims. He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews. You Muslims would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge.”
After some deliberations, the EIC board contacted the police on Thursday, November 24, Thanksgiving Day. Within minutes, law enforcement officials rushed to the Center and offered to provide extra security for the community. Local Priests, Rabbis and elected officials condemned the bigotry and assured us of their support.
As word of the hate mail spread through TV, newspapers and social media, support poured in. Our initial emotions of shock and distress gave way to hope and courage, and we realized anew how fortunate we were to be living in a country where ordinary citizens were united by the common goal of justice and freedom for all.
There is clearly a strong correlation between the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States and the spike in hate crimes directed against Muslims and other minority groups. More than 100 anti-Muslim incidents have occurred across the country and more than 700 incidents targeting different minority groups have been documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center since November 8.
We are not afraid that bigots and hatemongers, emboldened by Donald Trump, are coming out of the woodwork to threaten us, although we remain cautious and vigilant. Ours is a land of law, and even though the law is sometimes bent by the wealthy and the powerful in their favor, we are confident that no one is above the law. Remember the case of the late President Richard Nixon, who had to resign in disgrace in 1974 to avoid certain impeachment.

Jews and Christians gather in front of Evergreen Islamic Center, San Jose, CA,
on Friday, December 2, 2016, to express their solidarity with Muslims.
Far from frightening us, this hate mail has, in fact, given us a renewed sense of mission when the ‘new sheriff’ begins his presidency. We are heartened that mayors and presidents of colleges and universities across the country have declared their cities and campuses ‘sanctuary spaces’ for undocumented workers, students and their families.
But ultimately, our faith in our country comes from the numerous messages, emails and cards we received from neighbors and strangers.
“As a Christian,” wrote Vance, “I am taught that above all else, ‘love thy neighbor.’ I want to extend my love to your community and want you to know that many Christians, like me, stand in solidarity with you.”
Miriam wrote that “not all Americans feel the way the hateful people do. I am a Jew and I support you, my cousins. Love and peace, we are all 1!”
Holly assured us that “I will do whatever it takes to help protect your first amendment rights.” Stacy reminded us that “there are many of us in San Jose who do not feel the way the haters do. We welcome you for the diversity and the rich culture you bring to our lovely city.”
Davida was sad because “here in Bay Area we think we live in a sanctuary of unity but unfortunately that is not the case. I pray for peace and understanding for all in this uncertain time.” And this from Marina: “I have heard some people talking about a ‘Muslim registry.’ Many Americans have said they will register as Muslims regardless of their faith, as many Danes under Nazi occupation wore yellow stars. I, too, will register as a Muslim if that time were to come.”
Muslim-Americans could not have learned more vividly the true meaning of Thanksgiving were it not for our generous fellow Americans. We are truly blessed.