Can Fear and Burning Unite?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
“I am more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11.”
Fear is very real for many Muslims in America today. I don’t think I truly understood how real this elevated level of anxiety is until I read Patel’s quote in Laurie Goodstein’s article in Sunday’s New York Times. He is a man who has spent a good deal of time speaking to all sorts of people and members of religious groups trying to build interfaith dialogue and understanding; I’m sure he’s witnessed some heated arguments and outlandish actions. For him to make this statement is striking, and troubling. We should take heed.
So much is happening right now, and the confluence of popular opinion and current events must be weighing mighty heavily on the minds of many Muslims. There are decreasing favorability ratings of Islam. There are heated protests and debates surrounding Park51, the Islamic cultural center and mosque in lower Manhattan. There are bricks being thrown and a taxi driver being stabbed. And, then, all this crazy media coverage of a Florida pastor pulling a publicity stunt by planning to burn Qur’ans on Saturday.
As to the Dove World church’s plans, there seems to be very little response from other faith leaders and religious communities. Where’s the outcry? But, as The Christian Science Monitor suggests Tuesday in “CNN covered interfaith call to oppose Koran burning. Who didn’t?,” perhaps it was in the lack of live coverage of events like this press conference at the National Press Club in which dozens of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders stood together while calling for a united front against Qur’an burning and other aspects of Islamophobia. The Dove World church’s fiery intentions are brighter than the stars in the night skies. Or are they?
I’ve noticed myriad secular and faith leaders, people who write and blog and tweet, vehemently protesting and uniting behind their Muslim brothers and sisters. They act not by decrying but by reading, reading the Qur’an itself — even at the holiest of times. On the heels of Rosh Hashanah services, the Velveteen Rabbi writes:
“In response to the rising tide of Islamophobia and especially to those who intend to burn the Qur’an on 9/11, my teacher Rabbi Phyllis Berman suggested that as Jews gather to worship on Shabbat Shuvah, we might consider reading from the Qur’an as a gesture of respect toward our sister Abrahamic tradition. At my synagogue, we typically gather for Torah study after services, around 11am. On 9/11, our text for sacred study will come from the Qur’an.”
And the Undercover Nun continues:
“On Saturday, September 11, 2010, I’m reading the Quran so that I can be a better American and a better Christian. Won’t you join me?”
Many more noble efforts like this are taking place. Look around. And as we non-Muslims try to pay attention and express our sympathies, we ought to remember that yesterday was the last day of Ramadan. It’s a time of celebration and thankfulness. It’s Eid.
When Sayneb, a young Somali woman and co-worker came through the office the other evening, we got talking about Ramadan, next year’s dog days of July and fasting, and current events, to which I gestured, “Boy, these are crazy times.”
She paused. Then she looked kindly at me, smiled softly, and said with no uncertainty, “These are good times.”
Muslim Mason Turned to Stone in Lyon
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Dieu est grand, الله أكبر (“Allahu akbar”)
These words in French and Arabic are inscribed in the stone scroll beneath a gargoyle gracing the exterior of Saint-Jean Cathedral in Lyon, France. Ahmed Benzizine, a Muslim mason who has been working on the church for nearly four decades, is now immortalized in stone with his own winged gargoyle bearing his likeness.
A lone group protests this tribute, but I choose to highlight this AP story on NPR for the age-old gesture honoring a dedicated worker, no matter what his faith, and a story coming out of France showing that human civility and interfaith efforts are taking place:
“For the archdiocese, the gargoyle symbolizes two traditions: honoring artisans in a cathedral’s stone work and embodying the Christian-Islamic dialogue that is part of Lyon’s recent religious history.
In France’s third-largest city, an archdiocese official is devoted to relations with Islam. In 2007, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, and a local Muslim leader, Azzedine Gaci, led a pilgrimage to Tibhirine, an Algerian village where seven Trappist monks were executed in 1996 by radical Islamic insurgents.”
(hat tip: almas88)
To Build a Mosque near Ground Zero
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
“In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked ‘What God do you pray to? What beliefs do you hold?’ … We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting.”
—Mayor Michael Bloomberg
This emotional plea from the New York City mayor was delivered to an audience of religious leaders on Tuesday. In stating his reasons to allow the building of a mosque near Ground Zero to go forward, Bloomberg cited historical examples tracing the right of religious groups and even the right of the government to intervene with private property.
The mosque to be built is a contentious one, often debated with heated accusations of discrimination or racism. Searching deeper, there appear to be more complex arguments: memories of loss, politics, a lack of trust in the organizations involved, embracing Islam, and strengthening the community. How do we go forward and be sensitive to all parties involved?
Honoring Passover and Evolving Tradition
Shubha Bala, associate producer
“On April 1st, leaders from the Jewish and African American community will come together to remember and reenact the Exodus story through the ritual of the Passover Seder. This will be the 3rd African American-Jewish Seder held in Los Angeles and hearkens back to the ‘Freedom Seder’ organized in 1969 in Washington DC. What relevance does the narrative of liberation and freedom have today?”
Meanwhile, with Passover approaching, it was suggested that I listen to one of our shows from 2004: “A Program for Passover and Easter.” One of the three guests in the show, Sandy Sasso, is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis. Here, she explains the relevance of the stories of Passover in today’s world and, more importantly, how changing and adapting traditions is actually an important way to honor them.
Coincidentally, she also shares the meaning of her experience conducting a Passover Seder with an African-American Episcopal priest bringing together black and Jewish women to discuss oppression and liberation within the context of the Exodus story.
If you enjoy this interview, you can also listen to our show on the spirituality of parenting, which also features Rabbi Sasso.
Image caption: participants read the Haggadah during the African American/Jewish Passover Seder at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles (photo courtesy of the American Jewish Committee)
A New Dialogue?
Colleen Scheck, senior producer
In preparation for this week’s program, “No More Taking Sides,” we’ve been following the recent developments in Robi Damelin’s life. Our show includes this film clip from the documentary Encounter Point of Robi reading the letter she wrote to the family of her son’s killer.
In 2005, just a few months after Ta’er Hamad had been arrested, she wrote:
After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation…
…I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people, he is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another may not be the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace.
Over three years later, Robi indirectly received a defiant, militant reply from Mr. Hamad via its publication by a Palestinian news agency:
“Just as I refused to directly address the soldier’s mother, I cannot wish to meet her. I cannot meet with the occupier of our land on the same land. I carried out the operation as part of the struggle for freedom, justice and the establishment of an independent state, not out of a lust or love for killing. Acts of violence are a necessity imposed upon us by the occupation and I shall not abandon this path for as long as the occupation continues.”
“Ta’er, how ironic, the people who most wanted to protect me from the words in your letter were my Palestinian friends and other bereaved parents in our group. They of all people have the right to talk about my actions and who I am for we have worked together for more than 6 years to try to end this terrible conflict and to give both sides a chance to live with a sense of dignity free from the terrible fear which engulfs us and gives us all the excuse for violence. The tears I saw in the eyes of my Palestinian partners in the Parents Circle when they met me after you chose to publish the letter were tears of understanding and yes friendship and love…”
“… The wisest reaction I had to the words of your letter came from my wonderful son Eran, who I thought would be terribly angry. Well he said, listen mum, perhaps this is the beginning of a dialog.”
In the audio embedded up top, Trent recently spoke with Robi from her home in Tel Aviv to learn more about how she’s reflecting on this exchange, and what it means for her work with the Parents Circle - Families Forum. It’s worth a listen to hear her ongoing tenacity.
Leaving No Factions Untouched
Trent Gilliss, online editor
“Palestinian member of the Forum, Ali Abu-Awad met with more than 60 members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, Palestinian fighters most of who are on Israel’s most wanted list. He spoke about non-violent resistance and the work of the Parents Circle - Families Forum and gave them an alternative framework to function. After six hours these hardened fighters wanted to know more and there will be ongoing meetings. Many in the meantime have given up their arms and are looking for another way.”
We were aware that the organization Robi and Ali participate in as bereaved family members, and now work for, reach out to many people as part of a process of dialogue and understanding. But, reading this, was a stark reminder that their efforts extend beyond the peace-loving middle to even the most militant, radical coalitions.
Memories of a New Associate Producer
Shubha Bala, associate producer
As the newest addition to Speaking of Faith, my first task has been to prepare the show “No More Taking Sides” for rebroadcast in a couple of weeks. Listening to Ali say “Nobody want to be honest. Everybody want to be right,” reminded me of working in Gujarat when “state-sanctioned” violence, torture, and rape broke out across the state, primarily with Hindus attacking Muslims.
Although Hindu by birth, I was working there for a non-denominational organization. I was 20. Under 24-hour curfew, the media were saturated with images of brutality happening just down the street. More importantly, the dialogue of friends and colleagues concentrated on “us” versus “them.”
Recently, a friend read my personal narrative and asked, “Didn’t the Hindus realize the irony that came with attaching terms of violence to the Muslims?” Well no. Not the Hindus that took a side. They felt they were right and all Muslims were wrong. As for me, in addition to coping with the sheer force of violence, I was equally faced with a personal crisis — the Hindus I met believed I was part of “them,” but I just wanted to be human and I wanted the brutality to stop.
Robi and Ali’s story makes me imagine that organizations like Parents Circle - Family Forum can break down the centuries of opposing sides that have persisted between Hindus and Muslims.
Kitchen Table Thoughts on a Windy City Event
» download (mp3, 90:47)
Colleen Scheck, Producer
Me again, with another update on the many adventures of Krista Tippett this month. Last week, Krista traveled to Chicago for a live event at Fourth Presbyterian Church. Here, the tables were turned as Interfaith Youth Core’s Eboo Patel asked Krista questions about the program and about
religious religion and ethics in our time. Our events coordinator and her daughter sat at their kitchen table in Minneapolis listening to the online stream provided by our station partner, WBEZ, and wrote the next day:
“Wow…My daughter and I were the listeners at the kitchen table Eboo described, and we loved every minute of it….This broadcast was good radio. Highlights: hearing a city’s sirens in the background during Adam’s intro, really feeling the audience’s attentiveness, Eboo mentioning Wilco, and quoting Tony Campolo, who is quoting Huck Finn about being right in the heart vs. right in the head, Krista’s senstive answer to the Fort Hood question, Krista’s explanation of verse plucking, spiritual technologies and the body, Eboo praising Speaking of Faith as creating a ‘community of discourse.’ Great interview, great Q&A….”
We’re pleased to bring you the audio of that event for your kitchen table (or podcast while you workout) listening. And, for those of you who prefer a Twitter recap, direct from our managing producer, who attended in person:
- Krista and Kate are in Chi-town for event—7PM, Monday, 4th Church, w/Eboo Patel. Come! Windy here. Oh yeah. The Windy City. KM
8:38 PM Nov 15th
- @Lthemick V. Funny. Spell check is dangerous.
9:06 PM Nov 15th in reply to Lthemick
- Krista w/Eboo, speaking with staff at Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago. Tonight’s event is at 7 at 4th Church. Come! http://yfrog.com/edt53j
10:47 AM Nov 16th
- 4th Presbyterian Church, Chicago. http://yfrog.com/4jt5rj
4:16 PM Nov 16th
- We’re told to plan on a potential crowd of 800 tonight in downtown Chicago. Can’t be here? Join us online. 7 PM CST: http:/bit.ly/2kUOAY
4:43 PM Nov 16th
- OK, try that link again. Trent has the B Team on location tonight, poor guy. 7PM Chicago time. Krista & Eboo. http://bit.ly/2kUOAY
4:48 PM Nov 16th
- @katemoos (my lovely boss) is still gettin’ the hang of this Internet thing-a-mabob. Here’s the link to the live audio: http://bit.ly/33oiUy
5:23 PM Nov 16th
- BTW, Krista’s live conversation in Chicago with Eboo Patel starts at 7 pm Central tonight: http://bit.ly/33oiUy
5:28 PM Nov 16th
- John Buchanan welcomes the assembled to 4th Church. http://yfrog.com/7hi6pj
6:04 PM Nov 16th
- For those listening to live stream, send in your questions and I’ll be glad to include some!
6:08 PM Nov 16th
- The church is packed. 700? Maybe 800! http://yfrog.com/bel85j
6:11 PM Nov 16th
- Krista says when she left home for school, there was no space for religion in her new context. She became involved in geopolitics. Berlin.
6:12 PM Nov 16th
- Breaking: Eboo & Krista were both born on the day the Berlin Wall fell. November 9. Wow.
6:14 PM Nov 16th
- KT: If I was going to be religious again I was going to have to be able to bring my mind to it. http://yfrog.com/5al2uej
6:17 PM Nov 16th
- KT cites Bonhoeffer: “Religionless Christianity.” The church had become so corrupted. People are rediscovering virtue and taking it back.
6:19 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo: who made a difference in the 20th century? People of faith. Gandhi. Dorothy Day. Martin Luther King.
6:20 PM Nov 16th
- I felt public radio was smart about everything else but religion was a black hole.—KT
6:23 PM Nov 16th
- Because it was so important and because journalism had gotten religion so wrong we had to work that much harder to get it right.-KT
6:25 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo: Talk about speaking of faith as an act if theology.
6:25 PM Nov 16th
- KT: No one can be a Niebuhr in our age. Speaking of Faith goes beyond religion. It may be scientists. Police. How do we hold the sacred.
6:28 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo cites Wilco: Theologians, they don’t know nothing ‘bout my soul.
6:29 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo: if there is a countercultural media figure it is you. SoF does’t do news stories.
6:34 PM Nov 16th
- Webers to let the initial outrage of the news work itself out. Then we circle back.
6:36 PM Nov 16th
- KT: we covered the issue of torture. But we had to find out how to get at it. Not the question, does it work? We found the voice.
6:38 PM Nov 16th
- KT: when monks in Burma marched, we found Ingrid Jordt. And ineeded to know what that meant. 6:39 PM Nov 16th
- Sorry for the slow down. Listener questions up next.
6:54 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo asked about Fort Hood. Krista says we can only approach that event with deep perspective. Be appalled at violence and grieve.
6:58 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo what is the sow doing for your grandpa’s mind?
7:00 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo: science And religion? Krista I have a book out in March, Einsteins God…
7:04 PM Nov 16th
- From theback of the church. http://yfrog.com/j7ac3ej
7:08 PM Nov 16th
- Does amateur theology water it down? KT says it can. But many great thinkers may be unaffiliated with tradition.
7:10 PM Nov 16th
- There is spiritual but not religious but for many it is fluid.
7:12 PM Nov 16th
- Why do we need a God? We turn to at only certain times? KT: this is true.But. We also rarely choose to stand in the presence of frailty.
7:14 PM Nov 16th
- KT: I look at it both ways. I’mfascinated by the vastly different vocabularies.
7:15 PM Nov 16th
- How do we not demonize the other in our own tradition?
7:15 PM Nov 16th
- KT: That’s hard. It’s harder to be compassionTe to your cousin who disagrees about abortion or gay marriage.
7:17 PM Nov 16th
- People make breakthroughs when they humanize their interaction.
7:18 PM Nov 16th
- Oh boy. That was unexpected.
7:21 PM Nov 16th
- Does this work lead you to hope or despair?
7:28 PM Nov 16th
- Kt: we are bombarded by images and violence. I want to shine a light on widom, voices that are nourishing. Ian looking for hope.
7:29 PM Nov 16th
- But it requires you to look.
7:30 PM Nov 16th
- Even with our resouces I have no idea that something is happening that might bring hope.
7:31 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo: you have created a club of “lookers for hope,” Thanyou!
7:32 PM Nov 16th
- Debrief. Yay! Thanks!
7:53 PM Nov 16th
- @evaottesmith We’d love to come. Someday!
10:26 PM Nov 16th in reply to evaottesmith
- @HeyToepfer Not sure yet. Chicago Public Radio was recording. I’ll (@trentgilliss) get the details + let everyonee when it’s ready.
5:48 AM Nov 17th in reply to HeyToepfer
- @akdennis Our managing producer was live-tweeting from Chicago in which Eboo Patel was interviewing Krista: http://bit.ly/33oiUy. Sorry.
9:51 AM Nov 17th
- Leaving Chicago. Krista reading Agatha Christie. Thank you every body!! http://yfrog.com/0zhf8wj
3:05 PM Nov 17th
The Daily Show, Heckling, and Hope
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
There was a bit of stir a few weeks ago when Jon Stewart welcomed Ann Baltzar and Dr. Mustafa Barghouti onto The Daily Show. Baltzar is author of Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories, and Barghouti is “a leading figure in the Palestinian democratic and nonviolent movement for peace.” The stir resulted from having two guests that approach the issue from a “Palestinian point of view.”
At one point in the interview a member of the audience yells “liar” to Barghouti (apparently the first heckler in the show’s 11 years), and Stewart quickly turns it into fodder for discussion asking Barghouti how he maintains hope when people “can’t even agree to begin the conversation.”
Trent had a look at the video of this exchange last Friday, and clued me in on something I completely missed — a close connection to a story Karen Armstrong tells in this week’s program. Both of these situations involve someone in the audience disrupting the discussion, and a consideration of how best to handle it. From the transcript, a story that took place at the “God 2000” conference at Oregon State University:
And then when we were on the final panel, suddenly erupted in the hall a fundamentalist who started to shriek at us incoherently. What I could make out was that he was saying that Jews and Muslims denied Jesus and therefore they were going to hell, and all of those of us who sided with Jews and Muslims were also going to hell, and this was evil. And you couldn’t hear much, because he was so incoherent with rage and despair. What I could hear, however, was the note of pain in his voice. This was not just some loony. This was somebody who was suffering and in pain, and felt profoundly threatened by what we were saying.
And the point is that we, seven of us on this panel — we’re all articulate people, we’d all been talking nonstop to each other and to the audience for the last two days. We were utterly struck dumb. None of us could say a word. We felt utterly winded by this assault. Even me, and I should have known better, because I’d just finished my book on fundamentalism. I couldn’t think of anything to say. Eventually this man was hustled out, and the moderator said, ‘Well, I wish we could have talked to him, because he is part of the conference of God, “Where Is God at 2000?” He’s part of this conversation.’ But somehow we couldn’t talk with one another. He was incoherent, we were struck dumb and useless, and this is the problem that we’re facing.
With that in mind, there’s something in Barghouti’s response that he would “very much like to meet” the man who raised his voice and heckled. Perhaps simply a willingness to start the conversation is hopeful enough.
Four Pairs of Interfaith Fellows: Arash + Ramin
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
» download (mp3, 8:32)
You may recognize these two voices from last week’s program, “Curiosity over Assumptions.” We used an excerpt from Arash and Ramin Nematollahi’s conversation in the show, which included as part of audio above. Hearing their conversation, one gets a sense of their bond not only as Iranian-Americans and Muslims, but also as brothers.
Much of their conversation seems to center around the complexity of identity that can come in a pluralistic society. “I don’t have a particular identity,” Arash says, “I’m very proud to be American … but there’s an Iranian part of me that is there, and there’s a Muslim identity in me.” Ramin picks up on this comment, contrasting that experience to the country they were born in, Iran:
“You would say ‘I am Iranian’ and that’s it — case shut. And I’m Muslim because that’s what everyone tells me to be … But in America you have all these different choices. I totally understand what you’re saying, ‘cause I am American, but I’m also Muslim, I’m also all these different things. What does that mean at the end of the day?”
For me, this really resonated with what we’ve heard in the last few months from our “Living Islam” and “Revealing Ramadan” programs. I was especially reminded of Samar Jarrah, who wrote about what makes being an American Muslim unique: “Living in the USA and being exposed to so many different Muslims from so many different countries and cultures made me realize that there are many faces to Islam.” Later in her essay, she writes:
“But being a Muslim in America makes me a better Muslim. A more hopeful one. I have had hundreds of amazing messages of love and support. I have had Americans shake my hands with tears in their eyes asking me to speak more. Just this Saturday morning, I was in the company of a very intellectual group of retired men and women (oldest was 95) who are still wanting to learn about Islam from a Muslim, and for this I am forever grateful to be a Muslim in America.”