This post is a bit of a departure for the website. While our focus is generally on what is happening in Israel and Palestine, we want to also occasionally draw the connections between the political culture here in the U.S. and in Israel and Palestine, and how they influence one another.
Yesterday in Manhattan and LA, protests were held at the Museum of Tolerance in each city. The occasion was an event to honor the Freedom Riders, brave civil rights activists who put their bodies on the line in the 1960’s in the struggle for equality for African-Americans in the U.S.
The Museum of Tolerance has taken a position against the Park 51 mosque near Ground Zero, has helped foment Islamophobia in the U.S., and is building its museum–for tolerance!– on the site of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. While the Museum is celebrating the work of those fighting for civil rights decades ago, why does it not speak out for the equal rights of Muslim Americans today?
This is the question asked at today’s protests, sponsored by Jews Against Islamophobia in New York (whose members include JVP-NY, Jews Say No!, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and American Jews for a Just Peace) and JVP-LA and Code Pink in LA.
Dinu Ahmed, of Women Against Islamophobia and Racism, was one of the featured speakers at the rally in New York. We thought her beautiful, powerful speech was worth reprinting in its entirety:
April 6, 2011
Press Conference in front of the Museum of Tolerance
Thank you so much for having me here and thanks to all of you for coming out in solidarity with members of the Muslim community. Today, the Museum of Tolerance honors the courageous Freedom Riders who put their beliefs about dignity and civil rights into practice. It is an incredible history of honorable people who stood up for a community under attack that the Museum of Tolerance pays tribute to today, a history that has profoundly affected the lives of Americans across the United States.
If I may, I’d like to share a story with you now. While briefly working as a community organizer up in Harlem, I co-facilitated a workshop on Islamophobia. Many of our members at this workshop had experienced race-based discrimination in the 1960s. We were talking about hate crimes and arson attacks on mosques taking place in the present day, when an older African-American who was not Muslim spoke up. Her voice was trembling and she had tears in her eyes, as she said, “I thought this period was over. I can’t believe people are still dealing with the struggles we dealt with and thought were behind us.” We saw in each other, in the intimacy of that moment – that the roots of injustice against people because of the identities they carry in this world are really just the same.
The thing about a civil rights movement is, it is a struggle that must continually be engaged in. The communities that encounter aggressive scrutiny and discrimination may change, but the struggle remains the same.
Today, the Museum of Tolerance is setting up a videoconference so that high school youth can engage with Freedom Riders. As a youth worker, I wonder if the Museum of Tolerance has considered the impact of their stance against the right of Muslims to worship in Lower Manhattan upon young Muslims in America. After worshipping at Park 51 some months ago with my 14-year old sister and her friend, a man hurled obscenities at us and told us to leave this country and go home.
Sadly, this is an occurrence that is happening to young Muslim Americans everywhere. They are being told that they are not wanted, that there are neighborhoods in this city that are off-limits, and the Museum of Tolerance, in their public stance against our right to worship in Lower Manhattan, holds responsibility in furthering such xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment. It has to be understood that the hate discourse around this one center has created a ripple effect around the city and the whole country, leading to zoning challenges around mosques in over a dozen states, hate speech and violence. The Museum of Tolerance has played a role in this by condemning the Muslim community. Their hate is playing out not only in New York, not only in the U.S., but across the world in Jerusalem, as they plan to build a site upon the remains of Muslims. The question remains – why does the Museum of Tolerance want to erase our presence, our heritage, our institutions here in New York and Jerusalem?
In closing, I have to say that it dishonors the meaning of what those before us have contributed to the civil rights movement if we cannot relate their fight to the civil rights movement of today. History is not like a dusty album we lay up on our shelves and appreciate once in a blue moon. The struggles of yesterday bleed into the struggles of today, and it is our responsibility to be ever conscious of the patterns of oppression, and stand on the right side of the fight for dignity and civil rights for all, here and now. Thank you.