Co-Authored by Ellen Offner, Principal, Offner Consulting, LLC, health care strategy and program development.
Muslim and Jewish women are banding together, using their common bonds to fight the bias imbedded in American culture and inflamed by Donald Trump during his boldly biased campaign marked by provocative rhetoric. As reported in the New York Times, these women get it! Their courageous actions reflect the famous poem by Martin Niemöoller (1892-1984), a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
Are they heeding this message because now both groups of women are experiencing hate? Hatred is not new in America; what is new is that ethnic controversy is being actively encouraged rather than discouraged. Ethnic divisiveness has not worked well in Africa, the Middle East, or Asia. They have not worked in America either. The World War II Japanese internment camps are still thought of as a national shame. Why would we want to promote ethnic or racial divisiveness here other than for political gain?
Of course, people of color have always experienced discrimination and violence, including in their sacred places of worship. There was the recent horrifying fatal shooting of nine black people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., as a hate crime committed by a white man. Unfortunately, it's not a unique event in American history. Black churches have long been targets of white supremacists who burned and bombed them in an effort to terrorize the black communities those churches anchored. One of the most egregious terrorist acts in U.S. history was committed against a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. Four girls were killed when members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, a tragedy that ignited the civil rights movement.
Jews know from past American experience that when well-meaning lawyers suggest it is unconstitutional to have a crêche on public property, a spate of anti-Semitic letters to the editor ensue. Jewish politicians and writers have been receiving hate mail wishing they had been sent to the gas chambers for years. During this year's election writers with Jewish names who opposed Trump "received photos of themselves -- and in some cases their children -- dead, or in gas chambers. Jewish and Jewish-surnamed journalists were particular targets" received photos of themselves -- and in some cases their children -- dead, or in gas chambers. Jewish and Jewish-surnamed journalists were particular. . . . " targets.
Episcopalian friends of ours who have visited synagogues on Rosh Hashana were shocked to find out that in this very century Jews attend synagogue surrounded by armed guards. This is not nearly as bad as Jewish congregations around the world where IDs are required, mirrors go under the seats to check for bombs before each service, but it certainly doesn't comport with America's ideal of religious freedom. In fact it injures us all and changes our nation's definition of itself.
The hate letters to mosques are meant to intimidate, just as the letters that forced synagogues to hire guards. It is wonderful for the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about. Arms must be sold to equip the plainclothesmen sitting in the pew or kneeling on the floor. And if this continues we will soon find our spiritual sustenance only after walking through metal detectors.
Let us be clear. This is not a competition for who is more persecuted, this is a statement that the ideal of religious freedom is and always has been far from a complete reality in America. The white Supremacists would like us to believe that lies are protected speech. They are not.
We may not want or be able to to confront every slight. In fact, we are wise to have a whole repertoire of behaviors to deal with insults and selectively, including ignoring sometime. But if Muslims, African-Americans, Latinas, Asians, Jews, and other ethnic groups can band together, they will soon find many Caucasians joining them to combat bias and violence.
Sisterhood is powerful. Let's use it!!