Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Standing Together

Originally published February 11, 2015 on 
This year, we commemorate 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. 
In 2010 I visited Poland. My time visiting the concentration camps cemented my need to be an activist. My stand against bigotry and prejudice is my way to honor those who were murdered. 

For most of my lifetime, the recent memory of the Holocaust led to a relative quiet of anti-Semitic voices. Since 2000, even as Holocaust survivors still live and share their stories of survival, anti-Semitism has increased significantly with verbal attacks against Jews, vandalism, and even violence. Public opinion polls in European countries show increased negative attitudes towards Jewish people. In France, after the Charlie Hedbo shootings, the Great Synagogue was closed for Shabbat services for the first time since Nazi occupation. 
When I hear about anti-Semitic incidents, I react with a shrug and a sigh. I feel sad and helpless in the face of these horrible crimes. I wish my friends would understand why I also feel so scared. And though I feel part of the global Jewish family, I am lucky to live in the United States where anti-Semitism hasn’t yet reared its ugly head in full force. But equally disturbing in the US is the expression of Islamaphobia. 
At a recent dinner party, when I shared about my interfaith work someone from across the room inserted themselves into my conversation to tell me why Interfaith was not a worthy pursuit with Muslims before spewing off many other ignorant and prejudiced comments. I wish this was my only direct encounter with Islamaphobia, but sadly it is not. 
When I hear Islamaphobic comments either directly or from the news, I am angered and feel compelled to take action. My pluralistic dream for America seems more and more to be just that, a dream.  I know how easily hate of one group can spread to hate of other groups. Following the Charlie Hedbo attacks, there was an increase Islamaphobic incidents. I jumped on social media and began yelling. I yelled at people who said Muslims weren’t condemning the attacks. I yelled at those who mischaracterized the religion of Islam.  I fought for my friends and I thought I was acting as an ally. 
And yet.  In my anger, I had forgotten something key. While I was busy refuting bigots and posting articles of Muslims condemning terror, I had forgotten to be a personal support to my Muslims friends. When I finally reached out to my Muslim friends, I found that their feelings towards anti-Islam incidents mirrored my own responses to anti-Semitic incidents. One friend expressed her deep sadness at the events and that they made her feel further alienated from American society. She wondered if anyone would stand up for her as they had stood up for other minorities.
As much as bigots need to be silenced, my Muslim friends needed to hear voices of support even more. So although this might be late, I want to say to my Muslim friends: I am with you and I will stand with you. I am responsible to you. Hate should never go unchallenged. Just as I stand for my friends, I trust that when I am threatened by bigotry, my friends will stand for me. 

Today, we see the tragic results of a community pushed to the margins by ignorance and hate. Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 23, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, were killed Tuesday evening in an apartment complex near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. I am overcome with sadness and overcome with the need to act. Today, more than ever, we must reach out and build stronger bridges. I do not want to live in a country where my Muslims friends to be afraid to walk outside. My heart is with UNC. 

If you wish to support the victim’s many are donating to Deah Barakat’s project  "Refugee Smiles," which aims to provide dental care to refugees of the Syrian War in Turkey and raise funds to support local dentists. You can donate here.

Wendy A Low is the Communications and Outreach Fellow for Faith Matters Network. In addition to her work there, she is an activist and graduating senior at the University of Denver where she studies Biology. Wendy strongly believes in story-telling for social change and the power of stories to change minds and hearts. You can follow her on Twitter @wenderlah.