Title

Responding to Hate

Tuesday, July 16, 2019
11:00am
Rayburn House Office Building
Room 2200
Washington, DC
United States
The Role of Religious Actors
Unofficial Transcript: 
Members: 
Name: 
Representative Alcee Hastings
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Title Text: 
Ranking Member
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Gwen Moore
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers
Title: 
Rabbi and Cantor
Body: 
Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh, PA
Name: 
Father James Martin
Title: 
Editor at Large
Body: 
America Media, New York, NY
Statement: 
Name: 
Radia Bakkouch
Title: 
President
Body: 
Coexister, Paris, France
Name: 
Alina Bricman
Title: 
Elected President
Body: 
European Union of Jewish Students, Brussels, Belgium
Name: 
Usra Ghazi
Title: 
Director of Policy and Programs, America Indivisible
Body: 
Mayor’s Interfaith Council, Washington, DC
Name: 
Reverend Aaron Jenkins
Title: 
Vice President of Policy and Advocacy
Body: 
The Expectations Project, Washington, DC
Name: 
Imam Gamal Fouda
Title: 
Imam
Body: 
Al Noor Mosque, Christchurch, New Zealand [Video Testimony]

In the past year alone, places of worship in Christchurch, Colombo, Pittsburgh, and Poway were targets of hate-based violence, resulting in the tragic loss of more than 300 lives. 

Effectively countering hate crimes requires a comprehensive effort bringing together government institutions, criminal justice systems, civil society actors, and international organizations.  Religious actors and interfaith institutions play an important role in promoting safe and inclusive societies and reducing violence, hostility, and discrimination.

The U.S. Helsinki Commission convened a hearing on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 that examined the role of religious actors in responding to hate domestically in the United States and throughout the OSCE region. The hearing, titled “Responding to Hate: The Role of Religious Actors,” focused on how faith-based institutions can promote safe and inclusive societies and reduce violence, hostility, and discrimination.

Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04) chaired the hearing and was joined by other commissioners including OSCE PA Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance and Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), and Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09).

Rep. Moore opened the hearing by stating, “All of us have something to gain from those who look different, pray differently, and may come from a different place. And we must not wait until tragedy strikes, again and again and again, to learn the value of mutual respect. We must seize every opportunity to denounce hate-motivated violence, and in doing so we protect the value of freedom of expression, the hallmark of democracy.”

She also paid homage to six Sikh worshippers killed near her district in Oak Creek, Wisconsin seven years ago.

In his opening remarks, Sen. Cardin recounted his side event at the 28th Annual Session of the OSCE PA earlier in July, titled, “Countering Hate: Lessons from the Past, Leadership for the Future,” where he called on parliamentarians to act now to prevent a repeat of the past where bigotry and violence resulted in the deaths of millions under Nazi rule.

Witnesses at the hearing described how religious actors and interfaith institutions can work together to further human rights and protections for all, domestically and throughout the OSCE region. Witnesses also shared strategies to prevent and respond to hate, ignorance, and violence targeting our societies, including places of worship.

Father James Martin shared a video testimony about his response to the Pulse nightclub shooting, which at the time was the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, taking 49 lives. He noted that the LGBT community received an outpouring of love and support the in the aftermath of the tragedy, with the notable exception of the Catholic church.

Father Martin said, “Why am I bringing this up? Because when it comes to the role that religious actors and organizations can play in combatting hate crimes, the most effective thing they can do is to get their own houses of worship in order. Racism, sexism, and homophobia still exist in many Christian denominations – my own included.”

He ended his testimony by underlining that “the most important thing that religious actors and organizations can do to combat hate crimes is not only to fight the hatred on the outside, but on the inside as well.”

Imam Gamal Fouda also testified by video and remarked on New Zealand’s response to the tragic shooting that targeted and killed Muslims at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, where he is the imam.

“New Zealand set a good example to the whole world for how to look after your people, how to actually support all your people. And we all stand together against hate, hate speech, and hate crimes,” he said. He said the power of New Zealand was demonstrated in the wake of the Christchurch shooting and called for more education on the strength of diverse and inclusive societies.

“We have to stand together looking at the diversity in our communities as something that is strengthening our community,” he said. “It is the secret of the power of our community to see different colors and different languages.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, victim, witness, and survivor of the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA—the worst attack on a synagogue in the history of the United States—stated, “The metaphor of America as a melting pot, is a beautiful image, but sadly, it is not true, [because …we] do not know our neighbors. We live in silos, with no bridges connecting them. Many choose to live in their own private silos, not wanting ‘others’ to enter their silo.”

He believes that the key to addressing hate—what he referred to as the “H-word”— is to learn to build bridges. “Some people just don’t know how to build a bridge. This is where religious leaders like me make a difference…I’m a bridge builder. When the Muslim community extended an olive branch to me, I responded by offering an olive tree,” he said.

Reverend Aaron Jenkins testified on the power of developing partnerships and relationships across different sectors of society to adequately tackle the issue of hate and hate crimes wherever they occur. He remarked, “Any plan to address hate must engage faith actors within and across their faith traditions in respectful and meaningful ways. We cannot wait until the next hate crime happens.” He stated that partnerships, resources, and relationships were needed to address the problem.

Radia Bakkouch spoke about the situation in France and Coexister’s “belief in the concept of ‘faith for good’ and the practice of interfaith cooperation in empowering young people to address violence and exclusion.”

She stressed the importance of defending pluralistic societies and highlighted the importance of building coalitions to address the rise in hate-based violence taking place in France and elsewhere in Europe.

Usra Ghazi detailed federal hate crimes statistics, highlighting that hate crimes historically and consistently are underreported. This, she said, is partly due to a lack of a standardized reporting processes and “strained relationships between bigotry-impacted communities and law enforcement entities.”

Ghazi shared that many members of the Muslim, Arab, and Sikh communities affected by anti-Muslim discrimination, hate, and violence in the United States have opted to keep low profiles rather than report these events. She stressed, “Due to the rise of hate crimes and hate speech against Muslim and Sikh Americans, these communities by necessity have had to organize outreach efforts to humanize themselves while raising cultural and religious literacy among their neighbors and governments.”

Ghazi also shared positive examples of how discriminated communities are building their civic health, getting more involved in elections, and running for office at record rates. “We now have Muslim and Sikh mayors of American cities, as well as officials from these faiths in a range of governmental positions. These efforts help to ensure that our cities, counties and states are truly representative of the rich diversity of American communities.”

Alina Bricman’s video testimony concluded the hearing. She presented an overview of the first-ever report of Young Jewish Europeans: perceptions and experiences of antisemitism, released July 4, 2019.

Findings included that “44 percent of young Jewish Europeans have faced anti-Semitic harassment, that’s almost 1 in 2 Jews; […] and 25 percent identified as too scared to display Jewish-affiliated ornaments or accessories.”

To address the problem, Bricman recommended investing in education (such as anti-racist and anti-bias training) that emphasizes the importance and strength of diversity and diverse communities, supporting civil society, and depoliticizing anti-Semitism and racism by having leaders engage responsibly in the public arena where it is not viewed as a left or right issue.

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    Appeal To The Governments and People of The USSR and The USA: The USSR and the USA have the means to kill in such proportions that would end the history of mankind. A balance of terror cannot be a reliable guarantee of safety in the world. Only trust between peoples can create a firm assurance of the future. Today, when elementary trust between the two nations has been completely lost, the problem of trust has ceased to be simply a question of bilateral relations. This is the question: Will mankind be wiped out by its own destructive capabilities or will it survive? This problem demands immediate action today. It is, however, very obvious that political leaders of both sides are incapable of coming to any sort of agreement about significant arms limitations in the near future . ... to say nothing of genuine disarmament. Due to their political interests and circumstances, politicians find it difficult to be objective on disarmament issues  Recognizing this, we do not wish to accuse one side or the other of not wishing to promote the peace process, nor certainly of any aggressive designs for the future. We are convinced of their genuine desire for peace and curtailment of the nuclear threat. However, the search for the path to disarmament has become difficult. We all share an equal responsibility for the future. The active peace movement among citizens of many countries proves that this is understood by millions of people. But our common desire for peace must not be blind It must be perceived and expressed in concrete terms. It must be presented in the context of actual conditions. The world is concerned about its future. Everyone understands that there must be dialogue if the threat is to be removed. The prevailing principles of conducting bilateral dialogue must be changed immediately. We are convinced that the time has come for the public not only to confront decision makers with the issue of disarmament, but to participate in the decision making process with the politicians. We are in favor of quatrapartite dialogue - for dialogue in which average Soviet and American citizens are included on an equal footing with political figures. We favor consistent and, ultimately complete destruction of stockpiles of. nuclear weapons and other forms of mass destruction, and for limitations of conventional weapons. We view the present program for the search for peace as the following: 1. As a first step to abolish the nuclear threat, we appeal to everyone who does not desire the death of his neighbor to submit his own specific proposals on bilateral limitations and cutbacks of weaponry, and, most of all, for the establishment of trust. We call for each such proposal to be forwarded simultaneously to the governments of both countries and to representatives of independent public peace groups. We hope espeially that our call will be heeded by the peoples of the Soviet Union and the United States, whose governments bear the main responsibility for maintaining the safety of the world. 2. We call upon the citizens of both countries to create combined international public groups, based on the principles of independence. Their functions would include: the receipt and analysis of individual proposals on disarmament and promoting trust between nations: the selection of the most interesting and realistic proposals: bringing these proposals to the attention of the respective populations about the possible consequences of the use of nuclear arms, and about all issues concerning disarmament. 3. We appeal to the scientific community, particularly to independent international scientific organizations involved in the campaign for peace, to work on scientific problems directly connected with the preservation of peace. For instance, at the present stage, it is extremely important to develop a unified mathematical method for evaluating the weaponry of the opposing sides. We call upon scientists to create independent research groups to scientifically analyze citizen proposals. 4. We call upon political leaders and the media of both countries to refrain from mutual accustions about intentions to use nuclear weapons for aggressive purposes. We are convinced that such accusations only inflame distrust between the sides and thus make any constructive dialogue impossible. 5. We view as necessary guarantees of the establishment of trust that the USSR and the USA must create conditions for the open exchange of opinions and to inform the publics of both nations on all issues on the process of disarmament. We appeal to the governments of the USSR and the USA to create a special international bulletin (with a governmental guarnatees of distribution in both countries), in which both sides would conduct a dialogue, hold discussions, and would make public reports on the following issues, among others: a. An analysis of disarmament negotiations and the documents of the negotiations b. An exchange of opinions and proposals on possible ways to limit arms, and on disarmament c. An exchange of proposals on the establishment of trust d. An exchange of information on the possible consequences of using nuclear arms. Such a bulletin would provide an opportunity for independent citizens' peace groups to participate in general discussions, publish uncensored materials, especially proposals on disarmament and trust and information on (various) peace movements and the steps they have taken. We appeal to the governments and public opinion of the USSR and the USA since we are convinced that everyone who understands that the future needs to be defended must have a genuine opportunity to defend it! Moscow; June 4, 1982 Batovrin, Sergei Blok, V.R. Fleishgakker, Maria I. Khronopulo, Yu. G. Fleishgakker, V.N. Rozenoer, S.A. Sobkov, I.N. Ostrovskaya, L.A. Krochik, G.M. Kalyuzhny, B.I. (and seventy-four signatures in support) (the appeal is open for signatures.)

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