As hate crimes targeting Muslims and Jews rise across the United States, according to advocacy groups, the key to sparking change in Metro Detroit lies in forging ties and fighting back, activists said Tuesday.
“You’ve got to speak up,” said Farooq Kathwari, president/CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors and co-chair of the national Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council. “Silence is not a good option.”
That was the message leaders of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council shared with religious and community leaders during a town hall in Dearborn on Tuesday.
The invitation-only gathering at The Henry hotel coordinated by the Michigan Muslim Community Council and the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC of Detroit, drew more than 150 from synagogues and mosques as well as community groups.
It capped a day of events for the council, which launched last year and unites business, political and religious leaders to advocate for common concerns, on the group’s first visit to Metro Detroit. Members earlier joined Jewish and Muslim community leaders, visited the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn as well as attended a mosaic project unveiling at Detroit’s Northwest Activities Center.
Since its founding last fall, the panel has met with senior officials in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and called for passage of the bipartisan Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act.
“As a council, we’re here to work together to combat hate crimes and put forward the reality of America and interfaith collaboration,” board member Arsalan Suleman, former U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, told the gathering.
The council wants to curb incidents such as attacks or threats against houses of worships such as synagogues or mosques.
The Anti-Defamation League found that anti-Semitic incidents in the United States spiked 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017. The group also noted a spate of similar acts across the nation after the Charlottesville, Virginia, white nationalist rally in August that led to violent clashes.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations national headquarters in Washington, D.C., has noted “an unprecedented spike in hate incidents targeting Muslims and other minority groups” since the 2016 presidential election.
The current climate underscores the importance of the council’s push and why members are moving to spread the word “to ensure there’s local engagement to draw attention to the sad increase in hate crimes,” said council co-chair Stanley Bergman, CEO of health care product provider Henry Schein.
“It is important to make sure that local politicians understand us so that ultimately people in Washington will hear about the concerns the local community has. We need to do something and we need to use our platform to make sure the American people understand the impact. If you do not arrest the hate crimes, we have a real challenge in the United States.”
The council was familiar with the strong interfaith collaborations in Metro Detroit and reached out, said David Kurzmann, executive director of the JCRC/AJC. Tuesday’s visit only underscores the success of local initiatives such as Mitzvah Day, through which Jews and Muslims volunteer in place of their Christian neighbors on Christmas Day, he said.
“There could be things we’re doing here in Detroit that leaders in other communities want to take on there, and there are certainly things the council are doing that we could learn from and potentially implement here,” Kurzmann said.
Town hall participants asked about how to address challenges locally on issues ranging from enhancing interfaith work to reaching out to students on college campuses.
The visit inspired Noura Ali, a University of Michigan-Dearborn student, to explore connecting with other peers to create a Muslim-Jewish effort. She also was encouraged by the council’s work.
“With this council, I definitely see bounds being made that are going to stir up American politics,” she said.
The focus on issues affecting Muslims and Jews “shows a lot of the commonalities in both communities,” , said Shaffwan Ahmed, a Detroit revitalization fellow who has been active in interfaith and advocacy efforts. “We all have a responsibility in this to make a difference.”