‘A Shared Future’ forum tackles Muslim, Jewish issues

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Discrimination against American Jews and how it is tied to mistreatment of Muslim Americans frames a meeting Wednesday designed to spur discussion.

The first in a three-part interchange this year between Wayne State University professors Howard Lupovitch and Saaed Khan, “A Shared Future: American Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia” extends their annual examination of the issues, concerns and histories connecting two major demographics.

Saaed Khan

And at a time when religious issues and political opinions spark divisions as well as conflict, the free event presented by the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC and the Michigan Muslim Community Council focuses on understanding.

“It’s very important for people of all faiths, especially people that have been marginalized in the past, to come together and learn from each other,” said Dr. Muzammil Ahmed, board chairman at the Michigan Muslim Community Council. “That shared history and shared experience is something that enriches all of us and can help us find ways to combat these types of stereotypes.”

“A Shared Future” originated with regional Jews and Muslims working to find commonalities. Both groups long had been involved in initiatives, but a dual perception survey commissioned during an extensive engagement effort and analyzed in 2014 “revealed that a lot of people in both communities are very interested in engaging in dialogue with people in the other community,” Ahmed said.

Howard Lupovitch

That led to officials seeking two academics with ties to both groups, which in turn brought them to Khan and Lupovitch, who have long been friendly and shared speaking engagements.

For the first series of sessions early last year, the pair covered several topics, including Zionism and jihad.

Soon after the professors left the stage the last time, Khan recalls, they considered tackling another subject as the 2016 presidential campaign season intensified: xenophobia.

“Even back then, there were some toxic conversations that were happening among the candidates that were impacting communities,” said Khan, who has taught Islamic and Middle East history.

The theme became more pertinent after the divisive presidential election, when officials with groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Council on American-Islamic Relations noted rising reports of alleged hate crimes or incidents.

As recently as last month, the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield Township was evacuated and searched after a bomb threat leaders said followed others at similar facilities in the U.S.

“There’s a lot that we’re alarmed by in terms of the uptick in bias incidents and hate crimes. The executive orders on immigration and refugees have been troubling, as have the bomb threats directed against the Jewish community,” said David Kurzmann, executive director of JCRC/AJC. “There’s something out there that has been unleashed, and we want to take an academic look at it that spurs conversation.”

Through the dialogue, the professors aim to trace the thread binding attacks on Jews and Muslim.

“Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have a common root: they’re both symptoms or manifestations of racism or prejudice,” said Lupovitch, an associate history professor and director of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies at Wayne State. “Whether past or present, they’re really coming from a common intolerance, a common fear that people have of the other. Whether it’s the Muslim other or the Jewish other, they really are reflecting a similar kind of mentality.”

For both educators, the goal in exploring such intellectually tough terrain is “to see what the future may hold for both communities as well as how then we can help in molding America to what America has always said it is and should be when it comes to the kind of freedom and the pluralism that it’s conveyed,” Khan said. “We’re doing a kind of troubleshooting — getting into what might be the software glitches in the American narrative and trying to figure out how these things can be remedied.”

‘A Shared Future’

The first of three dialogues is 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Muslim Unity Center, 1830 W. Square Lake, Bloomfield Hills. The others are set for March 1 at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills and March 22 at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Advance registration is required for each program online at asharedfuture.eventbrite.com. For more information, email young@jfmd.org.