Interfaith forum explores shared biases

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Imagine a group of people sharing the same religion, dedicating their resources to crossing an ocean to escape constant persecution and worse.

Wayne State University associate professor Howard Lupovitch, right, addresses the audience as a WSU lecturer, Saaed Khan, listens Wednesday in Bloomfield Hills.

That description applies not only to refugees fleeing the Middle East in 2017 but many Jewish immigrants who moved to the United States and Metro Detroit generations ago, Wayne State University associate professor Howard Lupovitch told an audience Wednesday night.

“For most American Jews who live here, if immigration to America had not been possible, you probably wouldn’t be here right now,” he said to guests at the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills.

Comparisons anchored “A Shared Future: American Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia” presented by the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC and the Michigan Muslim Community Council. The event, which precedes two other interfaith dialogues in coming weeks, aims to unite the regional Jewish and Muslim communities through exploring topics that affect both groups.

A diverse crowd numbering nearly 100 gathered to hear Lupovitch and Saaed Khan, a WSU lecturer, dissect how discrimination and targeting of Jews and Muslims are twin expressions of similar racially fueled ignorance.

As controversy and divisions linger over President Donald Trump’s measures on immigration and refugees, the talk offered “a vital discussion that’s never been more needed,” said Shereen Abunada, director of operations for the Michigan Muslim Community Council. “Now more than ever our communities will need to work together.”

Much of the talk focused on President Donald Trump’s attempts to ban refugees and migrants from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Similarities in the challenges Jews and Muslims have faced throughout history — including in the 21st century — were central to the nearly two-hour dialogue at the Bloomfield Hills mosque.

While anti-Muslim sentiment has risen recently nationwide, Khan noted that negative views of the group predate the United States’ founding.

“It’s important to recognize that the United States was founded by Europeans who brought their Islamophobia to these new shores,” said Khan, who has taught Islamic and Middle East history.

Lupovitch noted that some Americans’ arguments to stem the immigration of European Jews in the early 20th century involved concerns about communism, which mirror their modern descendants using terrorism fears to defend barring Muslims.

“It’s based on a crude stereotype as it was for Jews 100 years ago,” said Lupovitch, who has a doctorate in Jewish history and has taught at the University of Michigan.

Trump’s recent executive order aimed to temporarily ban entry into the United States for refugees and migrants from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Admission of refugees from war-ravaged Syria was suspended indefinitely.

The measure has prompted widespread protests and legal challenges. Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to block a lower court decision that suspended the ban.

The significant public outcry to the restriction also illustrates how such measures can have an impact, Khan said. “This idea of the collective mobilization is also very critical because it comes from a realization that several different groups are being affected.”

The concentration on connecting past and present attacks on Jews and Muslims encouraged attendees such as Sandie Landau of West Bloomfield Township.

“The more we learn from our shared histories, the more understanding we get,” she said.

The topic also was timely for Dr. Mohammad Mohiddin of Oakland County, who has witnessed followers of other faiths pledging to support him and other Muslims amid the tense political climate.

“I’m here to see what we have in common and what we can do together to combat the Islamophobia and anti-Semitism,” he said. “It’s interesting to see what we can do as a community.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.