Muslims, Christians, Jews working together against hate

I had the pleasure of attending a lecture in Toronto, “The Islamic World as Viewed from Israel,” by Mordechai Kedar. It was sponsored by my fellow Huffington Post blogger, Tahir Aslam Gora.

Tahir, a Muslim, arranged a gathering of like-minded people, Muslims, Christians and Jews to meet and learn from Mordechai Kedar, an expert on Israeli Arabs, an Israeli scholar of Arabic literature, gender issues in Islam, and lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan University where he obtained his Ph.D. Kedar served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena.

I had met Tahir at a breakfast meeting held by CIJA , The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, where we met Jossi Klein Halevi, author of Like Dreamers.

Tahir is a quiet man. Humble in a world of entitled people.  I have kept in touch with him because I admire his moral courage and because I believe the only way we, the Jewish people, will ever live in peace will be with the help of others-our youngest brothers and sisters the Christians, and our younger brothers and sisters the Muslims.

In Pakistan Tahir was already a rebel; a noted critic of religious intolerance. From his biography:

“Tahir is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, poet, journalist, editor, translator (English to Urdu), and publisher, with over 25 years of experience in the media industry. He also works as a freelancer to various European and American media outlets. He is a Secretary General of the Muslim Canadian Congress.”

Tahir fled Pakistan to Canada in 1999 following threats to his life.

“I received death threats from Islamists in Pakistan because of my criticism against their intolerant behavior to the dissidents. I fled Pakistan in the wake of those threats. I even happened to receive death threats from Islamists in Toronto when I criticized them in my Toronto base Urdu language weekly “Watan” back in 2000-03. I still get sometimes backlash from Islamists upon my views in my weekly TV talk show in Mississauga base “Rawal TV” and upon my efforts bringing Jewish, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sikh Communities together under the umbrella of my think tank, Canadian Thinkers’ Forum (CTF). But I think Islamists are feeling defeated as they see more and more like- minded people joining his forum gradually.”

From his lips to God’s ear!

Tahir founded the Canadian Thinkers’ Forum as a Toronto based think tank, and the Muslim Committee against Anti-Semitism, because he wants to stop the spread of hate that originates in Islamic centres in Canada. He reaches out to the Muslim diaspora in the hope of keeping them from becoming involved in radical Islam that seems to be easily accessible.

I did leave the lecture slightly more optimistic about life in the Middle East, life for the Jewish people, than when I had arrived. When talking about Israel as a Jewish state, Kedar referred to it as “a state of the Jews.”

Kedar brought Israeli life experiences to us, facts that will be used by our friends to debunk the lies that continue to flow here in Canada about Israel. He defined Israel in terms we have heard in Canada: a mosaic (which we know is different from the American “melting pot”). He described communities like Haifa where Arabs live amongst Jews and attend the same schools.

He talked about enclaves where one often goes to school with people of similar culture. I did as a child in Toronto. Most of us in our public school were Jewish who attended the same Hebrew schools and synagogues. Just as many of us met “others” for the first time in university, Kedar explained the same thing is happening in Israel. He believes change will come in Israel, as in any other country, at university where people from different backgrounds; social, political, cultural, come together.

It’s at university where Arab/Muslim women in particular learn about life outside the clan. They take sciences and learn about genetics and decide for themselves that, no, they aren’t going to marry their cousin because they have seen the damage to offspring. They’ll instead choose someone outside their family. They experience the freedoms offered by modernity-freedoms that clash with traditional values but take a chance and break away. Many Arabs move to mixed housing communities and there you will see Arab and Jew together.

This is what I call acculturation: the opportunity to keep the ties that bind one to one’s family and past but open the doors to community by breaking the bonds that suffocate. Kedar calls this “modernism competing with traditionalism.” This is not unfamiliar in the Jewish community where we are constantly balancing tradition and modernity-a perpetual re-enactment of Fiddler on the Roof!

Kedar pointed out what should be obvious, but somehow I think gets lost in all the rhetoric: women will make the changes necessary for a better life.

The quality of life within a society can be determined by the freedoms accorded to the women.

And that brings me back to Tahir and his organization. CTF is studying the growth of Islamic radicalization in Canada especially in the Greater Toronto Area, is introducing measures for the de-radicalization of Muslim Youths in Canada and working at curbing anti-Semitism within the Canadian Muslim Diaspora.

I met Raheel Raza, President of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, author, public speaker, human rights advocate and journalist who works to help Muslims partake of the diversity that Canada has to offer. She’s one of many Muslim women who are intent on making changes in the attitudes of Muslims including their feelings toward Jews.

I spoke with Asma Mahood, an extremely talented woman and one of the conveners, who explained that their intention is to reach Muslim immigrants.

“It is unfortunately the dilemma of non-Arab Muslims that as immigrants they struggle with not only the challenges of settling in a new country with Western Culture but also they seek to define themselves as Muslims of Arab race because that separates them from Indians or Africans who they come trained to hate from countries like Pakistan and Somalia.”

Often, she said, these immigrants were not particularly religious back home, but the radical Islamists get hold of them here, keep them from integrating into the Canadian lifestyle and turn them into traditionalists who are then fed hate. We know the first victims of “traditional” lifestyles are the women.

“Our best bet is to concentrate on young immigrants and women to empower them and engage them in Canadian culture of openness and inclusiveness. We want to change the representation of young immigrants in universities from Israel and India hating groups and societies to more cultural and social organizations, by supporting initiatives and highlighting support groups that are engaged in positive policies.”

Kedar left us with a quote about peace from one Sheik that all of us working toward an end to this irrational hate against Jews and Israel need to keep in mind:

“Peace comes from the invincible. Peace comes from strength. Peace comes to the one who succeeds in convincing his foes that they should leave him alone.”

In other words hugs and kisses are not part of the peace process.

This particular Sheik must have read Machiavelli who wrote in The Prince that one must respond to facts on the ground, actual human behaviour in real time, and not how we wish or imagine people behave.

Mr. Kerry, are you listening?

We must reach out and embrace those who reach out to us, who believe that the Jewish people have a right to exist and a right to have a country. We need people like Tahir, Raheel and Asma to counter the anti-Jewish Jewish voices-like Naomi Klein and Judy Rebick, and Independent Jewish Voices.

We must attend these meetings, invite these brave people to speak to us and support them any way we can. These are righteous people who may be ostracized by their own communities because of their moral courage. They need to know they have friends in the Jewish community as we are all speaking with the same voice.

Take the time to open the links about our friends and learn about these remarkable people.

Whatever our culture or religion, those of us who stand with Israel are all  Am Yisrael.

 The original article was published in The Exchange

About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "