The election of Donald Trump to the highest office in our country, whatever one’s political leanings, has sent shockwaves throughout the world. Other world leaders, both current and potential, such Marine Le Pen in France and Nigel Farage in Britain, have approved of and supported Trump’s candidacy, with Farage having appeared at rallies on behalf of Trump. All of these leaders view events such as Brexit and the results of our election as a reaction to globalization that has marginalized working class people, whom they supposedly all champion. I see in all of these instances great potential harm to minorities of all kinds, especially LGBTQ people, as protections they have fought very stridently for are potentially going to stripped from them. Religious and ethnic minorities, two categories that often intersect, sometimes also with LGBTQ status, have also become targets of nationalist rhetoric and attacks. Immediately after the election of Trump to the presidency, reports started coming in from around the country of intimidation of minorities, both physically and as messages scrawled on walls and other areas. In one case, the prayer space used by Muslim students at NYU was defaced with graffiti praising President-elect Trump.
All of these and other reported incidents, both during the incredibly divisive campaign and since his election, have a lot of people scared and worried about the possible outcomes of all of this. Although Trump’s stances and policies are very important, the larger issue is not what Trump can or cannot do as president, but more how his supporters behave as a result. I see interfaith dialogue between any and all minority groups as incredibly important, as it will continue to help dispel misunderstandings and create increased closeness between groups which all feel threatened and are scared of what might happen as a result of Trump’s being elected. Defending the rights of all minorities is something I have always felt is an integral part of religious observances, no matter what denomination one is a part of. Saying that “because I practice X, therefore you cannot and must not practice anything else” is very harmful. The idea that the very existence of other forms of religious practice — let alone other ways of life in general — threaten my certainty that I am correct, which in turn creates prejudices that are passed from one generation to the next, leads to some very dark places in world history.
The right to free exercise of religion, enshrined in the Bill of Rights in this country, shows that even at that time in the history of the country it was recognized that such freedom is integral to our form of government. Those who left England and elsewhere to come to this country from the very early days of European immigration to the present, have left their places of origin in order to be free from persecution and/or poverty in the hopes that here in the US they will be able to live their lives as free people exercising rights and privileges they may not have had before. For many refugees it is that they need to be free from war and violence, and I find it unconscionable that our country may end up forcing those very refugees back to the areas they fled in the first place. It is not just about saying that all religious and minority groups are welcome and respected here, it is of supreme importance now that those who feel that such treatment of all minorities is an affront to religious practice to speak out. Anyone, who is committed to the ideals of building bridges between people rather than walls and fences to keep the Other away, must defend the rights of all people to live in peace and increasing unity. We can argue over what the causes were that led to the ascension of anti-globalization parties like those seen in England, France and now in the United States. I feel as important as it is to understand what led to such developments, working to ensure the physical and spiritual safety of minority populations around the world is a more sacred mission in times such as these, in which people such as myself as a Jewish person, religious minorities, LGBTQ people, and all other minorities are placed at risk. This is a time when interfaith dialogue can show that there is much in the religious traditions that argues for support and acceptance of the Other in your midst, rather than fear and distrust.
As The Rev. Galen Guengerich of All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City has said,
“It is not us vs.them, it is us versus us. In my view we are now experiencing a clash between the reality of what America had always been against the ideal of what America could become and indeed has been becoming. We’ve become even more of a melting pot, even more open and inclusive. That’s the irony, and the source of the deepest pain, at least to me. The earthquake came precisely because America has been edging ever closer to the ideal America has always represented both to itself and to the rest of the world.”
Trying to find common ground on important issues of national and international importance may be difficult in times like this. This entire election cycle—whatever the implications of the new President-elect’s policies once he takes office—illustrates the incredible importance of trying to understand the Other, whether political, religious, or otherwise, and what happens when some refuse to try to do so. It has always been my view that our religious practices and texts, whatever their faults and issues, demand nothing less of us than to speak truth to power, especially in times of increasing and potential danger to anyone who does not fit the ideal expounded by those increasingly coming into power across the world.
An important development since the election is the announcement of the new Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, created by the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America, which is meant to create closer ties between the two groups. This shows how important the issues of religious freedom in this country have become as both Muslims and Jews, as well as others, are very concerned about the implications of the new political and social climate.
Using the power of our religious traditions to make sure that all minority populations in this country and indeed around the world are protected is a task that ever increasing interfaith cooperation and discussion can help to achieve. I am very proud to be part of these efforts in any way I am able to do so. As Eftekhar Alam, the senior coordinator at ISNA’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances stated,
“We have to show the administration that as American Muslims and Jews — people of the faiths of Abraham — we are uniting to help the administration navigate in the proper constitutional manner, to uphold freedom of religion and constitutional rights for all American citizens.”
Image Source: Ian Sane, via Wikimedia Commons