The Voices of Marginalized Americans and their Mainstream Allies
The theme of Conference captures the challenges our nation faces in these turbulent times. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is conceived as a multicultural, inter-ethnic and interfaith conference, open to the general public. In the initial design the following organizations were considered as invited participants if not co-sponsors: The Islamic Council of New England, The Archdiocese of Boston, The Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, the Massachusetts Council of Churches, The Movement for Black Lives, The Boston Jewish Workmen’s Circle, The Jewish Voice for Peace, and leaders from the LatinX, Native American, and possibly the Sikh and Japanese American , Arab non-Muslim and the Hindu Communities. Time constraints prevented the extension of the invitation of all those listed.
It was the hope that the open inclusive forum would permit the presentation of diverse views that could lead the country to move forward as ‘One Nation Under God’. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr had pointed out, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice’. This was more succinctly expressed by Congressman Keith Ellison, ‘The antidote to division is solidarity’.
“There is no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.” – Arundhati Roy.
We are all Americans. Save for a handful of Native Americans who were the original inhabitants of this continent, the rest of us are immigrants in one way or another: in search of the ‘American dream’, fleeing oppression, or the victims of slavery. Though we are of different skin colors, races, ethnicities, languages, cultures and religions, we are all united as One Nation under God. These superficial differences were hitherto not employed to define us as ‘rapists’, terrorists’, ‘drug dealers’, ‘money lenders’, or supremacists. Without minimizing the unwelcoming experience that many of the earlier immigrants faced, and the slaves endured, the official stance of this country to the stranger has been one fostering a feeling of welcome Sadly over the past two years there has been a drastic change in the attitude expressed toward immigrants and refugees who are now depicted as parasites leeching the wealth of this country, plotting to take it over, or threatening to undermine its hitherto predominantly white European Christian legacy.
What is most distressing is the vulgarity in discourse that has accompanied this change in attitude especially when articulated by the President and some of his picked acolytes. Thus the President himself used the despicable language to denigrate some African countries as ‘s—t holes, NFL players who did not stand for the anthem as ‘sons of bitches’ and Mexicans as rapists and Salvadorans as ‘animals’. Not to be outdone, Robert Jeffress, who serves as an informal faith adviser to Trump, has maligned most world religions and condemned homosexuality. Jeffress has referred to both Islam and Mormonism as “a heresy from the pit of hell.” He believes Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, and Buddhism are all cults, and that Catholicism represents the “genius of Satan.” Jews, he believes, are going to hell. “You can’t be saved by being a Jew,” he’s said.
In this obscene narrative what is overlooked is that every immigrant community, especially those designated as slaves, has played a vital role in establishing the pre-eminence of the US on the world stage. Its cultural diversity has been a model for the rest of the world to emulate.
Those of us who are present here today are here to repudiate hate and bigotry and reclaim our inherent rights as full citizens of this great nation. We are the voices of ‘the other’ Americans. We are not a ‘second class’ in our own country! And we are proud to be joined by our mainstream allies who reject the jingoism that has infested our country’s leadership.
We have come together from all spectrums of our society to reaffirm the commonality of our humanity, express the individual concerns of our respective communities, and send a resounding message to those elected to lead what the minimal expectations of their leadership roles are. John F. Kennedy noted, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” We hope that the discussion that emanates out of this gathering will serve as a catalyst to promote the peaceful transformation of our nation to its full potential.
Invited participants/co-sponsors from the marginalized and the mainstream groups include:
1 . Muslims of all denominations
2. Christian groups represented by: Archdiocese, Mass Council of Churches, CMM,
3. Jewish groups including: JVP and Jewish Workmen’s Circle
4. Black Lives Matter and the NAACP
5. Latin X Community Leaders
6. Native American Community Leaders
Included in this list are groups that may hold strongly divergent views on both local and international affairs. The object of this meeting is not to even touch upon these differences which would be counterproductive to the goal of the conference which is to present a unified front dealing with issues of common concern to all Americans.
SESSION 1: The Concerns
Each group will outline its community’s personal concerns about how it is marginalized or misrepresented in this country:
e.g. The Muslims could bring up the issue about the ‘Islamophobia industry’ the roles of the media, govt. officials, and law enforcement in magnifying the threat by Islam that is equated with terrorism.
The African Americans could address the issue of institutionalized racism.
The ‘mainstream’ could talk about the current direction the country is headed, and how this is unconstitutional and inconsistent with the spiritual dimensions of their beliefs, especially as it relates to the unmentionable separation of toddlers from their parents.
Concerns of other groups may be specific, but listed in Appendix A are some that may resonate with all groups at the local, national, or global level and can be used in formulating a generic statement.
SESSION 2: Proposed Solutions: each group would suggest solutions to the problems that are of principal concern to its members.
SESSION 3: Where do we go from here? To this end it is hoped that that representatives of the invited groups/co-sponsors will help to draft a statement in the form of a petition that can then be circulated during this session of the Conference. This could be sent to the media or members of the government and law enforcement as decided at the conference. The crucial question is: Can we develop a coalition of all or most of the groups present here to create an active movement to ensure that there is a path to local national and global justice that is the underpinning of harmony and peace?
Even if we fail to achieve our lofty goals we should at least have the satisfaction of recognizing what George Orwell stated with such perspicacity , ‘In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.’ This is the least we can do! In the words of Richard Cohen President of the SPLC,’ ‘For the sake of future generations, we must unite and resist threats to our liberty. Each of us must join in the struggle. None of us can stand on the sidelines.’
APPENDIX A: FOR CONSIDERATION BY REPRESENTATIVE OF THE SELECT GROUPS. The accompanying list is not meant to be comprehensive but includes items of general concern to which each group can add its own specific concerns. This is an initial attempt to draft an appropriate Statement
“We the undersigned wish to highlight the following concerns that we perceive as sources of injustice in our pluralistic society, and we hope that remedial measures based on the recommendations would promote greater mutual understanding respect and harmony.
1. We reject all forms of extremism be it based on race, religion, nationalism or political ideology
2. We reject xenophobia and discrimination as incompatible with our common humanity
3. We reject the notion in the name of ‘globalization’ and democratization the exploitation and oppression of other nations.
4. We respect the rights of all peoples to live according to their traditions and cultures as long as they respect the universal declaration of human rights and do not try to impose their way of life on others. Freedom of or from religion is a right that should be given expression in all countries. No religion, under the guise of ‘free speech’ should be subject to malevolence
5. We condemn the asynchronous distribution of wealth within countries and among countries
6. We believe that humankind has a stewardship to protect the environment both from predatory practices that deplete natural resources and from ecological pollution that induces climate change and makes the planet less habitable.
7. We believe that there is a need to change the current war-based economies to ones centered on peace core activism
8. We need to promote the idea that instead of nuclear proliferation or enhancement there is an imperative to reduce stockpiles
9. At home we must expect a family sustaining job with equal pay for equal work
10. At home we expect our government to provide comprehensive education, healthcare and housing
11. At home we expect a more equitable taxation so that the wealthy do not enrich themselves at the expense of the poor
12. At home there is a need to overturn ‘Citizens United’ so that corporations do not buy elections
13. At home there is an urgent need that our country’s infrastructure that is rapidly deteriorating be reconstructed and that money not squandered on building a wall at the US Mexican border
14. There is an imperative to ensure the much needed investments in our inner cities
15. There is a need to adopt a much more receptive attitude toward immigrants and more so toward refugees whose exodus bears a positive correlation with our military adventurism abroad
16. We need to end gun violence
17. We need to look seriously at the widespread problem of sexual abuse
18. On a universal scale: There is a need to restore civility in discourse, a pre-requisite for which is respect as elaborated by Pope Francis,’ “Respect” means an attitude of kindness towards people for whom we have consideration and esteem. What we are called to respect in each person is first of all his life, his physical integrity, his dignity and the rights deriving from that dignity, his reputation, his property, his ethnic and cultural identity, his ideas and his political choices. We are therefore called to think, speak and write respectfully of the other, not only in his presence, but always and everywhere, avoiding unfair criticism or defamation.”
The original theme and the design of the Conference were conceived by Abdul Cader Asmal, and the final version completed through the dedicated efforts of the Conference Committee.
Naim Assil Chair of Conference
Yusuf Bramble President
Abdul Cader Asmal Chairman of Communications of the Council and Program Coordinator
Dris Djermoun, Zahir Adil, Badawi Dweik, Imam Taalib Mahdee, Latoya Malone, Ahmed Hamilton Varela, Latifa Ziyad, May Khudairi.
The video the Conference can be viewed at www.islamiccounicilne.org
Abdul Cader Asmal MD