By Wayde Marsh, Duke Divinity School Intern
“Islamophobia doesn’t just affect Muslims, it affects a broad range of people,” began Manzoor Cheema, a leader of Muslims for Social Justice and one of the coalition leaders for the newly formed Movement to End Racism and Islamophobia (MERI). “The only way to overcome this oppression is to unite in our struggles.”
His message was very pertinent to those at Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church recently, where representatives from at least 21 organizations gathered. Those present are actively engaged in efforts to stop torture, hold police departments accountable, challenge US policies regarding Israel, and disrupt the school to prison pipeline—all issues that intersect in the fight against racism and Islamophobia.
Speakers emphasized the connections between racism and Islamophobia in our communities, in US domestic politics, and in US foreign policies, connections that make our global struggles local and our local struggles global.
“(Racism) is not personal,” panelist Shafeah M’Balia of Black Workers for Justice pointed out. “(The system) uses all of us against one another.” Ms. M’Balia offered those gathered specific initiatives in the Triangle that will help combat racism and Islamophobia. Of these, she primarily pushed for civilian review boards of police departments as a means of using civilian empowerment in our communities to affect positive change to other communities.
Beth Bruch of Jewish Voice for Peace took a seemingly more global approach in her naming US involvement in injustices perpetrated against Palestinians. “I believe in a Judaism that prays and works for Shalom, which is much broader than just peace,” Bruch declared. “If we are committed to Shalom, we must value all people.”
While Bruch carried M’Balia’s message from a local to a global context, it remained deeply personal as well. Bruch was clear that #blacklivesmatter, Palestinian freedom, and gay rights are all deeply tied to her own Jewish liberation.
Throughout speakers and discussions, the global and local perspectives came together as we shared our own experiences of witnessing racism or Islamophobia as well as effective responses to such injustices. During the course of the evening I think I signed about five petitions and heard from several organization and movement leaders about their very important work in the Triangle. While there were certainly a lot of different types of social justice initiatives represented, each speaker focused on the link between social justice locally, in our schools and communities, and social justice globally, in our federal government and international economy.
As I reflect on the constant reminders of the many injustices perpetrated in North Carolina and around the world every day, I am inspired by the efforts of so many to creatively work together in coalitions such as MERI, using multiple types of expertise in various issues to unite against the evils of racism and Islamophobia.