By Fady Hanna, Duke Divinity School Intern
The tragic mass murder in Orlando this past weekend is yet another reminder of the challenges that we as Americans must rise to meet – together. Public news media reports a connection between the shooter and the Islamic State, further invigorating the ethos of fear and resentment towards our Muslim-American community. As has often been the case in the years since the 9/11 attacks, tragic events entice Americans into harboring a misguided perception that our fellow Muslim-American citizens are per se enemy combatants. This ethos of fear and disdain further fragments us as Americans, as North Carolinians, and even as Christians.
Since its establishment in 1935, the North Carolina Council of Churches has sought to promote unity and reconciliation towards a more just society. Part of our effort to achieve that objective requires that Council staff and directors remain cognizant and well informed of the social, political, cultural issues of our day. Just this past week, the governing board of the North Carolina Council of Churches invited human rights activist and co-founder of Muslims for Social Justice, Manzoor Cheema, to deliver a presentation on the topic of Islamophobia at the Council’s quarterly board meeting. Mr. Cheema spoke on the racialization of Islam, and the popular misguided attitudes towards Muslim communities at large.
One of the highlights of Mr. Cheema’s presentation was a discussion of the interplay between social policy and terrorism. When we as a society fail our children by abandoning them to poverty, discrimination, and injustice, we leave them vulnerable to exploitation by crime organizations and terror networks. And just as our children are susceptible to these criminal forces, so too are our unwelcomed and neglected neighbors.
Hatred and violence proliferate wherever there is fear and anxiety– whether on a personal, local, national, or even global level. Fear and anxiety grow their roots wherever there is excessive rigidity and an adamant refusal to learn, understand, and empathize with our neighbors. Whitney Wilkinson, governing board member and pastor at Cameron Presbyterian, engaged the board and Council staff in an insightful discussion on the importance of knowing who we are as a Christian body in order to be able to welcome neighbors into our community. The longer we remain preoccupied with our own interests and neglect the needs of others – regardless of creed or race – the more fragmented our community will become, and the more susceptible we will be to those forces of hatred and violence that threaten to tear apart the delicate fabric holding our communities together.