Sunday, July 23, 2006

Middle East Conflict Challenges Local Interfaith Relations -- A Report from Detroit

The current Middle East conflict is causing serious challenges to local and national interfaith relationship, particularly among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Rev. Dan Appleyard of Christ Episcopal Church in Detriot compiled these articles which give us a glimpse of the struggle of one community.

A Summary of Interfaith Responses to the Israel-Lebanon Crisis in Metro-Detroit, July 18 – 21, 2006. Compiled by Rev. Dan Appleyard.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Faith leaders find unity elusive
Metro Detroit's interfaith activists see glimmer of hope through strain of Mideast events.
Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- As Muslims, Jews and Christians traveled to an interfaith meeting at St. Paul's Lutheran Church on Tuesday, some stopped at a demonstration by 7,000 mostly Arab-American and Muslim residents, protesting the Israeli incursion into Lebanon.
"We're just stopping by to see what is being said, to pick up on people's concerns," said Brenda Rosenberg, who is Jewish and an interfaith activist from Birmingham.
"Our work is extraordinarily difficult now."
When violent events roil the Middle East, emotions run high in Metro Detroit, the home to about 100,000 Jews and 200,000 to 300,000 Arabs of both the Muslim and Christian faiths. Since Sept. 11, 2001, people of the three faiths have attempted to establish a deeper relationship, with varying degrees of success. Whether those ties bind amid events like the dire current circumstances is the true test of their efforts, they say.
"When one knows of a loved one in either Lebanon or Israel who has been wounded or killed, it is so easy to go to a place of fear and hatred of those who are causing the pain," Rosenberg said. "But we can choose a different response."
So far, they say, things have gone well -- and not so well. The important thing, they say, is that the work continues toward the goal of uniting religious groups to foster a better society, especially in an area as diverse as Metro Detroit.
"We are going through some strains right now," said Eide Alawan, of the Islamic Center of America.
"But the group is still talking to each other, mostly through the Internet and on the phone."
Alawan met Tuesday with Rosenberg, Sheri Schiff of Birmingham, the Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger of St. Paul's and others to talk about a coming interfaith event.
"Nobody canceled the meeting," Schiff said. "Unfortunately, the events overseas do overshadow everything that we do here. But we try to identify common boundaries and common denominators and develop an ability to talk to each other to sustain a dialogue.
"And when it comes to the hard stuff, hopefully those considerations will be in place."
Sometimes they are; sometimes they are not.
Dawud Walid, the regional director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, talked about receiving a phone call from another interfaith activist last week, as the bombardment of Lebanon began.
"We tried to talk about everything except for that," Walid said. "There was some tension there."
Walid described the atmosphere among Muslims and Jews in Metro Detroit as "pretty cold, right now."
But Walid said he and others are committed to persevering.
In talking about the interfaith efforts, including groups like Interfaith Partners of the National Conference for Community and Justice, Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Council, chose not to address the current events at all.
"I have been pushing for the interfaith community to get really engaged in addressing community and human needs going beyond issues of interfaith understanding and respect to talk about actually doing things together," Cohen said. But when asked repeatedly how the events in Lebanon and Gaza affect efforts on hunger, health care and mental illness, Cohen demurred.
"I think what's important here is to focus on those things where we really can get somethings done. That needs to be the foundation so that we can go on to other things," he said.
Steve Spreitzer, the director of interfaith programs for the NCCJ, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews, said that after September 11 the groups tried to do more than "just holding hands and praying together."
"For as long as the NCCJ existed, until then, discussing the politics of the Middle East was simply verboten," Spreitzer said.
"We realized we had to move beyond that. In some cases we have."
Members say that they are circulating a document that would be a joint statement on the current contretemps. It is taking longer to reach agreement than some had hoped.
"The crisis has simply overwhelmed us, so quickly," said Victor Ghalib Begg, vice chairman of the Council on Islamic Organizations in Michigan.
"The effort is there, but the situation is so out of hand. Frankly, I had hoped that we would be able to accomplish more."
You can reach Gregg Krupa at (313) 222-2359 or

To Community Leaders:
What we would like to see happen in Detroit...
We all live in an increasingly diverse metropolitan area. First, second, third and even fourth generation citizens, immigrants from all over the world including significant numbers from the Middle East have contributed much to our expanded community while still maintaining close ties with friends, family and leaders of their countries of origin. These metro Detroiters have settled down and created by in large positive relations with others who would have been considered adversaries “back home.” We’ve been very fortunate, in that civility has been maintained throughout the most difficult of times even when ethnic, religious and cultural conflicts flare in other parts of the world. That is-until last Friday.
The media has reported on the stories from both the Lebanese and Israeli sides. We all have heard about families and friends whose lives have been abruptly and cruelly affected by the ever escalating conflict. This past week, a press conference/rally held in Detroit crossed the line. Voices spewed hate and the rally produced dangerous anger.
It is with this in mind that I call on you to not allow our past interfaith and interethnic partnership efforts be forgotten. We all want peace. We all want an end of terrorism. We all want those living in the Middle East to live safely and securely. We all want the quality of life for all to improve.
What can we do? We can all make sure that the voices expressing despair and outrage do not promote destruction and murder or any other words that may promote violent actions and God forbid more. I believe that all it would take …is one…one who listens to the hateful rhetoric and decides to follow a misguided path and ultimately destroys-at best property –at worst –human life.
I am asking all involved in interfaith efforts in metro Detroit to call one another and express words of condolence… to come together and listen to each others fears, suffering and concerns. I am asking that we call for a ceasefire and for peace. I am asking that we encourage leaders to return to the negotiation table. We who have worked so long together -side by side- ought not attend nor participate nor allow our religious sites to host hate-filled rallies. I ask you to join interfaith leaders from across the country and in our world, using the words of Abdullah bin Al Hussein, King of Jordan in “helping people believe that a difficult peace is far less costly than continuing a destructive conflict”.
Brenda Rosenberg
Interreligious Affairs Commission Chair
American Jewish Committee
Metropolitan Detroit Chapter

Local Religious Leaders Join Forces
By Val ClarkWeb produced by Sarah MorganJuly 21, 2006
Friday, Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders joined together to pray for peace in the Middle East. They publicly called for an end to the violence that is destroying Lebanon and threatening Israel.
Not since the tragedy of 9/11 has this group of interfaith religious leaders collectively stepped into the spotlight.
Reverend Dan Appleyard, Christ Episcopal Church, said, "When we called ourselves to gather today it was to emphasize the need for prayer, the need for a recommitment to relationships locally as a model for what might be relationships worldwide."
Brenda Rosenberg, Pathways to Peace, said, "I have seen the miracles happen when we are willing to come together and share our stories. I truly believe an enemy is someone whose story we have not heard."
The group is not solely depending on their communities or governmentfor aid—they directly called on God.
Father Norman Thomas, Sacred Heart Church, said a short prayer, "Our faith is in you. Our hope is in you. Help us. Amen."
In addition to prayer, the community leaders said there is a need for them to put their efforts together and apply political pressure to foster change.

Religious leaders' prayer: Peace
July 21, 2006

Starting this afternoon, metro Detroit's religious communities, heartbroken by the loss of civilian life in Lebanon and Israel, will head toward weekend services in search of spiritual solace.
"As clergy, whether we are Christian, Muslim or Jewish, we all want to be mediators, trying to help people with what we say and do in our services, but nerves are so raw right now that it's hard even to find words to say," the Rev. Kevin Turman, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Detroit, said Thursday.
In local mosques, where imams' weekly sermons at Friday afternoon prayers are expected to draw larger than normal crowds, the messages are likely to stress the loss of life in Lebanon, local Muslim leaders said.
And in synagogues, where rabbis' words tonight and Saturday also will reach more ears than usual, the sermons are likely to emphasize Israel's need to defend itself.
But every religious leader who spoke with the Free Press stressed the need to pray for peace.
Imam Mohamad Ali Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights said he will condemn the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in a sermon this afternoon.
"The level of destruction and death and casualties in Lebanon is just unimaginable," he said.
But, then, Elahi plans to talk about the need for Muslims to work toward peace in the region. "The solution is not to add to the aggression there," he said. "The solution is love and reconciliation. This is the essence of our religion."
Imam Mohammad Mardini at the American Muslim Center in Dearborn plans to say that both sides have a role to play in ending violence.
"But I do not think that my Friday sermon is a time to make political speeches. So, I will call on our people to humble our hearts and look to our religious sources for wisdom. And, when we do, we see that we must be patient and pray for peace. ... In the end, people will have to sit down at a table and negotiate. Destruction is never going to bring peace."
Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, who will be speaking at Congregation Shaarey Zedek's B'Nai Israel Center in West Bloomfield tonight and Saturday, said he will talk about Israel's need to stamp out terrorism.
"I will speak about the need to persevere against terrorism, but in every Jewish soul there is a longing for peace. For 4,000 years in our tradition, every series of Jewish prayers ends with a prayer for peace."
Rabbi Daniel Nevins at Adat Shalom in Farmington Hills said his congregation will hear about the need to support Israel's struggle against terrorism. Right now, that's a sad but necessary part of the effort to restore peace, he said. "We certainly have a vision that in the time to come, there eventually will be peace throughout the world."
During the Saturday morning service, some of the teenagers who returned this week from Israel will be invited to stand up "and we'll have a special prayer of thanksgiving for their safe return," Nevins said.
The Rev. Daniel Appleyard at Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn is a longtime volunteer in programs to bridge differences between faiths. Now, he said, friendships across metro Detroit are being tested.
For Sunday, he will use a prayer that calls on God to "look with compassion on the whole human family. Take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts. Break down the walls that separate us. Unite us in bonds of love. And work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on Earth."
The Rev. Kevin Turman at Second Baptist Church also has served for 26 years as a military chaplain, currently in the U.S. Navy Reserve. "This obviously is part of a long conflict that has flared up again," he said. "And it's going to require a great deal of effort on all sides to even stop what's happening, let alone bring a meaningful peace."
Turman said he fears a misguided missile from either side could result in a tragedy that will widen the conflict. "It is such a dangerous, divisive situation that I think we all need to search for more moderate tones in which to speak. And we all need to lift this region in prayer."
Contact DAVID CRUMM at 313-223-4526 or

LOCAL COMMENT: Muslims here should be a force for peace
July 21, 2006


Muslim Americans have a religious obligation to fight terrorism and to engage others in dialogue to find ways to protect our mutually cherished American values.
The ongoing events in the Middle East add to the urgency of countering the mind-set of vengeance permeating our communities. We especially cannot allow our youth to fall prey to radical manipulation. The holy Quran teaches (41:34-35): "The good deed and evil deed are not alike. Repel evil with what is best. You will see that he, with whom you had enmity, will become your closest friend."
It is time for American Muslims to do some soul searching and for all Americans to indulge in a quest for the root causes of the violence our world faces.
Peaceful, law-abiding Muslim Americans must take it upon themselves to monitor potential troublemakers and take preventive measures -- as would be expected of any faith community -- to check right-wing/extremist elements within. The so-called Jihadists are villains within Islam.
The current climate is particularly disturbing, because Islam has now become an integral part of western civilization and the American landscape.
Muslims have actually made impressive contributions toward religious tolerance throughout their 1,400-year history, living with diversity and building inclusive communities around the world. Muslim Americans must take back this heritage from the agents of terror who defame their faith -- and American policymakers must include Muslims in achieving peace and security with justice.
Muslim communities have long been ghettoized in Britain, France, Germany and elsewhere, but not in America. The recent Muslim fury in Europe is the product of a community that has been marginalized and discriminated against -- much like African Americans, who have faced discrimination, deprivation and being cut off from educational and economic opportunities.
On the contrary for Muslims in America, according to the Detroit Mosque Study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, (, 52% of mosque attendees have bachelor's or graduate degrees, while another 25% have some college education. The Muslims in America are not only educated, they are also economically well off -- many of them are doctors, engineers, scientists, educationists, public servants, businessmen and other respected professionals. As contributing citizens of America, Muslims have a duty to be part of the solution -- a responsibility to themselves, their families, their congregations, society at large and, above all, to God.
What may motivate some members of a successful community to participate in radical behavior? How can we stop this toxic hatred from spreading in our neighborhoods? The answers must be found by engaging all quarters of our community -- faith, business, media and political leaders need to come forward to discuss prevention.
Interfaith Partners of the National Conference for Community and Justice, for example, brings congregations together for dialogue and joint service projects. Such efforts need wider support, including funds from the business sector. Media must avoid painting all Muslims with a single brush. Political leaders must work with the interfaith leaders to isolate all extremists.
After the 9/11 attacks, our country chose to take the military route to settle the score with the terrorists. Any discussion of the root causes of terror was discouraged and Muslims raising such questions were called terrorist sympathizers. We cannot afford to stand idly by any longer in light of the current events and must speak up. U.S. military actions abroad and Homeland Security at home alone cannot be the sole answer.
True, Muslims generally oppose the Iraq war and have serious differences with American foreign policy. Yes, Muslims are on the receiving end of civil liberty constraints and profiling.
But there are also other Americans who disagree with American policies and others who have faced and continue to face greater civil rights challenges. The American way is to participate fully in the decision-making process, articulating disagreements in a peaceful fashion. It is imperative for the Muslim community to build interfaith alliances, working with others, including our government, to foster in America a culture of tolerance and peace.
VICTOR GHALIB BEGG chairs the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. Write to him in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit 48226 or

Wall Street Journal
Divided in Detroit:Arabs and Jews Clash Over Mideast WarRallies

Heat Up the Rhetoric And Fray Fragile Bonds;'We Are the Underdogs'
July 22, 2006; Page A1

DETROIT -- In recent days, thousands of Arab-Americans have rallied here in response to the Middle East conflict. At one mosque, 200 people applauded a speaker who called Israelis "barbaric" and "not human" and accused Israel of having secret chemical weapons that destroy the internal soft tissues of Arabs. In nearby Dearborn, adults and children jammed the streets to cheer for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Separately, thousands of local Jews have rallied in support of Israel. At a rally in a synagogue in suburban Southfield, they applauded a speaker who said "twisted" leadership in Iran and a "thugocracy" in Syria wants "to annihilate every Jew on the planet." A rabbi exclaimed: "We did not seek this fight, but we will finish it!"

A Jewish congregation held a rally this week in Detroit. Click the image to see more photographs. The Detroit area has 300,000 residents of Arab descent, the largest such population in the U.S. More than 72,000 Jews also live here, and they are among the nation's strongest fund-raisers for Israeli and Jewish causes. For decades, the two groups coexisted peacefully, though uneasily. Their leaders tried to build bridges, working together, for example, to build homes for Habitat for Humanity. Now, protests and inflammatory rhetoric over the Mideast conflict threaten to sever those fragile bonds.

"There have been numerous uncomfortable moments through the years, but nothing as unsettling" as the recent tensions, says Sharona Shapiro, director of the American Jewish Committee's Michigan chapter. In years past, American and Israeli flags have been burned in Dearborn, she says, and speakers with alleged terrorist ties have preached against Israel at local mosques. What worries her today, she says, is that moderates in the Arab community may be afraid to speak up, making it difficult for the two communities to have a constructive dialogue.

Hasan Newash, director of Palestine Office Michigan, an advocacy group, says that dialogue with Detroit's Jewish community is futile. He says that unlike Israeli citizens, who often question their government, Detroit's Jews "are entrenched in carte blanche support for Israel, no matter what." At a rally last Friday at the Islamic Center of Detroit, Mr. Newash claimed that "families en masse" are being killed by Israel in "barbaric assaults" backed by the Bush administration.

The first large wave of Arab immigrants came to Detroit in the 1870s. When Lebanese Christians fled the Ottomans in the 19th century, many came here to sell goods door-to-door. Other Arabs came to work in the auto industry, or more recently, to escape violence in the Middle East and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Now, many of them own businesses such as gasoline stations and convenience stores and are middle-class.

Jews began coming to Detroit in the mid-1850s from Eastern Europe. Over the years, many worked their way up to become upper-middle-class professionals.

The rallies in recent weeks have been nonviolent, but tensions have ratcheted up. On Wednesday, about a dozen Arab protesters rallied in front of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, a Southfield synagogue where more than 3,000 Jews had gathered to show their support for Israel. The Arabs called Israel a terrorist state and waved signs at Jews stuck in parking-lot traffic. Profanities were exchanged.

Jewish Friends
Sam Abdallah was among the Arab protesters. He emigrated from Lebanon in 1976, and his family opened a deli near the synagogue. Over the years, Mr. Abdallah, who is Muslim, says he made many Jewish friends. At the protest, he wore sunglasses so his Jewish friends wouldn't recognize him. "If this [protest] is what it's going to take to help my family back at home and show that what Israel is doing is not right, then this is what I'm going to do," said Mr. Abdallah, who has family in Lebanon.

Kenwah Dabaja, who sits on a policy council of the Arab American Institute, an advocacy group in Washington, attended the synagogue rally to hear the speeches. She says Jewish leaders at the rally "spoke with such confidence, and they can do that because they have the support of our government, and we are the underdogs.

"When the synagogue rally ended, most of those emerging from the building ignored the Arab protesters. One of the protesters held an Israeli flag with a swastika instead of a Star of David in the middle. "That flag really got to me," said Sara Raick, a Jewish woman who said she hadn't realized that local Arab-Americans "had such hatred." She said she did not confront the protesters because she didn't want to start trouble.

Stirring Emotions
Further stirring emotions: Several Arabs from the area say they've lost loved ones during the fighting in Lebanon, and many others have relatives trying to leave the country. And earlier this week, 214 Jewish teens from suburban Detroit came home weeks early from a community-organized trip to Israel. They said they had been close enough to the action to hear the rumbling of rockets.

Only a few years ago, Jewish-Arab relations in Detroit were moving in a different direction. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Jewish leaders publicly supported efforts to fight stereotyping of Arabs and discrimination against them. Local Arab leaders expressed gratitude. Jews and Muslims raised money together for the American Red Cross.

For the most part, though, Jews and Arabs live separate lives in different parts of the metropolitan area. Many Iraqis, Lebanese and Palestinians live in Dearborn, west of the city. Many Jews live in the northern suburbs, which are also home to a large population of Chaldeans, who are Iraqi Christians.

In past years, local Jewish leaders weren't eager to widely disseminate incendiary comments from local Arab leaders, says Don Cohen, former Michigan director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. Mr. Cohen, who monitored Arab-American speeches for years, says he found this frustrating.

Now, Detroit's Jewish News is publishing Mr. Cohen's dispatches from Arab rallies, and his reports are being emailed throughout the Jewish community. Some Jews say they are realizing, for the first time, the depths of their differences with Arab neighbors.

Osama Siblani, publisher of Detroit's Arab-American News, says that "our Jewish cousins" in Detroit should try to understand why Detroit Arab-Americans cheer for Hezbollah and rail against Israeli bombings that have killed Lebanese civilians. Because of the Holocaust, he says, Jews know what it's like to have their homes destroyed and their children killed. "Arabs are expressing their frustration, not their hatred," he says. "We are angry and wounded. The Jewish community should be the first ones to rally with us.

"Arthur Horwitz, publisher of the Jewish News, says that he has met with Mr. Siblani in the past, but that it "would no longer be constructive" for the two publishers to have a relationship.

Abed Hammoud, president of the Congress of Arab American Organizations, an umbrella group, works as an assistant prosecutor for Wayne County, where Detroit is located. At a recent rally, he referred to President Bush as a "criminal" for backing the "crimes" of Israel.

Mr. Hammoud says his strong comments are necessary because "in the battle for the hearts and minds of Americans, the Jewish community has won." He says he can't have a dialogue with Jews in Detroit because "I don't want a lecture about how bad my people are, and how anyone who throws a rock at a tank is a terrorist." Among Detroit Arabs, he says, cheering for Hezbollah is "almost like cheering the underdog...Hezbollah is the people of Lebanon.

"Leaders from Detroit's Arab and Jewish communities say they have no immediate plans to meet. "Right now, everything is too raw," says Wendy Wagenheim, president of Detroit's Jewish Community Council.

Write to Gina Chon at and Jeffrey Zaslow at


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