Monday, May 07, 2007

Religious leaders gather, discuss civil rights

Religious leaders gather, discuss civil rights

By: Khalil AlHajal / The Arab American News

A week after Detroit City Council President Kenneth Cockrel Jr. proposed an ordinance against ethnic profiling and a day before 15,000 people marched through Detroit streets demanding fair immigration reform, Latin, Arab, Muslim, and Jewish religious leaders met in Detroit on May 1 for dialogue on social empowerment.

Though not very many Arab or Muslim Americans attended, Rev. Rani Abdulmasih of the Abundant Life Arabic Church, Noel Saleh of ACCESS, Dawud Walid of CAIR and Dr. Saeed Khan of Wayne State University were all part of the panel discussion.

Also speaking were African American Rev. Charles Williams of the Mary Church Terrell Council, Latin American Fr. Thomas Sepulveda of Sainte Anne de Detroit Catholic Church and Jewish American Rabbi Joseph Klein of Temple Emanu-El.

They discussed from their various perspectives what impedes social and political participation and collaboration among immigrants and different ethnic and religious groups.

"This type of dialogue cannot be underestimated in Metro Detroit," said Walid.

Fr. Sepulveda said that among immigrants, a lack of comfort, security and a sense of legitimacy as Americans discourage many from activism, along with fear of speaking out (many coming from countries ruled by strict dictatorships) and a preoccupation with demanding or multiple jobs.

Rev. Williams said that many perceive certain issues as being specific to individual groups "when all of these issues have a certain amount of effect on all of us."

He said that whether the issues involve insurance redlining, immigration policy, discrimination at airports, or economic disparities, they should be seen as human issues.

In response to a question on the idea that immigrants take away from the rights and opportunities of African American workers, Williams said "We need to be fighting for workers rights, health care, fair wages…" for everyone, "not just for certain groups."

"If we don't come together and talk about our differences, we will suffer," said Abdulmasih.
He said that studying the different cultures, putting ourselves in each others' shoes and engaging in real interaction are the most important and effective means of coming together.

Rabbi Klein spoke intensely about the need for religious groups, when they come together, to pursue genuine, deep, far-reaching dialogue, so that events are not merely "feel-good, transitory moments."

He said discussions should focus on "how we read the old testament, new testament and the Quran," and in particular, certain passages and verses that often pit groups against each other.

Walid in response said that he accepted Klein's challenge of engaging in sincere, profound dialogue.

"We have to get to know each other and help erase misconceptions… to better work together."
Khan said that though he favors interfaith dialogue and active religious communities, he is not in favor of dialogue that creates preconditions for working together when "striving for civil rights and civil liberties."

Williams said that when fighting for social justice, spending time organizing and talking about the actual issues is "a lot better than talking about religion and trying to come up with an ecumenical statement."

The following day, demonstrators marched through Detroit's Mexican American community demanding changes in immigration policy and a path to citizenship for both legal and illegal immigrants.

They also demanded an end to profiling of immigrants, as many say they are sometimes asked for immigration documents by police and other officials simply because of their appearance.

On Friday morning, a Detroit City Council hearing was held regarding Councilman Cockrel's proposal to ban the practice.

Juan EscareƱo of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES), which organized Monday's interfaith event, said 130 people attended, that most council members spoke favorably of the proposal, and that the council is expected to vote on it Wednesday.(MORE)

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