Citizenship & tolerance

CoExistAs I am about to move to another continent, I’ve found two sets of activities in America profoundly disturbing.   First, the condemnation of a proposed Muslim multi-cultural center several blocks away from Ground Zero ; second, advocates for repealing the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution enacted in 1878 to grant citizenship to Africans who had been brought to America as slaves.  

I personally know and deeply admire the couple who have been planning the center for close to a decade: Daisy Khan  and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who are and have been for decades totally devoted to sharing a progressive interpretation of Islam – promoting women’s rights, condemning violence and advocating tolerance – within the Muslim community globally and building bridges with people of other faiths throughout the world.  I’ve been heartbroken to see them characterized as violent extremists as this is a complete misrepresentation of two people who are motivated by the noblest ideals.  

I’ve been as outraged by those who, building on the xenophobia exhibited by outrageous anti-immigrant laws enacted in Arizona and now being proposed in Florida, are trying to strip the 14th Amendment so that children born here won’t constitutionally be guaranteed citizenship.  America has been a land of immigrants since people from other nations arrived to join Native Americans.  And from its first pilgrim immigrants’ arrival, many escaping religious persecution, this nation held central the aspiration of religious pluralism.  While we have not always lived up to our ideals on these core facets of American tradition, they provide beacons of hope to people in the US and globally.

My Russian Jewish grandparents came here to flee the Czarist pogroms  and my Irish Catholic husband’s ancestors arrived to escape the potato famine.  The neighborhoods in which we each grew up have continued to absorb wave after wave of new immigrants with new religious beliefs: mine is now primarily Haitian who are primarily Pentecostal Christians and his is primarily Cambodian who are primarily Buddhists. 

This is the very strength of this nation: its ability to absorb people of differing nationalities, races and religions; while we have a long way to go for true equality, I can think of no other country that does as well in welcoming and integrating people with such great differences.

So, I was greatly encouraged when President Obama declared his support for the Muslim Center saying that opposing the project is at odds with American values.  I’ve similarly been heartened by people from around the country joining in protests against Arizona’s ill-conceived law.   And, as I am about to be the foreigner in another country, I can only hope that more people in the US and throughout the world will stand up for tolerance.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Farai Chideya August 14, 2010, 2:35 pm

    Dear Nadine: You continue to shine your light all around and I cannot wait to see how you shape this new opportunity. I have enjoyed and benefitted from your ability to deal with institutions in dynamic change — and people in dynamic change, too!

    Re: tolerance, I have a series of midterm elections radio specials — focusing on “Race, Rage and Reconciliation” — that will look at the American journey using both social media and on-the-ground reporting, including from Arizona’s border. This will air in three segments on public radio across America between October 21 and November 4. More on that soon.

    Enjoy your journey…

  • Jeanne Browne (aka MizB) August 14, 2010, 11:31 pm

    The 14th amendment business is sheer stupidity and, I suspect, a Birther effort to remove President Obama’s citizenship since they’ve lost traction on the equally stupid idea that he isn’t. It’s disgusting, but I’m not concerned about this one ever happening.

    As far as the mosque is concerned, I think it’s a well-intentioned but poor idea – largely because in the 9 years since 911, to my knowledge there has been no angry, visible action on the part of the larger Muslim community regarding terrorist action worldwide. In a way I can’t blame them, since they for the most part live under “off with their heads” regimes. But American Muslims, unless they’ve been completely stifled by the mainstream media, have been disturbingly silent. I think it’s fair to say that most Americans don’t know a Muslim and have never met one, and they have no reason to feel comfortable about a mosque/community center being a hop, skip and jump away from Ground Zero and it doesn’t stand a chance of enhancing communication and tolerance.

    That said, even though 9/11 was a devastating blow to the US, what troubles me equally is that nearly 10 years after the fact, we still annually “celebrate” this attack as if terrorist attacks don’t happen, frequently, around the world. If Israel turned the site of every assault into a shrine, one’s feet couldn’t touch the ground anywhere in the country. At this stage in 9/11 history, it would be a good idea if we gave up on the “they hate us for our freedom” bullshit and better understand how American actions, followed by American cluelessness, contributed to the attack in the first place. The whole matter is an odd combination of misunderstanding and insensitivity. That mosque could be built virtually anywhere else and its message might have a passing chance of getting through. As it stands now, it’s little more than a slap in the face to those who have been given no legitimate reason to not feel offended. Timing – and placement – are everything in every endeavor to ease tensions rather than exacerbate them.

  • Nadine Hack August 15, 2010, 10:42 am

    Jeanne (AKA Mz Browne) – I often agree with your blog posts but in this case I definitely do not. Go to this link to see a list of several hundred Muslim political and religious leaders who have spoke out against and condemned terrorism. The problem is not with these Msulim leaders but with the media that does not cover their outrage and continues to fuel the misperception that Muslims are quiet about violence being committed in the name of their religion. For more go to or just Google “Muslims speak out against terrorism” and find many more. – Nadine

  • Melinda Marcus August 15, 2010, 2:24 pm

    Nadine: I anticipate you will be a welcomed guest in Switzerland. You bring peace and understanding to wherever you go. Once you get settled, I will be interested in hearing your observations as an executive in residence in another country. I’m sure you will experience some cultural nuances, that are different from home, but that’s what makes travel so interesting. In my work focusing on the psychology behind communications and, especially, in the study of body language, there are both subtle and dramatic differences seen in Europe and the U.S. That is even more true when you compare with Middle Eastern or Asian cultures. If you, or any of your readers, have an interest, I invite you to view my web site at . One of the feature articles in the top banner is specifically on reading body language. Please take a look and contact me through the inpsychs site if you have comments or questions.

  • JERRY DUNFEY August 22, 2010, 1:27 pm


  • Mino Akhtar August 23, 2010, 8:10 am

    I just thought I should say something about the Ground Zero proposed multicultural center, especially since I have worked with Daisy and Feisal for over 10 years trying to build American Muslim institutions, young Muslim leaders, women’s funds, and at the same time debating with bigots like the Danish cartoon editors in Copenhagen.

    I am personally very torn about this issue, and am convinced that more good than harm will come out of it eventually. I worked with Daisy and Feisal when they were trying to build such a center at the 96th street mosque, but they were unsuccessful. The Kuwaiti control of the mosque, plus other building plans interfered with that vision. The concept was the same, a bazaar of ideas and people to build bridges and share knowledge. Then they tried other places, and finally got this location. It was a very lucky break for a visionary project that took so long to get a place! However, what they, and I did not anticipate that 9 years after 9/11 the hatred against Muslims has increased even more than it was right after 9/11, even though more Muslims are dying daily in revenge attacks in Afghanistan, and already died in Iraq. How does one explain that? How could they have foreseen that? I could not have even imagined this nightmare. We thought our work was good, and our intentions would transcend the differences.

    My fervent wish is that this project serves everyone, it shows us all what hate looks like and how contagious it is. It shows us that we may call ourselves civilized, but we still hold on to grudges, no amount of revenge killings don’t soothe our souls, and we scream louder and louder as on Fox News. I actually hope that the builders do give up, but not yet. They should wait to show America how fragile its precious and unique foundations are, and how quickly enemies are made in a society that stops seeking knowledge, and how vicious the hate can be. Daisy had to listen to several 9/11 families just shout obscenities about our religion the other day, and she did as we all do every single day. I get up every single day and tell myself to grin and bear it. I tune out of the media because I know that it, like a hungry animal, needs a mega enemy, and the poor hapless Muslims of the world, suffering already, is all that they could come up with. May we wake up as human beings.

    That will be a great lesson to learn from for the sake of America and the world.

  • Joyce Swensson August 26, 2010, 6:06 pm

    Dear Nadine, interesting move and I would like to hear about your impressions of Switzerland as I lived there for several years.

    I have enjoyed your messages over the years, but with all due respect, strongly disagree with the building of a mosque or cultural centre so close to Ground Zero. why do we fail to recognize the feelings of those who disagree? Some of us still remember where we were that fateful day, and though not all muslims are terrorist, the 9/11 crime was done in the name of Islam, people cheered in the Arab world and it is painful to hear Americans who disagree being called haters and ignorant. I would be glad to share further especially after my 14-month assignment in southern Lebanon.

  • Lisa September 12, 2010, 4:43 pm

    I was so happy to read through this post! I think you remind Americans what they need to hear, that America was built on tolerance. And Mino Akhtar makes an important warning by saying that hate is especially contagious. It is this epidemic nature of hate that provided the fear motivating families to enter into an unknown country with an uncertain future in early American history. But somehow the ease of living comfortably on American soil allowed many to forget the sadness and fear of their ancestors.

    Furthermore, it seems that people forget that Muslims were not only bystanders in 9/11. Several Muslims were killed in the attacks and their lives were permanently altered. If the “I am a victim, allow me my emotional response” is the core argument for American opposition, I’m not sure what their next plan of action is. I guess when in doubt we should put the thoughts on our current problems in the context of history: How will my children or grandchild view the opinion on building a cultural center for Islam in downtown Manhattan? What lessons do we really want to be teaching our children or the next generation?

    Sending you blessings for a warm welcome and beginning in Switzerland. I’ve been enjoying medical school. Of course I can’t turn off the world around me just because of science classes. Very happy to have your blog to read up on after the newspaper, since it always reflects an interesting topic.


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