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Embracing diversity for peaceful cohabitation in American cities 11 January , 2012

Filed under: Press — shivali91 @ 5:30 pm
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Article by World Faith executive director Frank Fredericks

In the 19 November 2011 issue of The Economist, the cover story, called “The magic of diasporas” outlines the benefits of mass immigration, particularly to the West. However the changing demographics in major metropolises can also be a highly destabilising force.

This is especially true in the United States in cities where immigration is high and demographics can change significantly in less than a generation. In some places this has resulted in an increase in hate crimes and communal tensions. Yet some cities handle racial and ethnic diversity better than others and provide valuable lessons for other communities.

One example of this is Queens, one of the lesser known boroughs of New York City. Queens is the most diverse county in America; US Census Bureau statistics suggest that 138 languages are spoken there. Is it a hotbed of racial and ethnic tension? Crime reports suggest surprisingly that it’s not. So how does Queens handle all of this diversity?

In 2010, the state reported only 51 hate crimes in Queens, or .02 incidents per 1,000 people, which is slightly less than the national average. While Queens may be extreme with regards to its diversity and its success at managing diversity, it is not the only such example. London, Kampala, Sydney and Singapore all have strikingly similar stories.

So what keeps these cities from meeting the same fate as our world’s racially or ethnically divided communities? I propose that a lack of an obvious racial or ethnic majority and a loss of communal insularity contribute to functional multiethnic communities.

The neighbourhood of Astoria in Queens, for example, is often associated with its Greek roots; however, the encroachment of other nationalities – Egyptians, Brazilians, Italians, Dominicans, Moroccans, Indians, Colombians, Turks and Chinese – has dissolved any clear majority. What is striking about this diversity is that while Greeks still have a home in Astoria, even in “their” neighbourhood, they cannot avoid interacting with others – bosses, co-workers and friends – from different ethnic communities.

In a place where you cannot eat or work without reaching outside your racial or ethnic community – where community insularity is impossible – the opportunity to isolate yourself and dehumanise another ethnic or racial community becomes difficult. Residents instead have to find constructive ways to interact with one another.

If one way to prevent racial and ethnic tension is increased interaction among groups and the lack of a clear majority, how can cities actively create those types of communities?

While immigration trends and real estate prices play a role in determining where diverse groups choose to live, local government can still play a role in improving racial and ethnic integration.

Schools offer a key opportunity. Schools with multiple ethnic and linguistic groups generate more tolerant youth. A US Commission on Civil Rights report entitled “The Benefits of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Elementary and Secondary Education” observed that black and white students who attended desegregated schools were “more likely to function in diverse settings later in life.” This can be put into practice simply. Rather than bussing students, simply redistricting school zones can lead to more integrated communities.

However, the responsibility for racial and ethnic integration does not rest solely with the government. Another way to create more interaction among racially and ethnically diverse groups is for businesses to offer products and services that cater to those beyond their own community. In another example from Astoria, one bank employs tellers from different ethnic groups, so that at any moment, they have at least one Spanish, Chinese, Greek and Arabic speaker working. Similarly, the Mexican taco truck on my block that carries a traditional Greek dish is not only widening its clientele but building a more cohesive community. Simply put, people are not only exchanging goods, services and money, but the constant engagement among co-workers, patrons and small business owners across racial and ethnic lines produces relationships, partnerships and humanisation.

Too often, when faced with challenges regarding racial cohesion in metropolises, we focus on communities that illustrate what is going wrong. When we focus on communities that are more cohesive, there are a lot of positive lessons we can learn.

This article was re-posted from Common Ground News: http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=30854&lan=en&sp=0

 

Putting Unity to the Test 2 August , 2011

‘Muhibah’ may be established between members of society only through friendship, wherein there will be mutual help, kindness and respect.

WHILE diversity of faiths and religions test Malaysians’ capacity for unity, it also accentuates the need of a framework which is practicable and acceptable to all.

Two global scholars, Fazlur Rahman and Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, have suggested in their works that the positive value of religious communities is that they may excel in moral goodness.

According to such interpretation, this is indeed a divine command in the Quran, fastabiqu al-khayrat (al-Maidah, 5:48).

 

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Interfaith Worship Provides Education, Understanding 12 July , 2011

Imagine the primary Sunday morning service in a Christian church that begins with a 9-year-old Muslim boy offering the Islamic Call to Prayer, followed by a woman lighting candles on a table set with bread, wine and grape juice and offering the Jewish prayers that begin the Sabbath worship, followed by an Episcopal priest offering the “collect of the day.”

So began the interfaith service over the weekend at Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn. Parishioners specifically requested the service after reading about the national “Faith Shared” project, organized by Interfaith Alliance and Human Rights First. The challenge in planning such a service was in knowing who from the other faith traditions to invite to help organize and participate in the service.

 

Fes Festival Part One: Sacred Music Sparks Dialogue 5 July , 2011

The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music is in full swing in Morocco. Launched after the first Gulf War, this renowned musical event is now in its 17th year and, despite the troubles of our times, draws a large audience from around the world.

The ideals and ambitions are no less than world peace and understanding. But there are some hard elements here in Fes that lend these utopian hopes some reality. Music does stir the soul, and you could not find a better illustration of humanity’s diversity and rich history than in its sacred music. Ancient music from India and Sardinia, contemporary music and film from Africa, Brazil, Europe, and the United States are all on the packed program of this festival that runs from June 3-12. So the idea is that savoring the diversity of music will inspire people to see difference differently and more positively. The diversity of spirituality commands a new look at what religion means, individually and to humanity.

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Fair in Jackson Heights Seeks to Promote Toleration of Diversity 16 June , 2011

Individuals of all religions and backgrounds plan to come together on the weekend of June 25-26 for a fair in Jackson Heights to promote peace and understanding in the most diverse part of America’s most diverse county.

“This is our children’s future,” said Muhammad Rashid, one of the organizers of the event. “We have to live in complete harmony.”

To try to reach that goal, representatives from multiple business and religious organizations will hold the Interfaith Harmony and World Peace Fair and Festival on the open space at IS 145, at 33-34 79th St. from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

At this fair, which was designed to become an annual event, stalls will be set up for groups to explain who they are and what they do, and visitors can take part in multiple activities. June 25 will feature food, music and dance from multiple countries, yoga, martial arts, an enrichment program for children, a presentation on health issues and art displays. The next day will be a combination sports and picnic day, with physical activities such as soccer, rope pulling, cricket and musical chairs.

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The World Culture Festival: A Major Peace Event with International Music, Dance, Meditation, Yoga, Wisdom, and Symposiums

WASHINGTON, D.C.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–In an era of widespread natural and manmade disaster and conflict, the world will have a chance to join in one of the largest peace festivals ever held — the World Culture Festival, July 2-3, 2011. U.S. Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Mike Quigley (D-IL), and Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL) join other members of the Festival’s reception committee, including former Netherlands Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, Nobel Prize winning Economist Myron Scholes, members of the European Parliament and other governments, and other leading figures from around the world in support of this historic event. U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) are joining many more in support of this gathering that will share the world’s cultures, spirituality, and a message of harmony.

The site of this international festival is Berlin’s recently remodeled Olympiastadion (Olympic stadium). It has had a long and sometimes notorious history, but rarely has it hosted something as unusual as the upcoming World Culture Festival, where 70,000 people from around the world will participate in a group meditation for world peace. In addition, 1,000 yoga teachers will guide various forms of yoga, and celebrate harmony in diversity with music, dance, food, wisdom, and symposiums with cultural, spiritual, and political leaders from around the world. U.S. representation will include Grammy-nominated Chandrika Tandon, among others.

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Learning From My Neighbors: A Sikh’s Interfaith Journey 9 June , 2011

While growing up as a kid in northern India in the early 1980s, I fondly remember one of my best friends in high school, Sher Ali Khan. He was a devout Muslim.

While in 9th grade, Sher Ali called me over to his home for the Islamic festival of Eid. The food at the table was overflowing and beautifully decorated. But a dilemma faced me soon. All the meat on the table was halal — a special religious technique of preparation of meat in the Islamic faith that I as a Sikh was forbidden to eat, due to the Sikh Rehat Maryada (Principles of Sikh Living). So I chose to stay a silent vegetarian that day partaking only of vegetables and sweets.

A couple of months later, he was over at our home for dinner and we had cooked meat without any religious preparation. Since the meat was not halal, Sher Ali became a vegetarian for that meal.

At that time I thought that our religions were getting in the way of our friendship. But as I reflect on it now, it seems that we were learning how to negotiate our religious differences.

 

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