WILMINGTON — Judaism, Christianity and Islam all speak to the plight of the refugee, making the ongoing refugee crisis an issue for those religious communities to engage in, said panelists at Wilmington College (WC).
In addition to a WC student and a Butler High School student, the panel was comprised of participants in Cincinnati’s Bridges of Faith Trialogue, organized in 2003 originally as a Jewish-Muslim dialogue and expanded to include Christians in 2007.
The conversation Monday night was the opening event for the 2017 Westheimer Peace Symposium that had the theme of “Welcoming the Other” and which continued throughout the day Tuesday on the WC campus.
One cause for reducing the number of refugees permitted to enter the United States is a fear that some refugees may secretly be militants who want to commit terrorist acts on American soil. Rev. Canon Manoj Zacharia of Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, responded to that worry.
“If we’re going to let these type of prejudices rule us, we’re never going to be able to engage each other as human beings, and it starts by looking each other in the eye, and recognizing the humanity of each and everyone we encounter,” said Zacharia.
Dr. Ashraf Traboulsi with the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati said many refugees fleeing persecution or war spend years in refugee camps before they receive the status to go to a different country. Ironically, they go from the fears they experienced in their homeland to years “full of boredom” in the camps, he said.
Then, when they’re permitted to enter another country, they often are looked at as a threat or face hatred in their new society, said Traboulsi, a situation which serves to further penalize the refugee.
Sandra “Sandy” Spinner, who is on the executive board of the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society of Cincinnati, suggested members of religious communities are in a position to influence a civic society’s policy-makers.
“The communities of faith probably have the best chance of being heard by government leaders and elected officials because they are communities of faith, because they don’t have an axe to grind,” said Spinner. She has traveled abroad and interviewed refugees in camps and detention centers.
Spinner added, “Refugees are people who, if shown a small amount of respect and dignity, will be eternally grateful and appreciative of everything you do for them.”
During a question-and-answer period, Zacharia, an Episcopalian priest, said the church brings baggage to the conversation concerning refugees and immigrants.
“The reality is that religious institutions have lost influence, and much of it is their own doing because they have been complicit in the hegemonic and oppressive forces that have generated hatred,” he stated.
The church needs to own up to that in public, Zacharia said, and come to terms with a history where the church “many times” used passages of scripture “to oppress people who are [the] other.”
Mathew Hursey, a WC senior and agriculture student who has worked on immigration reform for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, was also a panelist as was ninth-grader Salma Albezreh. She is an American Muslim who’s part of TIPS (Teens Inventing Peaceful Solutions) of the Dayton International Peace Museum.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.
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