We are excited to share a report from Sri Lanka about a cultural exchange on May 14 of this year—which brought together 350 people from diverse communities throughout the island's Northeast. The event was the latest in a series of efforts Karuna Center has been co-organizing with Sarvodaya Shanti Sena Sansadaya and an interfaith group of grassroots religious leaders. Each of the ethnic/religious groups present—Sinhala Buddhists, Tamil Hindus, Sri Lankan Muslims, and Christians—has been deeply affected by the 26-year Sri Lankan Civil War, but in different ways.
by Laura Anderson, Karuna Center Development Coordinator
*Participant quotes are taken from memory and are paraphrased.
On May 10, we held an event in Longmeadow, Massachusetts with Critical Connections, as part of our jointly organized Muslims in America: Dialogues Across Divides series. It was a public dialogue called "American Heretics: the History of Religious Intolerance in America," with two experts adding substance to the discussion: Peter Gottschalk, a scholar of religion and religious intolerance at Wesleyan, and Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a nationally recognized attorney and civil rights advocate who currently legally represents the hamlet of Islamberg, New York. We named the event after Gottschalk's book, American Heretics: Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and the History of Religious Intolerance.
Two days before our event, we became aware of negative comments appearing in response to a local newspaper article that advertised it online, and related our planned event to ongoing issues of hate speech against the local Muslim community. “I'm not going in support!! I'm going to protest!!” one person wrote in the comments section. “Muslims do not belong on USA soil. They all support terrorists!!” But despite the possibility of disruptions or threats, we decided to go ahead with the event—and what resulted was deeply meaningful.
Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, Critical Connections, and the Islamabad-based Peace and Education Foundation (PEF) are together leading a program, Collaborating Against Violent Sectarianism, to promote greater sectarian tolerance in Pakistan. A cycle of violence against members of different Islamic religious sects, mostly perpetrated by extremist organizations, has claimed over 2,300 lives since 2007 and contributes to much wider feelings of intolerance. However, faith-based groups and secular organizations in Pakistan have very different perspectives on the causes of militancy and how these should be addressed—so they fail to rally around a common agenda for promoting tolerance and peace. This is the problem our joint program addresses, by bringing together diverse secular and religious leadership in Pakistan.
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