Hatred isn’t heroism: Forming bridges not barriers


Noah Phillips

I grew up in a predominantly Jewish environment. I attended Jewish day schools, am a regular and ardent advocate of my synagogue, and am known –for better or worse– as a “Jewish” individual throughout the Horace Mann community.

And just as my Jewish faith and practice have governed much of my young life, so has an emphasis on interfaith building. In particular, my relationship with Naz, my former caretaker and presently a family and personal friend. Naz is a practicing Muslim who immigrated from Guyana nearly two decades ago and has been a crucial figure in my upbringing. I’ve attended Mosque with Naz, as she attended synagogue with me. Naz was the first person present at my Bar Mitzvah given our years of propinquity, but to the astonishment of many, due to her visible hijab.

It’s through my deeply personal relationship with Naz that I’ve had the opportunity to explore the common struggles of both the Jewish and Muslim faiths. The anti-Semitism I’ve experienced–from harrassment on nights when I choose to proudly wear my yarmulke, to bigotry on social media–coincides significantly with a lot of what Naz, and millions of other Muslims and Jews have experienced as well.

According to the online encylopedia, Jewish Virtual Library, nationwide in 2017, “A breakdown of the offenses shows that 60% of religious hate crimes were anti-Jewish, 17% were anti-Islamic and 5% were anti-Catholic. Anti-Semitic hate crimes increased by 37% while anti-Islamic crimes declined by 11%.”

The fight to counter religious discrimination, be it anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, the persecution of Christians, or otherwise, remains one and the same across the various major faiths, and attempts to distinguish or diminish one fight from another are inherently divisive and counterproductive themselves.

So when Daisy Khan, an internationally-recognized champion of intersectional justice and equity, presented an image of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar as a “Muslim hero,” I was shaken.

Omar, despite having entered the chambers of Congress in an official capacity only this year, continuously spouts anti-Semitic bigotry and divisive rhetoric, contributing to the global religious divide. She has said Israel has “hypnotized the world” and declared her hope that Allah will “awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” She supports a boycott of Israel, a country she has compared to Nazi Germany. She accused her House colleagues who support Israel of pushing “for allegiance to a foreign country.” And she has suggested support for Israel is ‘all about the Benjamins.’ (She later apologized for the last comment, but not all the others)

It was inappropriate for Khan to associate Omar with the fight against Islamaphobia and general religious discrimination in any context. For any progressive, mutually beneficial outcome to occur, a unified front against religious intolerance and discrimination is of the utmost importance.