In May 1944, Elie, a 15-year-old Jew, boarded a train from his hometown of Sighet, Romania, bound for a camp in southern Poland along with his family and thousands of other Jews. Like many others at the time, he endured horrific conditions and faced injustice no teenager should have faced. His mother and younger sister were murdered upon arrival and the only thing keeping him alive was having the slight hope that his father might be alive. But through all the hardship and torture, Elie persevered and survived.
Elie at Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany, along with other victims of the Holocaust
Source: The Jewish Chronicle
Throughout history, many have experienced ordeals much like Elie’s. Some have gone through far worse, and some, unfortunately, are experiencing them today. Frankly, instances of religious hate still happen, and it is the grim truth we all must acknowledge. For many victims, it is part of their daily life.
But it shouldn’t be. Through dialogue and understanding, progress has been made in the fight against hate. On the 19th of July, staff and students at the University of Manchester Students’ Union, along with the Diversity Champions and various community and religious leaders held a roundtable event aimed at bridging the gaps of knowledge within faith in our society.
The event comprised of a series of talks based on the 4 key steps to become an active bystander – see it, know it’s a problem, take responsibility, and take action. Aimed at provoking action within communities during incidents of religious hate, the event invited speakers to share their experience, followed by discussion sessions that made sure that every attendee had the chance to ask questions and share their opinions. With a diverse set of backgrounds, the speakers and attendees ranged from victims of religious hate to allies and activists against it. Diverse as it is, the event centred on creating action from inaction, to promote empathy within our communities in hopes that it would lead to the prevention of religious hate.
Most importantly, the event was organised by a team of Diversity Champions and ambassadors from the Speak Up! Stand Up! Project. As our best hope for the war against hate, youth awareness is vital in reshaping religious prejudice and preventing discrimination that usually precedes acts of hate and violence.
The Diversity Champions are a group of 12-14-year-old students who have gone through an extensive amount of training in the purpose of promoting diversity and inclusion within their local communities. As part of the project, the Champions facilitated the roundtable and spoke about their experience as part of the youth fighting religious hate.
Demi, one of the Champions who organised the event, said that the roundtable taught her that the smallest voices can turn into the loudest roar when we can stand together. She further added that the journey being part of the project has built her confidence to stand up to injustices and become an unsung hero.
It is a sure fact that the insight everyone gained at the event deeply benefited the cause against religious hate. Advancing the spread of the message becomes far easier with more resources and the various speakers that were present provided us with it. Not only that, the event provided a safe space for all to acknowledge and examine recent incidents of religious hate and to discuss the key issues that lead to it.
It is not the responsibility of the victims to speak up against religious hate. They have endured enough and the battle against hate is one that isn’t easy to win. However, it is our duty as a society to protect each other from it and to learn from the mistakes our forefathers made. Not only that, the responsibility of assuring that future members of our communities are safe from hate is a heavy one that requires empathy from all members of our society.
In 1986, Elie, now a healthy, intelligent man, writing about his experience being a Jewish child during the second world war, warned about the dangers of apathy;
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in the window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that’s being dead. “– Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel and Former United States President Barack Obama in the White House.
Image source: flickr.com
To continue the progress against religious hate, it is important for us to understand that it isn’t the differences in our faith that slow us down – but rather the indifference in our communities that impedes our pace in fighting religious hate. I am sure that at the event we all understood the role empathy plays in creating understanding within our communities.
Dialogues like the one we held have a significant advantage against the perpetrators of religious hate – through our vast library of experiences and resources, we know more on how to tackle these problems. Furthermore, having community leaders from various walks of life reassures the fact that the fight against religious hate is never one fought alone.