Editor's note: A friend who works in Montevideo recommended that we read Facebook posts by Milan-area farmer Michael Jacobs about a meeting in that town.
We were so impressed by the post we asked Jacobs' permission to re-post them here on Bluestem Prairie; he graciously consented. For more background about the issue, check out our post and Tom Cherveny's Montevideo opens interfaith dialogue and our post Division lines pockets: Anti-interfaith speaker coming to Montevideo, Duluth, Bloomington.
These are Jacobs stories in response to attending the anti-interfaith meeting. Bluestem has altered some of the paragraph formatting for easier reading.
A letter I just composed about last night's event, "The Trojan Horse of Interfaith Dialogue" here in Montevideo:
Last night I attended the event “The Trojan Horse of Interfaith Dialogue” at the Community center in Montevideo. For three hours I sat and listened, quietly, to Mr. Hadian’s talk about Islam and the danger, to the church, of Interfaith Dialogue. While, neither his portrayal of Interfaith Dialogue, or Islam, tended to align with my own experiences of either, for the most part, I really had no feelings about the first part of his talk. It mostly centered on proving, from a Christian perspective, that Islam was a false faith, pushed that Christians should always proclaim their truth, and that Islam and Christianity are diametrically opposed.
Again, while I do not subscribe to these beliefs, I had little argument to make, for these are matters of faith and conviction. Who am I to say he is wrong? I would not assume that a Christian would believe in the tenets of another faith and, as nearly all of us who have been involved in interfaith work know, while we may hold some VALUES in common, our beliefs are often quite separate. Contrary to what Mr. Hadian said, Interfaith work is NOT about blending faiths, or blurring differences, it is about recognizing our common humanity so that we can be less afraid of our neighbors and work together as fellow Americans.
As he reached the second part of his talk, however, I found much of what he said to be quite dangerous. Throughout this part of his talk he wove a tale of a plot, by Muslims, to destroy America and destroy the Church. He set out to describe a people who would stop at nothing to destroy our way of life. He lumped all Muslim organizations together and painted them all as liars and extremists. He fanned the flames of fear.
As I listened to him, and the vocal approval of his message emanating through the crowd, I could not help but hear the echoes of similar tales that were crafted, over the ages, about my own people, the Jews. I could hear the very same narratives ascribing secret plots and motives to us as a group. Jews were destroying Christianity. Jews were destroying Russia. Jews were destroying Germany. Jews were destroying France. Jews were secretly murdering Christian babies. Jews were robbing Christians. Jews are controlling the media. The history of Christianity and these rumors is 1700 years of violence and murder. Fear is a powerful force and we tend to forget that, quite often, it was fear, not hatred, which led to pogroms and persecution by “Good Christians”, perhaps like those in attendance.
At the end of the evening Mr. Hadian opened a Q&A and I was called on, by him, to ask a question. I was polite but, as soon as it was clear that my question was going to be critical, Mr Hadian began to shut me down and people began to surround me even placing their hands on my person. I was told to sit down and said I would not.
I found this odd considering that, over and over, through his talk, he accused others of trying to shut him down. To add further comedy to the situation, what Mr. Hadian and the audience did not know was that, in fact, I was a part of a group that did our best to make sure that his speech was NOT shut down and that there were NOT protesters from all over the State at his talk. I am a strong believer that all people should be given the opportunity to speak and that we should always remain respectful.
As I attempted to politely speak about the dangers of conspiracy theories, I looked around the audience. I recognized dozens of you who are my neighbors. I have worked with some of you volunteering in our community. I have sat with some of you in your churches. I have shared meals with you. I have done business with you. Some of you have been to various talks I have given over the years in which I have ALWAYS encouraged you to say whatever you feel is important and I have always begun by assuring you that you will NOT offend me by speaking your truth.
If there was a moment of the evening that was most painful, it was this. NOT ONE PERSON had the integrity to stand up and support me, a member of YOUR community, not necessarily in my message, but, rather, in my right to speak. Not one of you intervened as people grabbed at me, your neighbor, in a community center in my own town. I watched your faces as I was led out by a kind officer and I was embarrassed for you, who I have known to be good people. Do not let fear be your guide.
Here is where we are at, in my small community in Western MN, and I can only assume, all over this country.
We have a Muslim Family who is scared that there are elements of their community who do not want them here and who think that, in some way, they are evil and to be suspected of bad motives. They have received threats and have been disparaged. This family includes small children. They have been met with anger.
They have fear.
There are other Muslim people who also live in our area with whom I have spoken. They too have had their own bad experiences and feel threatened.
They have fear.
We have a Christian Community who watches the news and reads their newspapers and sees, in various parts of the world, people perpetrating, in the name of Islam, various acts of violence and oppression. They know few, if any, Muslims.
They have fear.
We have a pastor who organized an event to help assuage that fear, to help her community understand that Muslims and Islam, in and of themselves, separate from hateful ideologies of power, are not something to be feared. She too received threats.
She has fear.
We had a speaker, raised in the Islamic Faith, who converted to Christianity, and found great meaning and purpose. He was threatened for his conversion and disowned. He has toured the country with an aggressive defense of his faith, in addition to some ideas that I find deeply objectionable. He says that he has been met with threats of violence and intimidation. While I dislike much of what he says, I would defend his right to say it.
He has fear.
I tried to speak up at an event, which I felt was organized around principals that, needlessly, while promoting the faith of its speaker and organizers, indulged in spreading MORE fear when it could have just spent its energy on spreading the "Good Word". I was not allowed to speak. I was met with anger, both at the event, and afterward. I put myself out there as a Jew in a community where I am a bit of a "Stranger in a Strange Land". I will confess that I, too, now hold some fear. I wonder if there are elements out there who would do harm to either me, or my family. I don't *think* so... but I will confess that I too have fear.
My mother and brother and family, who have witnessed various forms of anti-Semitism, both historically and in their own lives, and who have read, in their own newspapers about violent acts perpetrated by people in rural areas against "outsiders", are worried for me.
They have fear.
Finally, it was pointed out to me, by one of the organizers of the Anti-Interfaith event, that people attending the event were very worried about violent attacks on them. She pointed out that, when I stood, they too might have been afraid of me.
They have fear.
At every moment we have a choice, whether we see it or not, whether to give in to our fear, which tends to help it perpetuate, or to reach out, through our own fears, to help diminish the fear of others. While I cannot say that it is ALWAYS the case, I have found that the very best way to conquer our own fear is by helping to address the fear held by others. We are called to courage.
"Fear", by Charles Simic
Fear passes from man to man
As one leaf passes its shudder
All at once the whole tree is trembling,
And there is no sign of the wind.
Photo: Milan, MN area farmer Michael Jacobs out standing in his field while picking Brussels sprouts.
Contribute: Ordinarily, we ask for contributions from readers who appreciate our work here. We asked Jacobs to pick two organizations that contribute to educating folks about faith and community building. He choose the Islamic Resource Group of Minnesota (https://irgmn.org) or Jewish Community Action (https://www.jewishcommunityaction.org/). Please give what you can to these wonderful organizations.