Special to The Enterprise
ÒKol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar mÕod: vÕha-ikkar lo lÕfahed klal. The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to fear at all.Ó
Ñ Rabbi Nachman of Bratslov
In a time when Americans are being urged to fear the Other: immigrants and their Òanchor babies,Ó socialist presidents (we should be so lucky) and terrorists at the gate, the words of the Hassidic Rabbi Nachman offer a welcome balm to our hearts.
I quoted this song at a remarkable multifaith gathering, convened at the Methodist Church, to counter the rising anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S. Held on 9/11, the gathering included people of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other faiths joining together to express solidarity, mutual respect and a common quest for peace.
While Rabbi NachmanÕs words come from 200 years ago, they speak to our condition today, as the world is beset by multiple political, economic and ecological crises that make any false step potentially fatal. In these times, the tally of problems is long and ever-growing, effective solutions are few and seem inadequate to the task. A lack of hope constricts our vision of the world into a very narrow bridge.
Further narrowing our vision is fear. When we are frightened, we pull back from those we view as different, viewing them as threats instead of friends and allies and seeking safety in sameness. Fear narrows our hearts.
It is fear of the Other (Muslims, immigrants, gays, people of color, etc.) coupled with fear that oneÕs own sustenance is being threatened (by the down economy, by Òbig governmentÓ) that has stirred this populist storm.
At the extreme, fear can transform our perception of the Other into the Enemy: not only to be feared but, in the worst cases, to be exterminated. This is the root of all fundamentalisms: Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., as well as nationalisms of all stripes.
Stephen ColbertÕs satirical ÒMarch to Keep Fear AliveÓ is a perfect antidote to Glenn BeckÕs recent ÒRestoring HonorÓ event, and lays bare the fear-mongering of Beck and his Tea Party faithful. Colbert rightly identifies fear as the base of power for the Tea Party, as for many reactionary movements before it.
The words of a contemporary rabbi, Harold Kushner, offer a way forward for those who are themselves frightened by this hateful and destructive potential of our species. ÒCourage is not the absence of fear; it is the overcoming of fear.Ó
How do we overcome fear? Not by closing our eyes to it: this just freezes us on the high narrow bridge. Not by running away from it: this only leads us closer to the abyss.
Instead, we open our eyes, open our hearts, and open our hands to those around us and walk with courage, with hope, and with love. And, as we walk forward together, fear falls away.
This was the experience in the sanctuary of the Methodist Church, as leaders from the many faith traditions in Davis prayed, sang, spoke and reflected together on what makes a community.
This is the spirit of the Celebration of Abraham, a multi-faith community gathering held in Davis during January each year, that was launched in the aftermath of 9/11 to build solidarity between Christians, Muslims and Jews, even as the political winds in the county and world were blowing us apart.
While it has experienced its own ups and downs, this is also the intention of the city of Davis Human Relations Commission, the only city body dedicated to protecting civil rights and the dignity of all people in the community.
It is unfortunate, that in pursuit of ÒstreamliningÓ city government, the City Council is considering merging the Human Relations Commission with the Social Service Commission. This would represent a loss to both commissions and to the community as a whole, as both perform important and distinct functions. The HRC should be maintained as a means to keep the City Council and city departments accountable to the DavisÕ diverse populations and to ensure that all of our residents can live their lives without fear.
As a cautionary tale, consider the class-action lawsuit by more than 1,000 African-American residents of low-income housing in Antioch that has been recently been certified for trial against the city and its police department for discrimination. Davis residents might be interested to know that the Antioch police chief is James Hyde, formerly chief of the Davis Police Department until he resigned after escalating conflicts with the Human Relations Commission over allegations of racial profiling by police.
At the time, the Davis City Council responded to this conflict by ousting the HRC chairperson and ÒreorganizingÓ the committee. This time, City Council members might want to think hard about whether theyÕd prefer to keep the HRC or risk having to Òtell it to the judgeÓ in the face of another civil rights conflict.
Davis needs more places Ñ like the interfaith gathering, like the Celebration of Abraham, like the Human Relations Commission Ñ where we can build community, understanding and mutual respect, where we can overcome fear by walking the narrow path, together.
Ñ Jonathan London, Ph.D., is a Davis resident and parent. He shares this monthly column with Jann Murray-Garc’a. He may be reached at [email protected]