April 17, 2024
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New U.S. Special Envoy, Ira Forman Joins Unprecedented Global Muslim Delegation at Auschwitz

Warsaw—The newly appointed Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Ira Forman, went on his first mission last week, a mission born in Bergen County, NJ that brought him to Warsaw and Auschwitz to meet with Muslims from around the world. The mission was sponsored by the Center for Interreligious Understanding (CIU) in Englewood, NJ, and was conceived by a local Reform rabbi, Jack Bemporad and Dr. Marshall Breger, an Orthodox Jewish professor of law at Catholic University of America, (who was the Jewish liaison for President Ronald Reagan). The trip was subsidized by the U.S. Department of State, the government of Poland, and supporters of CIU.

The Imams, Sheikhs, Islamic educators and leaders came from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bosnia, the West Bank, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey and traveled from Dachau to Auschwitz. Amb. Forman joined them in Warsaw, along with Rashid Hussein, U.S. Special Representative to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The group met with the chief rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, with Holocaust survivors, Polish officials and others. They were also given a tour of the soon to be completed Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, which stands where the Warsaw Ghetto once stood.

Bemporad, Executive Director of CIU, describes the mission as one of learning and compassion. His family escaped Italy in 1938 when he was age five, and since his youth, he has dedicated his life to interreligious dialogue in pioneering ways.

”This is a truly unique journey with an unprecedented group of global Muslim leaders,” he said. “First and foremost, we thank them for their willingness to come. Our task is to encourage proper understanding between our faiths in ways that stress our common humanity. Understanding our particular histories will help us better understand each other so that we can unite in combating prejudice against all religions.”

Bemporad and Breger led a similar, highly successful trip for American Imams in 2010. “The U.S. Imams told us that their trip was transformative and they shared their experiences with their American Muslim communities. We thought a trip with an international group of Imams and religious leaders to be of vital importance.”

Misuse of the Holocaust is a leading propaganda tool that foments a deadly anti-Semitism and anti-Western sentiment. This in turn distorts Islam and leads many in the West to see in it something inherently evil, which could not be further from the truth.

”Increasing compassion and preserving man’s humanity starts with unveiling falsehoods that shore up bigotry. Unfortunately, one of those is Holocaust Denial. Muslims and millions of others also suffered and Holocaust Denial denies them, too, not just Jews who perished,” says Prof. Breger.

“The main aim is to get Muslims who are leaders all over the world, particularly in the Middle East, to acknowledge the reality of what happened here and to be able to teach it to the people that they lead, Bemporad told a reporter from the BBC. “I think that when someone wants to deny the Holocaust or think that it is exaggerated—which many of them do and certainly many of their followers do—when they come here and see it, their experience is such that they can no longer think that”.

“You may read every book about the Holocaust but it’s nothing like when you see this place where people were burned,” said Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America. “This is the building, the bricks. If they were to speak to you and I, they would tell you how many cries and screams they have heard….We go back more committed to human rights and more understanding of conflicts and how to resolve them, but also to be careful of a curriculum that teaches racism and hatred,” he said. He was also a participant in the first mission in 2010.

Barakat Hasan, a Palestinian imam and director of the Center for Studies and Islamic Media in Jerusalem, said he “didn’t know many details about the Holocaust” before the trip. “I felt my heart bleeding when I was looking at all this. I was fighting back tears,” he said through an interpreter. “As a Palestinian living under occupation, I feel sympathy for the pain and injustice that was inflicted on the Jews,” he added.

Mr Hasan said he did not believe there were people in the Muslim world who denied the Holocaust happened, but he said there was discussion in his community about whether the commonly quoted figure of six million Jewish victims was correct.

“Maybe now after seeing what I’ve seen, maybe the numbers are correct also,” he said, adding that he would write articles and mention his trip on Facebook.

Ahmet Muharrem Atlig, secretary general of the Journalists and Writers Foundation in Istanbul and an Imam, wept when he saw a photograph that showed children looking scared as they got off a train. “Unfortunately the Muslim communities and congregation don’t know much about the Holocaust,” he said.”Yes, we’ve heard something. But we have to come and see what happened here. It’s not just about Jews, or Christians, this is all about human beings because the human race suffered here.”

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