By Sarah Talcott Blair
REPORT: TALKING BACK TO HATE CAMPAIGN ACTIVITIES 2013-2014
Recent events and news stories had brought to light an alarming resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and Islamophobia and xenophobia on the rise throughout Europe and North America, as well as continued persecution and violence against ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community throughout the world. United Religions Initiative (URI) members reported seeing bus ads and billboards with anti-Muslim sentiment sprouting up across Europe and North America. Incidents such as the Oak Creek shooting targeting Sikhs in the United States and the Toulouse attack on Jewish schoolchildren in France heightened the urgency of these matters, illustrating the danger of not taking an active stand against hate speech and discrimination to prevent such escalation and violence from occurring.
As an international, interfaith peacebuilding movement, URI wished to bring the wisdom of religious, spiritual and Indigenous traditions, the good will and the creative organizing energy of interfaith activists to bear on this alarming rise of hate speech, discrimination, and bullying across the globe. URI’s Talking Back to Hate campaign launched in 2013 to counteract hate speech, bullying, and discrimination through respectful dialogue, education, advocacy and positive action. The aims of the campaign are:
- To raise awareness both nationally and globally about hate speech, bullying and discrimination on the basis of religious or ethnic identity, race, orientation, gender, or ability;
- To educate global citizens about specific actions they can take to respond to hate speech and discrimination;
- To inspire hope with compelling stories of extraordinary actions ordinary people have taken to respond to hate speech and discrimination; and
- To encourage people to take action by identifying and supporting specific, credible actions they can do.
A Global Response
To galvanize a global response, the campaign created an educational toolkit – tool cards for youth leaders, tool cards for faith and community leaders, and resources such as inspirational texts from different faiths and world leaders to assist people in taking action in their communities and on school campuses. URI provided virtual space on its website for participants to share stories and personal encounters with hate speech, discrimination and bullying. It also featuredthe educational resources of our partners such as films, discussion guides, and webinars on the Campaign Resources page.
To date, more than 1770 supporters have signed the Talking Back to Hate global pledge. In addition, 28 partner organizations joined us to amplify the message through their networks.
Our Call to Action
Focusing on the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, September 21st, 2013, URI encouraged campaign supporters and partners to take specific actions on this day to counteract hate speech and promote positive actions for peace in their community. In total, we calculate that more than 5,000 people in at least 17 countries took part in actions stemming from the campaign in 2013. More than 500 tweets were sent, retweeted or favorited as part of the #talkingbacktohate awareness campaign.
Some highlights …
- In India, Ektaan, a URI group of more than 100 musicians from different castes and faith communities, set the global pledge to music, promoting the campaign through public performances across the country.
- A Ugandan activist brought the campaign to more than 26 schools, engaging more than 650 students in anti-bullying training as her personal action commitment.
- Sikh youth created on online blog to share views and spark discussion on current incidents of hate speech.
- More than two dozen shared inspiring stories in words and video on the URI Talking Back to Hate microsite.
- The campaign was featured at Peace in the Park, a peace festival in San Francisco in which thousands attended, organized by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University.
- URI’s Talking Back to Hate Campaign coordinator facilitated community dialogue circles on the campaign in Oakland, California, at social justice and peace forums, and with 6th and 7th graders to address bullying.
Partner organizations went out of their way to promote the campaign and amplify the message throughout their networks.
- The Tony Blair Faiths Foundation developed an educational Talking Back to Hate curriculum for its network of Face to Faith educators from schools across the world, and organized a week of video conferences and online dialogue on the topic of hate speech for UN Human Rights Day. More than 1500 young leaders from 47 schools and 14 countries took part.
- On the International Day of Peace weekend, the Christian-Muslim Forum, another partner, called on churches, mosques and synagogues across London to invite visitors from different faith communities to join them during or after services to offer messages of peace and hospitality.
- To address bullying, the Center for Safe Schools, the Islamic Networks Group, and Not in Our Schools representatives participated in a URI hosted webinar.
Our Work Moving Forward – Ways to Get Involved
As a result of the campaign, a core group of committed organizers formed the “Talking Back to Hate, Standing Up for Peace URI Cooperation Circle” to carry on this work. Our purpose is to be a resource, to offer ways to practice right speech, to be kind to one’s neighbors, to be upstanders for others, and to respond effectively in the face of hate speech and bullying.
The Interfaith Pen Pals Project is one effort our new Circle is developing. The aim: to facilitate cross-cultural exchange among young people from different countries, ages 12-21, through letters, email and social media. The purpose is to foster friendship and greater cross-cultural understanding and respect and to break down stereotypes and prejudice of “the other.” Pen pal participants have enrolled from schools and universities in Albania, Georgia, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Qatar, the Philippines, Serbia, and Uganda.
In concluding, let us remember Nelson Mandela, who wrote the following in the Long Walk to Freedom (1994): “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
A longer version of this report can be found at URI.org. For more information on the Talking Back to Hate Campaign (and its sponsoring Standing Up for Peace Cooperation Circle), contact Sarah Talcott Blair. Go here to sign the Talking Back to Hate global pledge.