Diversity is one of the defining issues of our time.
Incorporating such emotionally and politically charged themes of race, religion and lifestyle, diversity has proved time and again to be a root cause of divisiveness in our communities, our region, our nation and the world.
Our connected world enables this readily, with digital communities of bias and hate being easily convened and exploited.
The natural counterbalance to this is to re-establish the sense of community-based geography. In other words, diversity is possible when members of the community integrate rather than segregate.
Government has a role to play. We saw it last summer with the seven dialogues on race. Indeed, the Sun has advocated in the past for continuing the dialogues.
In August, we wrote: “Just as the City Manager [Edward M. Augustus Jr.] wants an all-of-the-above solution to violence and addiction, we need an all-of-the-above approach to an all-of-the-above issue of race. And if the one thing well-meaning citizens can do is continue to gather and talk, we need to do that.”
Again, in December, we wrote: “The community dialogues on race provided a mechanism for giving and receiving feedback. Widely publicized and reported on, the dialogues put the issue of race in the public consciousness as never before. Unfortunately, that kind of community conversation hasn’t happened since.
“This discussion [about race and diversity] needs to continue and be as inclusive as possible. And, last summer showed us, the discussion needs to be in person, not just on paper.”
It is in this vein that we support the Worcester Islamic Center for yesterday’s Meet a Muslim Day.
The crowd of more than 1,500 people included political leaders such as state Sen. Harriette Chandler, Mayor Joseph M. Petty, former Mayor Joseph C. O’Brien and District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera, as well as members of the interfaith community of Worcester, supporters and the curious.
The three-hour event, with tours of the center and multiple opportunities to engage Muslim members of the community, represented Worcester at its best: friends and neighbors, coworkers and strangers gathering in a spirit of community and understanding.
“In light of the political climate, especially with the rise in Islamophobia, we wanted to have a day where we can quell that attitude and show what we’re all about,” Stephen Ives, the mosque’s vice president of external affairs, told MassLive. “We are people with families who are looking to live the American dream, just like everyone else.”
“We want to let people know who we are, what we represent, and let them know we are just like your neighbor, your doctors, your teachers, your babysitters, your professors — that’s who we are,” spokesman Tahir Ali told the Boston Globe.
Center administrator Mona Ives told WBUR’s “All Things Considered,” “It’s not the time to hide, it’s not the time to be scared. Now is the time to reach out and ask our neighbors, friends, coworkers and classmates to come down — and the general public as well — to meet us and talk with us and let us allay their fears and their concerns, and let them know that we’re human beings who just so happen to follow the religion of Islam.”
While we expect government to take an active role in fostering a sense of community, it cannot do it alone. It needs committed private citizens and groups to follow. Yesterday, we saw we can happen when they do.
In the current climate of fear and hatred, the Worcester Islamic Center is to be commended for taking the issue head-on and striving to create a better community.
“So many of our disagreements are born from misinformation and fear, and I am thankful to the Worcester Islamic Center for taking steps to overcome those obstacles,” Augustus said. “By opening their doors to the community, they are helping us all to understand one another a little better, and more understanding is never a bad thing.”