Jordan Green, Triad City Beat, March 29, 2017
Nihad Awad warned during a talk at Wake Forest University on March 23 that if left unchecked, false propaganda denigrating Muslims and other religious and racial minorities could lead to barbarity similar to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, which resulted in the deaths of 6 million Jews, not to mention homosexuals, people with disabilities, Slavs, Roma and communists during World War II.
Awad is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national organization dedicated to promoting understanding about Islam, defending civil rights and building coalitions with diverse groups.
“The past two years, ladies and gentleman, so many minorities have been attacked,” Awad said. “Latinos. Mexicans. Women have been denigrated. African Americans. People with disabilities. You name the minority, and they have been attacked in the past two years. It is very unfortunate that it became so convenient for people to spread fear and fearmongering for political reasons, and unfortunately it works.
“We have seen it unfortunately in the past 100 years,” Awad continued. “We’ve seen it in Germany — what hate and hatemongering start and what they lead to. The Holocaust in Europe did not start with acts of violence. The Holocaust started with false propaganda against Jews in Europe.”
Asked if he believes it’s worthwhile to open up a dialogue with President Trump, Awad said he isn’t interested in talking to the president as long as he promotes policies that target people because of their faith. He added that he can’t see himself talking to Trump as long as a cloud of suspicion remains over two of his top advisors, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, due to news reports alleging links to white supremacist groups. Bannon and Gorka joined the administration after leaving Breitbart News, an extreme right website that takes a hostile stance toward the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In an early February article about Rep. Keith Ellison, Breitbart called the council “jihad-linked” and accused it of fomenting “toxic Islamic ideology and aggressive Arab politics.”
Awad said in an interview after his talk that he considers it a “badge of honor” to be demonized by Breitbart, adding, “If we weren’t I would worry that we were doing something wrong.”
Awad quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King’s statement that oppressed people will remember not the words of their enemies, but the inaction of their friends.
“You have to take action, not when it’s easy or convenient, but when it’s right,” he continued. “When it’s right, that’s the time to step in. You have to speak truth to power. And that’s why I believe hateful individuals and groups, while they think they are powerful, they are weak. They are powerful because we are silent, and our silence is empowering to them.”
Awad expressed confidence that Trump’s policies will ultimately be defeated.
“We have seen that our media is independent,” he said. “We have seen that our judiciary is on the alert. Our system of checks and balances works very well. Does it mean that we need to be complacent and we need not to take action? Of course it doesn’t.”
Awad, who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan and emigrated to the United States where he became a citizen, said his faith in America was tested by Trump’s election. But multiple “acts of kindness” after the election persuaded him that he made the right choice.
“When armed bikers protested in front of a mosque in Arizona they were outnumbered by other Americans who came in solidarity with the Muslim community,” Awad said. “That’s the America I signed up for. And that’s the America I believe in. And that’s the America we should continue to work for.”