Today is Torture Accountability Day. Across the country, people and organizations are urging the Obama Administration to keep its promise that no one is above the law by launching criminal investigations against any former Bush Administration officials who played any role in authorizing and committing torture during the "War on Terror." One of those organizations demanding accountability is Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, many of us feared what America would do in retaliation. For years we had pleaded, cajoled and threatened warring nations around the world, from the Middle East to Northern Ireland to Kosovo, to settle their ancient differences through peaceful negotiations and international treaties, not through escalating war, renewed violence and ever more bloodshed.
On Sunday, September 23, 2001, I found my way to an interfaith service at All Saints Church in Pasadena convened by Rev George Regas. I was deeply moved by the scriptural readings, prayers and songs presented by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others. I had not expected to be so touched by this outpouring of spiritual faith in peace and justice and the rejection of war and violence.
The outgrowth of that healing event was the creation of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace ("ICUJP"), which has been the center of my personal efforts since September 11 to contribute to greater understanding and lasting reconciliation between people of all nation alities and beliefs. This year, I was very proud to became Chair of ICUJP.
Over the last eight years, ICUJP has met almost every Friday morning for two hours to try to find a path to peace and justice. We have sponsored a series of interfaith services at churches, mosques and temples throughout Southern California, held Teach-Ins with prominent speakers; issued several thoughtful papers on issues of war, peace and justice (which can be viewed at www.icujp.org, along with announcements and a calendar of events) and held protests over the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, torture and violations of human rights.
Beyond these public activities, on a personal level, ICUJP has offered me the opportunity to meet people I may never have met had it not been for the tragedy of September 11. On that terrible day, I realized that I could not count any Muslim among my friends or acquaintances. Through my involvement with ICUJP, I now have many.
I'll never forget early on at a study group arranged by ICUJP, I sat next to Iman Saadig Saafir, an African American Muslim teacher. He turned to me and said he didn't have a Torah. I responded that I didn't have a Qur'an. At the next meeting, we exchanged our holy scriptures. It brought us closer together and I later shared the breaking of the fast with him on an important day in Ramadan. We have become friends, and I have learned a great deal about Islam.
When Irv Rubin and another individual were arrested for plotting to bomb a mosque in Culver City, there was great fear in the Muslim community whether it was safe to go to their houses of worship. Spontaneously, about 25 of us from ICUJP went to the Islamic Cultural Center on Vermont to stand in solidarity symbolizing our defense of their freedom of religion.
When the prayers ended, men and women flowed out of the Center, hugging us and shaking our hands, thanking us for being there to "protect" them. I was overwhelmed with emotions, realizing how vulnerable this community is, especially since September 11.
I'm proud that ICUJP has created a safe place where people of all faiths and beliefs can come together, dedicated to the common goals of peace and justice, learning to respect each other, discarding stereotypes, abandoning long-ingrained biases and prejudices and organizing to vindicate human rights and civil liberties.
I can only hope that everyone finds their own ICUJP; that everyone studies alternatives to war; that everyone learns about the power of reconciliation and the teachings of non-violence of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
One often looks for silver linings in tragic events like September 11. I found one.