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Panelists propose ways to end racism

October 3, 2003

Hanan Ayesh was untouched by racism until she arrived in America from Palestine 33 years ago.

"It didn't bother me a lot until Sept. 11 came," she said. "Now, I'm the subject of criticism because of my religion."

Ayesh, a member of the Muslim community who helped establish Annoor Academy, said that lack of knowledge is what creates fear in those who perpetuate racism. To conquer that fear, people need to get to know others who are different, she said.

Muslims were targeted after the terrorist attacks against the United States in 2001 because those who carried out the plans claimed to be of the Muslim faith.

"If we see the human race as equal and treat each other with justice," she said, "we'll eliminate fear."

Ayesh was one of three panelists Thursday for "Faith vs. Fear, Hope vs. Hate: Interfaith Responses to Racism'' at the Magnolia Avenue branch of Pellissippi State Technical Community College. The other two panelists were Johnnie Skinner, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church and Gary Matthews, a member of the Baha'i faith.

Baha'i is regarded as one of the world's fastest-growing independent religions and advocates racial, gender and social harmony, education and unity among all its principles.

The forum was sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice and was one of the events held in conjunction with RACE Equality Week. About 35 people attended.

Although racism is not as overt as it once was, it has wormed its way into institutions such as those of higher learning and houses of faiths, Skinner said.

"The church is the most segregated institution in the country," he said, and very few are addressing social justice issues.

Skinner challenged people to take the risk of "putting our faith into action."

Nothing can happen unless there is a change of heart in those who harbor racist feelings, Matthews said.

But he was hopeful that racism would be wiped out, he said.

"We still have a long way to go," Matthews said.

After the forum, South Knoxville resident Chris Hargrove said he appreciated the way the different faiths represented responded to the issue of racism.

Racism is "the linchpin to all the other 'isms'," like sexism, he said. The others have to be combated, but racism has to take the lead.

"Until our nation can find some peace and healing on this issue," Hargrove said, "we'll continue to have social unrest."

Lola Alapo may be reached at 865-342-6376.

©Copyright 2003, Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN, USA)

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