We need everyone to denounce white supremacy, Fresno faith leaders say after attack on mosques

Hatred in all its forms – including white supremacy, bigotry, and racism – was denounced by Fresno religious leaders in the wake of a deadly terror attack Friday in New Zealand.

The mass shooting in Christchurch killed at least 49 people worshipping at two mosques in a slaying broadcast in live video by an immigrant-hating white supremacist wielding at least two assault rifles and a shotgun.

Sheikh Thabet Anani, imam of My Deen, said, “it just felt so close to us – it felt like it could happen here” of the terror attack. He spoke during an interfaith news conference at his Islamic center in northeast Fresno.

Anani said the mass shooter wrote the name of another mass shooter in a different country on his gun and that “crime, terrorism, somewhere will incite or inspire terrorism everywhere.”

Rabbi Rick Winer of Temple Beth Israel said he hoped Friday’s interfaith gathering, conversely, will inspire love everywhere.

“Fortunately, one of the best ways that we have to counter this is our expressions of love,” Winer said, “and here in the Fresno region and the Central Valley, it’s not hard. We have such a beautiful interfaith community that comes together both in wake of tragedy, but also just because we love each other. And we really hope that it will serve as a symbol, as a reminder, to communities throughout the world because, as we’ve heard, if an act of terrorism can inspire someone in another country, perhaps these acts of love that we see so commonly here in the Central Valley can also inspire the world.”

Vigil to remember victims

To that aim, an interfaith prayer vigil was planned for 5 p.m. Friday at St. James Episcopal Cathedral, 4147 E. Dakota Ave. in Fresno, to remember victims of the New Zealand mass shooting and “pray for all victims of gun violence and hate crimes.”

“This is a heinous crime against the whole human family,” said the Very Rev. Ryan Newman, dean of the cathedral.

Muslim speakers began their remarks with a customary greeting that means “peace and blessings be upon you.”

Saadat Farooqi of Masjid Fresno Islamic Center talked about the mass shooting as siblings killing siblings because “we’re all from this one single creator.”

Rev. Akiko Miyake-Stoner of United Japanese Christian Church talked about Japanese-Americans’ forced internment in camps during World War II and how that started with racism.

“Rev. Akiko said it, the thread here is white supremacy” and people being told they “do not belong,” followed Andy Levine with Faith in the Valley, which represents around 20 congregations in Fresno and around 100 throughout the Valley.

“We must stand against this hatred,” Levine said. “As a white man, I am calling on myself and my white brothers and sisters to specifically denounce this hatred as white supremacy and denounce it in our own families and communities where we see this, both implicitly, explicitly, and through policy.”

Sukaina Hussain, outreach director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations throughout the Central Valley, said, “We are standing here today to denounce that bigotry and hatred, denounce violence in every form, and call upon our elected officials to do the same.”

Reza Nekumanesh, executive director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, shared a similar message.

“When anti-immigrant rhetoric, anti-Semitic rhetoric, anti-Muslim, xenophobia, Islamophobia, when these things are allowed to persist, when they’re allowed to exist,” he said, “when they’re allowed to shine in the public and we stand by and say or do nothing, this is the outcome.”

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Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.