• Share

Opinion: Taking Global Action to Fight Hate

By:  Farah Pandith Mar 21, 2013
Farah

In an unprecedented move, two women from the U.S. Department of State catalyzed a youth movement that was later adopted by the London 2012 Olympic Games. Farah Pandith, Special Representative for Muslim Communities at the U.S. Department of State, offers her thoughts on the successful social media campaign she co-launched, Hours Against Hate, and its impact on young people from diverse backgrounds around the world.

Hate is hate, regardless of who is targeted. Whether motivated by race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion or disability status, we see the effects of bullying, prejudice, bigotry and discrimination globally. The State Department’s 2011 Human Rights Report found some disturbing trends. In many countries, there was continued persecution of religious minorities, and an increase in discrimination against members of racial and ethnic minorities; people with disabilities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people – all of whom were frequent targets of abuse, discrimination and violence. 

Fortunately, the call to “do something” can be heard from high schools to the halls of Congress, from technology tycoons to grassroots organizers.

Hate is a learned behavior. So fighting it starts with young people. This socially networked generation is playing an active role in changing the way we treat one another. Regular people are creating movements from Detroit to Delhi, and from Norway to Nigeria. In today’s world, the power of one is multiplied, and the impact is unprecedented. 

I want to tell you about one such movement called Hours Against Hate, which launched in 2011 to leverage the power of global citizens like you. It started with a spontaneous act and, in two years, has grown into a global movement to promote mutual respect. 

How It Began

In June 2010, I was in a room in Astana, Kazakhstan, filled with representatives of participating states of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and several NGOs for a high-level conference on “Tolerance and Non-Discrimination.” Flags of every one of the member states sat on the tables in front of the seats for representatives of various nations. The usual protocol was that a country was called upon to give the official position on a topic outlined in the OSCE agenda. I was a member of the U.S. delegation, and we were there because the U.S. was going to provide our positions on Anti-Semitism, Christaphobia, “Islamophobia” and other forms of discrimination. The U.S. seat rotated among various members of our delegation depending on the issue being discussed. 

I am the Special Representative to Muslim Communities at the U.S. Department of State. This position was created for me by then-Secretary Hillary Clinton on the heels of President Obama’s Cairo Speech in June 2009. I work with our embassies around the world to build partnerships and initiatives with young Muslims under the age of 30; Muslims in Muslim-majority countries and Muslims that live as minorities. In this role, I have traveled to more than 80 countries globally and know first-hand the power of this generation.

Hannah Rosenthal, then-U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, was also a member of the U.S. delegation. Hannah’s job is very different than mine; her role is Congressionally mandated to monitor and combat anti-Semitism worldwide. Hannah was supposed to give the U.S. response on anti-Semitism, and I was supposed to speak on countering global anti-Muslim hatred. 

That was the plan. However, we decided that the best way to make a statement was to provide a new context to the message. Knowing that the messenger mattered, we did something unprecedented: we switched speeches.

When they called on the United States to speak on anti-Semitism, I stood up and read our position. And Hannah did the same when they asked for the U.S. position on “Islamophobia.”  Both of our statements ended with these identical words:

“Jews cannot fight anti-Semitism alone. Muslims cannot fight ‘Islamophobia’ alone. Roma cannot fight – alone. The LGBT community cannot fight – alone. And the list goes on. Hate is hate, but we can overcome it together.”

Afterwards, OSCE delegates thanked us for being bold, but the youth from the NGOs who were also attending pushed us for more. They said they wanted to “do something” – to be part of a positive response to push back against hate of all kinds. They were speaking from their hearts, and we heard their call for action. We came back to Washington determined to use our global access to build coalitions and momentum around mutual respect.

In February 2011, we returned to the OSCE and formally announced the Hours Against Hate Campaign at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Using Facebook, the campaign asks young people to stand up for respect and dignity for all, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. 

The Hours Against Hate platform is a movement built on the concept of volunteering time for others. It asks people to spend an hour or more of their time with someone who does not look, live, love, or pray like them. It calls upon the next generation to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Upon hearing about this campaign, many of the Ambassadors from the OSCE member states asked us to visit their countries to share the campaign. While government buy-in was important, we knew that the power of this campaign was in the global citizenry. We wanted to encourage spontaneity, creativity and action by people all over the world.

Hannah and I traveled around the globe, sharing the campaign from Cordoba to Istanbul to Bangkok. Young people started pledging, journalists were writing stories, and the momentum built. Cities, universities, artists, businesses, youth groups, NGOs, and individuals adopted Hours Against Hate as their own and set up volunteer experiences. Mayors created formal partnerships. World-renowned artists like Romero Britto from Brazil created an original piece of art as the official logo for the campaign, and the bands Linkin Park and Chromeo made videos. As 2011 came to an end, thousands of hours were pledged, but we were not prepared for what was to come next.  

Going for the Gold

Moved by the message of mutual respect, seven British NGOs, Faiths Forum for London, Three Faiths Forum, Rene Cassin, the CEDAR Network, the London Boroughs Faiths Network, the Phoenix Inter-Community Initiative and the Football Association successfully petitioned the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOGOC) to grant Hours Against Hate the London 2012 “Inspire Mark” for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

This was a rare privilege, and we were extremely excited. There are few global moments like the Olympic Games, which we saw as the perfect partner for Hours Against Hate. With the London Olympic committee onboard, Hannah and I went to Greece to petition the Olympic Truce Committee. They saw the potential immediately and granted Hours Against Hate official partnership. We felt very honored to have their gravitas as well.

With the support of Olympians and Paralympians past, present and future, we took the campaign on the road, participating in Olympic Torch Relay events in Athens, Greece and Edinburgh, Scotland, and hosting a rock concert with David Stewart and other musicians, as well as Howard Buffet’s organization Global Impact Institute and “awareness walk” in the city of Tottenham the week leading up to the Olympics’ Opening Ceremony in July 2012.  

Judith Heumann, U.S. Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, and six-time U.S. Paralympian and gold medalist cyclist Allison Jones shared the campaign’s message during visits to inclusive British elementary schools during the Paralympics in September 2012. A very special partnership with Social Fitness, a Canadian company devoted to making fitness technologically fun, was a highlight. They were so inspired by the campaign that they designed and released a smartphone app (found here and here) that people all over the world are downloading to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”    

Olympics and Beyond

The Hours Against Hate campaign struck a chord with people in every part of the globe. Its message is personal. People are pushing back against discrimination of all kinds in a wide variety of ways. Today’s youth will not be able to tackle the challenges of the future if they are entrenched in the divisions of the past. Hours Against Hate is a campaign of deeds, one step in the right direction – in someone else’s shoes.

From the Americas to Asia and Africa, we have seen historical examples of different groups living together peacefully and prosperously. We know that there has never been a “Golden Age” with regard to mutual respect, but there have been times when communities have lived and worked together in peace. We believe that this generation wants a future that is based on dignity for all. We can’t get there tomorrow if we don’t speak up today.

Get Involved

Together, one hour at a time, we stand up for respect and speak out against bigotry. Join the campaign. It’s as easy as pledging your time, following us on Twitter or logging onto Facebook.

Farah Pandith was appointed the U.S. Department of State’s first Special Representative to Muslim Communities in June 2009. Follow her on Twitter @Farah_Pandith