New York Jewish Week — On the Brooklyn Amity Faculty, a majority-Muslim non-public faculty in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, highschool college students are collaborating in a brand new Holocaust training initiative with an unlikely ambassador: NBA heart and free agent Enes Kanter Freedom.
Kanter Freedom, who’s Muslim, grew up in Turkey and performed for 5 completely different NBA groups between 2011 and 2022. During the last couple of years, he has develop into outspoken about human rights violations in Turkey and different elements of the world, together with China, whose remedy of the Muslim Uighur folks has been described by the US State Division as genocide.
The Holocaust training program being taught at Amity is underwritten by The Blue Card, a non-profit that assists Holocaust survivors, and the Turkish Cultural Heart of New York. The curriculum was created by Mehnaz Afridi, a professor at Manhattan School who directs its Holocaust, Genocide & Interfaith Schooling Heart.
Afridi, who’s Muslim, teaches the scholars concerning the Holocaust, ranging from the roots of antisemitism in Europe to the horrors of the demise camps to modern-day parallels, together with Islamophobia.
“Sadly, there’s little or no training [about] the Holocaust in lots of Muslim nations,” Afridi instructed the New York Jewish Week. “Our college students’ reminiscence is barely of Israel and Palestine. I actually wished to shift that, to indicate that Jews and Muslims are very a lot alike.”
Suleyman Aydogan, a board member of the Turkish Cultural Heart of New York, mentioned that he observed antisemitism from Muslim residents and immigrants who got here to the USA from Pakistan, Afghanistan and different Muslim nations.
“Some Muslim college students in Europe even reject Holocaust training,” Aydogan instructed the New York Jewish Week. “If there are stereotypes, I felt that it was my duty to do one thing and take motion.”
Aydogan mentioned he and the TCC teamed up with Blue Card to “type a group” of consultants, rabbis and imams to rearrange the curriculum. Aydogan then instructed Kanter Freedom, a good friend, about Blue Card and this system.
“He instantly cherished it,” Aydogan mentioned.
Born in Switzerland and raised in Turkey, Kanter Freedom, 30, has aligned himself with Turkish dissident Fethullah Gulen, a defector who has been deeply important of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Brooklyn Amity Faculty is one in all greater than 100 Gulen-aligned non-public faculties funded by his followers.
Kanter Freedom, now a free agent, used his NBA platform to talk out in opposition to Erdogan, which led to the Turkish authorities issuing a warrant for his arrest in 2017. He’s now unable to return to his nation and even contact his household and associates there out of concern that they are going to be arrested or harmed by the federal government.
In an interview, he spoke to the New York Jewish Week concerning the Holocaust, his relationship with American politicians and naturally, the NBA.
This interview has been calmly edited and condensed.
New York Jewish Week: Why is it so vital to you to convey Holocaust training to this highschool?
Enes Kanter Freedom: After I was 8 or 9 years previous, I went downstairs to play with my associates they usually had been burning Israeli flags. They instructed me that “Israel is dangerous. Israel is evil. Jewish persons are horrible. We should always burn their flags. We don’t respect them.” And I keep in mind I bought so scared. I ran upstairs to my mother, and I used to be like, “Mother, all my associates are burning Israeli flags, they hate Jewish folks, they instructed me that they’re evil. What ought to I do?”
My mother mentioned, “I’m not going to let you know what to do, however don’t hate anybody earlier than you meet them.” I promised myself that day that I’m not going to hate anybody, any group or any faith or any tradition earlier than I meet with these folks.
After which I keep in mind coming to America for the primary time. I had a gathering with a Jewish good friend for the primary time; he was one of many nicest guys, who took me to this kosher restaurant and we ate one of the crucial scrumptious meals that day. And since it’s kosher, we Muslims may eat it, too. I used to be very snug, and I noticed that the meals, the music, the tradition and faith is so shut to one another. So in my head, I used to be speaking to myself like, “Why all this hate?”
After I performed for the Boston Celtics, the Israeli consul basic invited me to Holocaust Remembrance Day. I keep in mind it was so many individuals, however I used to be the one non-Jew, the one Muslim man. A girl got here to me and she or he was 90 years previous. She was a Holocaust survivor. She mentioned, “I’ve by no means seen a Jew this tall earlier than.” I used to be like, “Ma’am, you’re so candy, however I’m not Jewish. I’m Muslim.” And she or he mentioned, “What are you doing right here?”
I mentioned, “Properly, I’m right here to be taught, educate myself so I can educate folks round me.” And she or he began to tear up. The issues that I discovered that day. I don’t care who you’re — Muslims, Christians, Jews, Catholics; when you consider in God or don’t consider in God. I promised myself, I would like everybody to know and be taught and educate themselves about what occurred,
I’m going to teach our children to allow them to have some empathy, they will have some sympathy, to allow them to put themselves in different folks’s sneakers to allow them to perceive them higher. For those who perceive different religions or cultures, when you get to know them higher, the higher you’re going to respect them and love them.
That’s why we need to begin this initiative. I feel it’s so vital to me as a result of that’s how we’re going to construct our future. That’s how we’re going to start out constructing bridges between Muslims and Jews.
You grew up Muslim. Are you able to converse concerning the Holocaust training you had rising up in Turkey?
While you develop up in Turkey, you instantly develop up antisemitic, anti-West and anti-Israel due to President Erdogan. At any time when he holds a rally and goes on stay tv, he all the time assaults Israel, the Jewish folks and the West. That’s what breaks my coronary heart essentially the most. Our younger technology in Turkey are rising up antisemitic. And that’s why I used to be like, “I’m going to interrupt this.” I don’t care when you’re the president of Turkey or the president of the world, in case you are spreading hate, I’ll battle in opposition to it.
Let’s speak concerning the parallels between Muslims dealing with oppression now and Jews residing by means of the Holocaust. Can we examine each teams and possibly discover a frequent floor between the 2 religions?
For those who have a look at what’s occurred within the Xinjiang space in China, America mentioned it’s a genocide [against the Uighurs]. In the course of the Holocaust, not many leaders or nations mentioned one thing that what was occurring is unacceptable.
Proper now, there are various Muslim leaders of many nations on the market who can not say something about what’s occurred in Xinjiang. It’s due to the economic system, due to enterprise and since they’ve a lot cash tied up in China. That is unacceptable. They’re actually choosing cash over human lives.
So if we are able to educate our younger technology concerning the Holocaust, they’re going to right away assume, nicely there’s one other genocide occurring in China proper now within the Xinjiang space, and it’s unacceptable and we have now to do one thing about this. That’s why it’s so vital to teach folks concerning the Holocaust so it gained’t occur once more, not simply towards Jewish folks, however different cultures on the market on this planet.
You’ve developed relationships with many politicians, liberals and conservatives. Are you nervous if you see some American politicians flirting with the far proper, which incorporates teams that maintain antisemitic views and help authoritarian regimes? And do you hope that your relationship with them can change that?
At any time when I’ve met with politicians — not simply conservatives or Republicans, however Democrats, too — at any time when I’ve a dialog with them, I by no means speak about politics. I all the time speak about human rights. I don’t care which aspect you’re cheering for, you need to care about human rights.
In case you are at that degree, the place you’re representing America, you need to care about human life. So at any time when I sit down with a politician, we speak about Turkey, China, the Uighurs, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and I hope that my phrases can open their eyes and open their coronary heart to what’s going on on this planet.
You’ve been talking out in opposition to China. The NBA does massive enterprise in China, which was threatened when some executives spoke out in opposition to human rights abuses by Beijing. Has the NBA blackballed you for sharing your views?
Sure, 100%. The final 10 years I talked concerning the issues that occurred in Turkey and the NBA was so useful. [League Commissioner] Adam Silver texted me twice to my cellphone and mentioned, “Enes no matter you want, tell us. We bought your again. We’re like your loved ones.”
However then the final six or seven months, once I began to speak concerning the issues occurring in China, sadly, 40 homeowners are tied up by round $10 billion to the Chinese language authorities. The NBA does billions in enterprise yearly. They’ve jersey gross sales, shoe gross sales, endorsement offers, all coming from China. And sadly, if you speak concerning the issues which are occurring in China, they don’t seem to be going to love it.
I consider that they put a whole lot of strain on the NBA to launch me. Have a look at my numbers. Simply final 12 months once I was enjoying for the Portland Path Blazers, we made the playoffs. I began all the video games and I averaged a double-double. You’re telling me impulsively, round seven or eight months later, I forgot easy methods to play basketball? Folks chortle at this.
I had a dialog with one in all my teammates. He was telling me, “Enes get pleasure from this 12 months, as a result of that is your final 12 months. You aren’t going to get one other contract after this.” However it’s what it’s as a result of the issues I speak about are larger than myself, larger than basketball, larger than the NBA.
[In a March 22 interview with the New York Times, Silver denied the league had blackballed Kanter Freedom. “We spoke directly about his activities this season,” Silver said. “I made it absolutely clear to him that it was completely within his right to speak out on issues that he was passionate about.”]
Are there any talks with any NBA groups?
Belief me. We attempt to speak to all 30 groups they usually all give us the identical reply, “No.” I’ve been within the league for 11 years. I do know I’ve a spot and I can begin on most groups. However it’s what it’s. They simply present their true shade.
Somebody has to show them as a result of now we see the hypocrisy firsthand. The NBA goes to do what is sweet for the NBA. The one factor we have to do is simply to maintain pushing, expose these corporations, organizations and gamers, whereas combating in opposition to hate and antisemitism around the globe.