Human Rights First Hosts French Interfaith Activists on World Tour
By Annie Glasser
Chama Mechtaly is a Moroccan Muslim woman with Jewish roots. She began exploring her heritage through art in an effort to highlight the ethnic and religious diversity in Morocco. She created paintings of Jewish Amazigh women. Many Muslim Moroccans viewing Mechtaly’s work assumed the women were Muslim, and commented on their beauty and their perceived resemblance to their relatives. They were often surprised upon learning that the women in Mechtaly’s paintings are Jewish. Through her work, Mechtaly wants to show that Muslim Moroccans and some Jewish communities have common roots, challenging the idea she was brought up with: that the Jewish people are “other.”
Samir Akacha, a young French Muslim activist, shared this story last week with Human Rights First during a stop on the InterFaith Tour. In the past ten months, Samir and three other young French activists visited thirty-two countries, including Morocco. Samir, Lucie Neuman, Léa Frydman, and Ariane Julien were selected for the InterFaith Tour after proving themselves as talented leaders with Coexister, a French interfaith youth movement. Their mission: to research the successes of interfaith coalitions on the ground around the world, assess the efficacy of various tools to create social cohesion, create networks abroad for continued partnership, and to build a grassroots movement to spark change at the government level.
“We are working from the bottom up—creating solidarity networks and building interfaith relationships to inspire social cohesion. We have had the opportunity to share our efforts with politicians in the U.S. and are eager to return to France where we will share our story with our own government officials, and ask for their support in propagating a more inclusive definition of laicite,” Léa said, “and it is important to have organizations like Human Rights First supporting our mission across borders.”
When they return to France, these activists will spend two months on an InterFaith France Tour comprised of 100 conferences in 70 French cities. Ariane, Léa, Lucie, and Samir will meet with French communities and government officials to share their stories and petition for change. They identified five themes—environment, solidarity, art, education, and conflict resolution—during their research. They will use these themes next month to establish initiatives on the ground in France.
Human Rights First is thrilled to have hosted this stop on the InterFaith Tour. In June we will partner with Coexister and other groups for a two-day conference in Paris. There, policymakers from the United States and France will come together with Internet companies and civil society to mobilize tech-driven solutions to hate speech in France.
Human Rights First lauds the InterFaith Tour’s research, grassroots initiatives, and mission to strengthen bonds of civil society. The French and U.S. governments should continue to support and promote initiatives like this that equip the youth of our societies to harness the tools necessary to combat xenophobia and promote active coexistence.