Muhamed Veliu: First of all, welcome to Top Channel. It is a great pleasure for me to interview you and thank you for giving me this opportunity. Hannah, I’d like to start with you. Why did you include Albania in the initiative “2012 Hours Against Hate,” keeping in mind that the country never had issues, let’s say, between religions?
Hannah Rosenthal: Because Albania never had a problem. There aren’t many places we can point to in the world which are great examples and so when we included Albania in the “2012 Hours Against Hate” campaign, it was to say this is a country where it worked; that has a wonderful story to tell and frankly, as we’ve traveled , talking about this, people are so surprised to hear the story about Albania. So, we talk about it to do two things: first, hold it up as an example and, secondly, to be your unofficial ambassadors.
Muhamed Veliu: Thank you. I’d like to continue with you Farah. What did you find in meetings? You’ve met with politicians, students, religious leaders. Can you tell me a little bit, please, what did you find during these meetings?
Farah Pandith: First of all, it’s been a real pleasure for both of us to come to Albania and to hear a consistent message across the board, whether we’re talking to young people, whether we’re talking to politicians, whether we’re talking to people who are part of one faith community or another. The message is clear: Albanians are Albanians. It does not matter what your religious background is. The second thing we’ve heard across the board is how proud they are of the culture of dignity of all people, the mutual respect, and the promotion of this very special value that you have here in Albania.
Muhamed Veliu: What message will you take back to Hillary Clinton and President Obama?
Hannah Rosenthal: The message I would say that is fundamental to Albania is ‘besa.’ I’m the child of a Holocaust survivor and the story of how Albania saved every single Jew during World War II is one that I treasure personally and professionally. I love telling the story, so I will remind the President and I will remind Hillary Clinton, our Secretary, because it is so fundamental to the character of Albania. When we talk about it, people say, of course, like it’s not a big deal. It is a very big deal. This is the only country in the world where that happened.
Muhamed Veliu: Farah, do other in the U.S. know about what Albania did during the Holocaust, exactly what Hannah described earlier?
Farah Pandith: When we started this campaign, one of the things that we thought a lot about was the way in which we were going to tell the story of those people that did the right thing. If you go to facebook.com/2012hoursagainsthate you will see videos of various people that talk about the campaign. One of those videos is of Hannah and myself just talking about why it is important, why we’re asking everybody to donate one hour or more of their time for someone who doesn’t live like you, pray like you, or look like you. And in the story that we tell about why we started this campaign, we speak about Albania and we talk about exactly what Hannah just said, about what happened during the Holocaust, we talk about King Zog, we talk about the ethos of Albania. But it is not a story that Americans know. It is certainly not a story that in all the countries that we visited, whether it is Lebanon, or Turkey, or Azerbaijan, or Spain that they know either. So, I think it is important for all of us to do as much talking about those that did the right thing and Albania is certainly a wonderful shining example of that.
Muhamed Veliu: Ok, let’s move to another topic. The publication of “Mein Kampf” in Albania has been a hot topic during this week in the Albanian press. Even today, all newspapers have it as a main story. I would like to ask you, Hannah, do you think this publication is good or bad for Albanian readers?
Hannah Rosenthal: Well, I can’t say anything positive about “Mein Kampf.” The story that Hitler told that brought him to power and we know the rest of the story. But I believe people should be able to read and say anything they want, whether or not it is a personal belief, or hateful, or even stupid. I think people have the right to do that. But I believe more important than anything is when we’re protecting free speech, we have to call out bad speech. So, I consider “Mein Kampf” to be bad speech and any kind of glorification of Adolf Hitler to be a bad thing. There are people that I run across in my travels who deny the Holocaust even happened. So, I hate to see growth of any kind of attention to Adolf Hitler who everyone who knows history knows was one of the darkest chapters in human kind. So, I’m very upset to see that somebody would think that there’s a market for that here in Albania, but I think the way to respond to it is to condemn it. I think you should be asking religious leaders, political leaders, and business leaders, and labor leaders, everybody, normal civil society, what do they think about it and everybody should be saying this is a terrible thing that anyone would want to publish a book and try to make money off of the hateful things that Adolf Hitler said.
Muhamed Veliu: I would like to end this interview with a question for you, Farah. It is fair to say after 9/11 in the U.S. that hate for Muslims has escalated and where can we find the origin of such hate?
Farah Pandith: I think when you think about the last ten years for the globe, this is a moment in time that all of us have had a very heartfelt reaction. Our country was attacked, but let us remember that Al-Qaida and its affiliates have attacked other communities all over the world, whether we’re talking about Jordan, or Saudi, whether we’re talking about Indonesia or other parts of the world. Al-Qaida has killed Muslim and non-Muslim alike, in fact, Al-Qaida and its affiliates have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims. But what has happened in the context of the last ten years has meant that there has been a lot of global misunderstanding about the terrorist organizations Al-Qaida and its affiliates versus the religion of Islam. So, over the last ten years in our country, there have been certainly some very challenging moments.
But what I will say very clearly is that the U.S. President has said very clearly that he respects the religion of Islam, that Muslims are part of the American fabric. We know obviously that Islam came to America at the time of the slaves, which means that it has been part of our nation over the course of our nation’s history. We also know that presidents from the time of our founding fathers to today have spoken about Islam and Muslims and have talked about the principles that are in our constitution, which means that freedom of religion, respect for everyone, and the ability to practice freely are central components to who we are. Now, American Muslims have in fact undergone a severe change in the climate in the U.S. , for a lot of different reasons, whether it is political or misunderstandings, but we’ve also seen the response. Not just from Muslims but also from other Americans as well who have said: Let us go back to the founding principles of our nation and stand up for what we believe in.
So, you see Muslims, and Jews, and Christians, and others stand side by side to push back against discrimination, to push back against hate language. You’ve also seen the Department of Justice and our government who has stood up very boldly and has condemned all forms of discrimination when it comes, in the last ten years especially, vis-à-vis the Muslim question that you’re talking about. I am an American and I am a Muslim and I know that there is no contradiction between both. And I know that in America, you can practice the faith of Islam more freely than any other country in the world. So, as I look forward and not look back to the last ten years but look forward, our country has undergone some challenges but there has been momentous change in the collaborations, the coalition building and the respect for our constitution, which provides the ability for all of us to live side by side as equals.
Muhamed Veliu: Hannah, Farah, thank you very much for your time.
Farah Pandith: Thank you very much.
Hannah Rosenthal: Thank you for having us.