Manhattan College is revamping its Holocaust Center to include the further study of other genocides, as well as interfaith activities that would include Islam alongside Judaism and Christianity — the two religions that until now have been mostly alone at the core of Holocaust interfaith issues.
Perhaps nothing accentuates the change more than the appointment of Mehnaz Afridi, 40, to be director of what will be renamed the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center.
Afridi, a Pakistan-born Muslim woman, has been teaching at Antioch University, and her writings have primarily focused on Muslim identity and the intersection of Islam and the Holocaust.
Afridi is awaiting publication of her first book, “The Shoah Through Muslim Eyes.” The book, Afridi told The Jewish Week, grew out of “my frustration with the anti-Semitism within the Muslim community, its lack of education, [its] denial of the Holocaust, or those that say it wasn’t six million but two million. Negating someone’s history or someone’s truth is actually quite a huge sin.”
The changes at Manhattan College prompted novelist Thane Rosenbaum, a professor at Fordham Law School and a frequent essayist on post-Holocaust themes, to wonder whether the Holocaust is becoming unmoored from its Jewish specificity.
“It hasn’t even been two generations,” said Rosenbaum, and already the message is, ‘We now have transcended the Holocaust,’ time for something else. Only with Jews, do people change the parameters like this, going from the Final Solution to exploring ‘Prejudice Around The World.’ This is Holocaust Studies for a new century: led by a Muslim, dealing with issues not exclusive or particular to the Holocaust, [issues] from Islamophobia to racism, looking for a wider appeal. They can do whatever they want, but I’m not sure that morally they have the right.”
Hikind, noting that his Brooklyn district includes “the largest contingent of Holocaust survivors,” asked Manhattan College to drop the word “Holocaust” from the center’s name because “the addition of Dr. Afridi and the expansion of the Center’s mission diminish the magnitude of the Holocaust as a defining Jewish event.”
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, one of the pioneers in Holocaust studies in the 1970s, and the former chair of the national Holocaust Memorial Council, said that the debate over the universalistic expansion of Holocaust studies “has been an issue all along, going back decades.”
“Each case is different. In some places its worked,” protecting and underlining the distinctiveness of the Shoah, “and in other places not.”
The increased emphasis on interfaith relations is “great,” said Rabbi Greenberg. “One of the lessons of the Shoah, and part of what drove me [to Jewish-Christian] dialogue was that we have to recognize and break down the horrible poison and stereotypes [that predominated in Christian Europe] to prevent future Holocausts. That’s a legitimate application. I’m in favor of Muslim dialogue, too. The real issue is that most of the Muslim dialogue, so far, has not been very honest. That’s where the danger comes — not the concept of interfaith, but it’s how you do it, with whom, and how it’ll play out.”
more Mehnaz Afridi and her Taqiyya via thejewishweek.com