by Sam Gill, President & CEO, and Zeyba Rahman, Program Director / Building Bridges
In a tragically predictable sequence, the terrible violence in the Middle East has begun to affect U.S. society, with reports of antisemitism and Islamomisia on the rise. Even as we mourn the loss of innocent lives in Israel and Gaza, enmity and distrust seem to be deepening in our country.
Synagogues around the country are now being protected by armed security. U.S. Muslims (and those confused for being Muslim) are on high alert. Anxieties are especially acute in the wake of the murder of a 6-year-old Muslim boy in Illinois, a horrific act currently being investigated as a hate crime.
In times like these, we try to remind ourselves that hate cannot conquer hate. Violence cannot quell violence.
But just saying this is not enough.
When words are inadequate, it is through stories and storytellers that we can uncover ways to resist hate and find our common humanity—especially when it feels most out of reach.
In 2007, the Doris Duke Foundation launched our Building Bridges Program. The only permanent program that was not expressly stated in Doris Duke’s will, the original purpose was to counter Islamophobia and Islamomisia through art, media and culture. It has since evolved into a wider and sustained effort that seeks to elevate the voices of U.S. Muslims to increase mutual understanding and well-being among diverse populations for the benefit of building stronger, inclusive communities.
The program is inspired by Doris Duke’s lifelong passion for diverse peoples, cultures and traditions, and by her particular interest in the art of Muslim cultures from around the world. Doris Duke’s former residence, Shangri La, originally opened in 2002 as the only center dedicated exclusively to Islamic art in the United States. Today, the modern Doris Duke Foundation continues to make Shangri La available to the public and to resident artists.
We have interpreted Doris Duke’s passion for diverse cultures as a commitment to the idea that our diversity—rather than dividing us—reveals and fortifies our common humanity. Indeed, it is during those times when our shared humanity feels most elusive that we must work hardest to find and cherish it.
Over the past 16 years, we have been fortunate to work with and support fresh cross-community voices, novel perspectives and powerful stories. During a time of sorrow and strife, we want to share some of the stories that give us hope and solace:
- The new PBS documentary "Three Chaplains," which explores how Muslim chaplains serve all American service members by celebrating their distinct religious identities—not stifling them.
- The Oscar-nominated documentary "Stranger at the Gate," which tells the story of a U.S. armed forces veteran determined to bomb a local mosque until he meets the congregants, whose unalloyed openness and affection changed his mind—and his life.
- The imaginative opera "Omar," which is based on the life of a Senegalese Muslim enslaved and brought to Charleston in the 1800s. Written and scored by Grammy-winner Rhiannon Giddens, the opera debuted at the Spoleto Festival USA and went on to win the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Music.
- "The Secret Life of Muslims" is a Peabody- and Emmy-nominated web series that has been viewed more than 45 million times. The series—sometimes funny, sometimes provocative, sometimes tragic—lets some of America’s 3.3 million Muslims talk directly and frankly about their successes and challenges, their hopes and their fears, their triumphs and their tragedies.
At a time when U.S.-based Jews and Muslims rightly fear for their safety—from harassment, from intimidation and from violence—we offer these humble but powerful visions of how people and communities can come together through their differences, rather than letting those differences tear us apart.