Sanford students, faculty and staff gathered on Thursday to celebrate two awards recently received by Professor Abdullah Antepli.
Antepli is a recent honoree of the Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Award and the first Kay Family Award honoree. His decades of work in humanitarian projects and interfaith relations were celebrated through these two awards this past November at events in New York and Washington, D.C.
Antepli discussed his career and inspiration in a conversation with Joel Fleishman, the founding director of the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs, now the Sanford School of Public Policy.
Joel Fleishman: What do these awards represent to you?
Abdullah Antepli: I hope and pray that the attention will go beyond just the person who receives these awards. The real attention should go to the work, its urgency, its nobility, and its collective effort. Huineng has a beautiful line, he says, “I am pointing at the sun, and the fools are getting lost in my finger.” I hope we will not get lost in Abdullah, but instead that we will get lost in the critical work that requires more energy, more creativity, and more investment. We also get lost sometimes in the most sensational, the most tragic, the most dramatic aspects of this despicable human behavior: hate. We pay attention to these issues when there is violence. We pay attention to these issues when there is racism and antisemitism, and homophobia. These are important to address, but they are only a small segment. Let’s not get lost in the noise of these hateful people. Much bigger multi-generational work needs to be done to make our communities hate-free.
Fleishman: You have received many honors. What is your greatest honor to date?
Antepli: Well, the work itself is very messy and horrible. Especially the kind of work that I do online combating antisemitism and radicalism. The Daniel Pearl Award is probably the most important to me because of what Daniel Pearl himself stood for. He was killed because of an ideology that believed that Judaism was evil. His killing was religiously endorsed. I had a wonderful conversation with members of his family, and I cannot tell you how hopeful they are that a religious Muslim like me has dedicated his life to fighting the kinds of ideology that led to the murder of their loved one. This award is one of my most cherished.
Fleishman: What inspired your passion for fighting hatred?
Antepli: My own hate. I was infected by hate early in my life. I was exposed at a young age to very sophisticated, very compelling, antisemitic literature. I was made to believe that Judaism, and Jewish people, are irredeemably evil. I spent my teenage years burning Israeli flags. Thankfully, my religious education, as I became religious and studied Islamic ethics and morality. That not only allowed me to take the nearest exit and change my direction, but it made me realize that I needed to take that poison out of my system by living a life that could prevent other people from becoming victims of hate and dehumanization.
Fleishman: You have written that “hate is a virus.” What can we do to protect ourselves from that virus?
Antepli: Hate is an incurable virus. We have to live with it, which is part of our innate social condition. We can individually and collectively put enormous amounts of pressure so that hate will never have a welcoming environment to break out and infect at a large scale. We often look at acts of hate and ask who is guilty, but we don’t usually ask who is responsible. Martin Luther King didn’t write his letters from a jail cell to racists or members of the KKK. He was targeting a silent, inactive majority. The majority didn’t recognize their responsibility for the problem. This large-scale problem of hate is caused by inactivity and silence. In our individual lives, we cannot allow hate to go unchallenged. We must go through the sometimes awkward work of challenging our friends and family in conversation. Many people (understandably) don’t want to lose those relationships or risk that social capital, but if we don’t recognize hate when we see it, unfortunately, it will continue to rise.
Fleishman: You are teaching with fellow Sanford faculty member David Schanzer a course called combating hate in the digital age. Why is that course important?
Antepli: It is incredibly important because David and I are trying to practice what we preach. We have very little control over the world, but we can keep our home safe here at Duke. Hopefully, here at Duke, we can empower students to have the tools they need to combat hate in their roles in life.