The American Jewish Committee and Muflehun completed its first pilot program of Tackle! Upstander Training to combat domestic terrorism in Philadelphia on Aug. 9.
The training, designed by AJC and Muflehun, a resource center that designs programs to address “complex social challenges,” takes a community-based approach to confronting antisemitism and anti-Muslim bigotry on the federal, local and individual levels. It was funded in part by a 2020 grant from the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention within the Department of Homeland Security.
The Philadelphia Circle of Friends, the local affiliate of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, hosted 13 leaders from local governments and community organizations for the online training over two weeks and a total of eight hours.
Both Muflehun and AJC are active at MJAC, a coalition created by the AJC in 2016, where the training had its genesis.
“The idea that Muslims and Jews can come together to take tangible action for our communities is what motivates a lot of our domestic Muslim-Jewish work,” said Ari Gordon, director of Muslim-Jewish relations for AJC.
AJC is a far-reaching organization with 24 offices around the country. By partnering with Muflehun, which designs creative programming to enact systemic change, the AJC ensured that Tackle! would have a national audience with expert programming. The Circle of Friends recruited training participants in Philadelphia who had the most contact with those victimized by hate crimes.
According to Michael Fabius, co-chair of the Circle of Friends alongside Mohamed Bakry, allyship between communities targeted by violence is the only way to effectively combat bigotry.
“The most important key is that we in our communities can’t be isolated because that will make us all more vulnerable,” Fabius said.
The training uses a public health lens to address extremism and bigotry, meaning that Tackle! takes a holistic approach in identifying the factors that drive domestic terrorism and the resources already in place to address them, such as law enforcement. However, by recognizing the limitations of those structures, the training program aims to create interventions on a local level and take preventative measures, so as not to stress resources limited in their scope. The localized approach to the training adapts the curriculum to the specific needs of the communities it aims to serve.
Over the next six months, AJC and Muflehun have planned 10 pilot trainings, hoping to reach 150 people.
“As we’re going to move forward, we will need to better understand the resources available in each location,” said Adnan Ansari, executive director of Muflehun. “Those who are trained in this program, they will have their own resources, more information, availability and sharing of resources.”
Muflehun and the AJC designed Tackle! to take a proactive outlook to addressing bigotry before it escalates into domestic terrorism.
“Hate might be a precursor, but then people take action on their hate,” Ansari said. “That’s when more damage happens.”
The training consists of the Department of Homeland Security Community Awareness Briefing, which addresses recruitment tactics to hate groups; recognizing signs of violence; and dissenting case studies to better understand the progression of extremist ideologies to violent hate crimes.
According to Gordon, Philadelphia emerged as a strong candidate of where to launch the pilot program because of the Circle of Friends’ connections to public officials and civic institutions who could benefit from the training, as well as a strong connection between the area Muslim and Jewish communities.
“Out of that trust, they are looking for tangible actions to take,” Gordon said.
Tackle! was conceived and funded under President Donald Trump’s administration and remains a timely resource. On June 25, the Biden administration published the National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, underscoring the importance of continued action to address bigotry and violent extremism.
Through the continued rollout and eventual expansion of Tackle!, AJC and Muflehun hope to increase awareness of antisemitism and anti-Muslim bigotry and continue to build connections locally and nationally.
“It’s good for us as Jews; it’s good for us as Muslims, but it also contributes to the health of our democracy,” Gordon said.
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