NBA star Ennis Kanter-Freedom transfers Holocaust education to an Islamic school in Brooklyn

(New York Jewish Week) — At Brooklyn Amity School, a private, predominantly Muslim school in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, high school students are participating in a new Holocaust education initiative with an unlikely ambassador: NBA center and free agent Enes Kanter Freedom.

Kanter Freedom, who is Muslim, grew up in Turkey and played for five different NBA teams between 2011 and 2022. Over the past two years, he has become outspoken about human rights abuses in Turkey and other parts of the world, including China, who have dealt with Muslims. Uighurs The US State Department called it genocide.

The Holocaust Education Program is taught at Amity It was secured by the Blue Card, a non-profit organization that helps Holocaust survivors, and the Turkish Cultural Center in New York. educational subjects Created by Mahnaz Afridi, a professor at Manhattan College who directs it The Holocaust and Genocide and the Center for Interfaith Education.

Afridi, who is Muslim, teaches students about the Holocaust, from the roots of anti-Semitism in Europe to the horrors of death camps to modern-day parallels, including Islamophobia.

Unfortunately, there is very little education [about] Afridi told the New York Jewish Week. “Our students’ memory is only of Israel and Palestine. I really wanted to change that, to show that Jews and Muslims are very much alike.”

Anees Kanter Freedom met with students at Brooklyn Amity School on Monday, June 13, 2022 (Courtesy)

Suleyman Aydogan, a board member of the Turkish Cultural Center in New York, said he has noticed anti-Semitism from Muslim citizens and immigrants who came to the United States from Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries.

“Some Muslim students in Europe refuse even Holocaust education,” Aydoğan said at the New York Jewish Week. “If there were stereotypes, I felt it was my responsibility to do something and take action.”

Aydoğan said he and TCC cooperated with Blue Card to “form a team” of experts, rabbis and imams to arrange the curriculum. Aydoğan then told Kanter Freedom’s friend about the blue card and the programme.

“He liked it right away,” Aydoğan said.

Born in Switzerland and raised in Turkey, Kanter Freedom, 30, has allied himself with Turkish dissident Fethullah Gulen, a dissident who has been highly critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Brooklyn Amity School is one of more than 100 Gulen-aligned private schools funded by his followers.

Kanter Freedom, now a free agent, used his platform in the NBA to speak out against Erdogan, This led to the Turkish government issuing an arrest warrant for him in 2017. He is now unable to return to his country or even contact his family and friends there for fear of being arrested or harmed by the government.

In an interview, he spoke to New York Jewish Week about the Holocaust, its relationship to American politicians and of course the NBA.

This interview has been slightly edited and condensed.

New York Jewish Week: Why is it so important to you to bring Holocaust education to this high school?

The freedom of Lance Kanter: When I was 8 or 9 years old, I went down to play with my friends and they were burning Israeli flags. They told me that “Israel is bad. Israel is evil. The Jewish people are terrible. We should burn their flags. We don’t respect them.” And I remember feeling very scared. I ran upstairs to my mom, and said, “Mom, all my friends are burning Israeli flags, they hate Jewish people, and they told me they were evil. What should I do?”

My mom said, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but don’t hate anyone before you meet them.” I promised myself that day that I would not hate any person, any group, any religion or any culture before I met these people.

Then I remember coming to America for the first time. I met a Jewish friend for the first time. He was one of the nicest guys who took me to this kosher restaurant and we had one of the most delicious meals of the day. And because it’s kosher, we Muslims can eat it, too. I was so relaxed, realizing that food, music, culture and religion are so close to each other. So in my head, I was talking to myself like, “Why so much hate?”

When I played for the Boston Celtics, the Israeli Consul General invited me to Holocaust Remembrance Day. I remember there were a lot of people, but I was the only non-Jewish person, the only Muslim. A woman came to me, she was 90 years old. She was a Holocaust survivor. She said, “I’ve never seen a Jew this tall.” I was like, “Ma’am, you’re so sweet, but I’m not Jewish. I’m Muslim.” And she said, “What are you doing here?”

The freedom of Ennis Kanter blocks James Harden

Boston Celtics center Ennis Kanter, right, tackles Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden during the second quarter of an NBA game at TD Garden in Boston on November 24, 2021 (Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

I said, “Well, I’m here to learn, to educate myself so that I can educate the people around me.” And I began to tear. The things I learned that day. I don’t care who you are – Muslims, Christians, Jews, Catholics. If you believe in God or do not believe in God. I promised myself, I want everyone to know, learn and educate themselves about what happened,

I will teach our children so that they can have some empathy, that they can have some empathy, so that they can put themselves in other people’s shoes so that they can understand them better. If you understand other religions or cultures, if you get to know them better, it is better to respect and love them.

This is why we want to start this initiative. I think it is very important to me because this is how we will build our future. This is how we will begin to build bridges between Muslims and Jews.

I was raised a Muslim. Can you talk about the Holocaust education you had in Turkey?

When you grow up in Turkey, you immediately grow up anti-Semitic, anti-Western and anti-Israel because of President Erdogan. Every time he organizes a rally and appears live, he always attacks Israel, the Jewish people, and the West. This is what breaks my heart the most. Our young generation in Turkey is growing up anti-Semitic. And that’s why I was like, “I’m going to break this.” I don’t care if you are the president of Turkey or the president of the world, if you are spreading hate, I will fight it.

Let’s talk about the similarities between Muslims facing persecution now and Jews living through the Holocaust. Can we compare the two groups and perhaps find common ground between the two religions?

If you look at what happened in Xinjiang An area in China, America said it was genocide [against the Uighurs]. During the Holocaust, a large number of leaders or countries said nothing that what was happening was unacceptable.

At the moment, there are many Muslim leaders in many countries who cannot say anything about what happened in them Xinjiang. It’s because of the economy, because of the business and because they have a lot of money tied up in China. this is unacceptable. They literally sift money into human souls.

So if we can educate our young generation about the Holocaust, they will immediately think, well, there is another genocide going on in China right now in Xinjiang It is unacceptable and we have to do something about it. That is why it is very important to educate people about the Holocaust so that it does not happen again, not only towards the Jewish people, but towards other cultures that exist in the world.

She has developed relationships with many politicians, liberals and conservatives. Do you worry when you see some American politicians flirting with the far right, which includes groups with anti-Semitic views and support for authoritarian regimes? Do you hope your relationship with them will change that?

Whenever I meet with politicians — not just conservatives or Republicans, but Democrats as well — the more I have a conversation with them, I never talk about politics. I always talk about human rights. I don’t care which side you’re on, you have to care about human rights.

If you are at this level, where you represent America, you have to care about human life. So whenever I sit down with a politician, we talk about Turkey, China, Uyghurs, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and I hope my words open their eyes and open their hearts to what’s going on in the world.

Anis Kanter with politicians

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mis) speaks alongside former NBA player Ennis Kanter Freedom at the US Capitol, February 17, 2022. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

You have been speaking against China. The NBA does big business in China, which was threatened when some executives spoke out against Beijing’s human rights abuses. Did the National Basketball Association (NBA) ban you for sharing your opinions?

Yes, 100%. For the last 10 years I’ve talked about the problems in Turkey and the NBA has been very helpful. [League Commissioner] Adam Silver texted me twice and said, “Ennis whatever you need, let us know. We got you covered. We’re like your family.”

But then over the past six or seven months, when I started talking about the problems that are going on in China, unfortunately, 40 owners are tied up in about $10 billion to the Chinese government. The NBA makes billions of dollars every year. They have jersey sales, shoe sales, and endorsement deals, all coming from China. And unfortunately, when you talk about the problems that are happening in China, they don’t like it.

Enes Kanter Freedom Shoes says

The shoes worn by Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics at a game on November 17, 2021 feature a statement of solidarity with China’s Uighur minority. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

I think they put a lot of pressure on the NBA to release me. Look at my numbers. Just last year when I was playing for the Portland Trail Blazers, we played the playoffs. I started all games and averaged a double-double. You’re telling me all of a sudden, after about seven or eight months, I forgot how to play basketball? People laugh at this.

I had a conversation with one of my teammates. He would say to me, “Enes enjoy this year, because this is your last year. You won’t get another contract after that.” But it is what it is because the things I’m talking about are bigger than me, bigger than basketball, bigger than the NBA.

[In a March 22 interview with the New York Times, Silver denied the league had blackballed Kanter Freedom. “We spoke directly about his activities this season,” Silver said. “I made it absolutely clear to him that it was completely within his right to speak out on issues that he was passionate about.”]

Are there any talks with any of the NBA teams?

Believe me. We try talking to all 30 teams and they all give us the same answer, “No.” I’ve been in the league for 11 years. I know I have a place and I can start on most teams. But it is what it is. They just show their true color.

Someone has to expose them because now we see the hypocrisy firsthand. The NBA will do what is good for the NBA. The only thing we need to do is keep pressing and shaming these companies, organizations and players, while we fight hate and anti-Semitism around the world.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: