Protest condemns Taliban code

Hackensack -- Leaders and laypeople from several religious communities gathered Monday at the Bergen County Courthouse to decry a recent edict requiring Hindus in Afghanistan to wear badges identifying them as non-Muslims.

But instead of chanting, shouting, or waving signs, they prayed for peace.

"Thou has created all humanity from the same stock. Thou hast decreed that all shall belong to the same household," said Aixa Sobin Smith, who represented the Bahai faith and is a member of the Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County, which organized the event.

Echoing leaders from the Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant communities, who also offered prayers from their traditions, Smith said all religions share faith in higher power, but merely have different rituals.

Rabbi Neal Borovick of Temple Sholom in Ridge Edge, who also spoke from the podium, said "This is not a Hindu issue. It's a human issue. We have a great moral responsibility to make sure religious minorities are protected."

About 20 people attended the noontime protest, including Mohan Khanna, a businessman from Montvale and a native of India, who said he was shaken by the recent edict. "Once it starts in Afghanistan, things like this could spread to other countries," he said.

Since the radical Islamic Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, the regime has banned education for females, beaten men for trimming their beards, and destroyed ancient Buddhist statues.

Most non-Muslims there are Hindus. And some of their families have lived in the area for several thousand years.

The announcement of the Taliban's new dress code last month aroused international indignation. Many said that the yellow cloth badge was reminiscent of the Nazi practice of requiring Jews to wear a yellow star.

That analogy was not lost on Susan Liebeskind, a Hillsdale mother, who attended the vigil wearing a large yellow star of David around her neck, bearing the word "Remember."

"I can't as a Jew stand idly by while people are doing what the Nazis did to the Jews," said Liebeskind. "I need to be able to say to myself and my kids that I did not stand by silently."

Liebeskind, who wrote numerous letters to American politicians condemning the Taliban, is trying to organize acts of protest through her synagogue.

"Even though I knew it wasn't me or my people being persecuted, I felt like I was in Germany, that it was me that had to wear the yellow star," she said.

Jack Lohr, a Presbyterian pastor from Franklin Lakes, echoed her sentiments. "I'm here because of the need to stand up when others are suffering and not be silent," he said.

Teaneck Councilwoman Jacqueline Kates, a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which is a part of the Interfaith Committee, said Jews and Christians want to join forces with the Hindu community to protest.

"They've been reluctant to demonstrate because it's not part of their culture," said Kates. "We want to work together to make a stronger stand."

Raj Gandhi, a surgeon from Fair Lawn, said he welcomed the assistance. "We are new to this country so we need to learn from other communities."