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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fagan questions Spokane’s signing of compassion charter

The Spokane City Council voted to sign the International Charter for Compassionate Communities this week, but not before one council member expressed concern over the charter organization’s efforts to combat “Islamophobia.”

The charter, which has been adopted by more than 30 other U.S. cities, urges people “both in public and private life to refrain consistently and emphatically from inflicting pain.”

It also condemns people who “act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody.”

The organization that wrote the document, Charter for Compassion, was founded by Karen Armstrong, a former nun and British religious scholar. In 2008, she won a $100,000 TED prize, which awards people who “wish to change the world.” She has said the charter is a way to promote the golden rule worldwide.

The council voted 5-1 to sign the charter. Mayor David Condon’s advisory committee on multicultural affairs supported the council’s resolution, as did the city’s Human Rights Commission.

Skyler Oberst, president of Spokane’s Interfaith Council and Councilwoman Karen Stratton’s legislative assistant, was the driving force behind the council’s resolution.

“I see this almost as a call to action when it comes to alleviating the suffering of our fellow human beings who are homeless, who are destitute, who are Muslim,” Oberst said. “We’ve seen swastikas painted on our synagogues. We’ve seen ‘Death to Islam’ written on our prayer spaces. We’ve seen churches robbed for what they do in the community to help others. This is unacceptable.”

Councilman Mike Fagan, who voted against the charter, said he opposed the group that wrote the charter because it supports “solidarity with and acceptance of Muslims,” but does not mention persecution of other religious groups.

“What I don’t understand or agree with at this point is this organization spotlighting and singling out the issue of Islamophobia,” Fagan said. “If this organization was everything that they claim to be on their web, I would’ve expected some mention of the persecution of Christians and other religions worldwide to be just as prominent.”

In December, the organization made an “emergency call” to members to fight the “escalating, corrosive anti-Muslim rhetoric whipping up Europe and the United States.”

“The vitriol of Marine Le Pen is matched with the venom of Donald Trump in the U.S.,” the group wrote on its website, and released an “Islamophobia Resistance Guide.”

Fagan called the group’s efforts regarding Islam a “case of elevating one over the other,” but other council members disagreed.

Stratton, who sponsored the resolution, said the charter did not align the city with any organization, but simply spoke about “how we treat each other, how we treat ourselves, how we want to lift up those in need.”

Councilwoman Amber Waldref said she supported the charter because it informs how the Spokane community should “work together,” and it aligns with Condon’s charitable initiative, Spokane Gives.

Council President Ben Stuckart dismissed Fagan’s concerns.

“I’m having a really hard time finding the conspiracy or the problems with being compassionate,” Stuckart said.

But Fagan said Spokane already was compassionate and suggested the city didn’t need a largely unknown organization to affirm such a characteristic.

“Before the city jumps into bed with this organization, to receive a title which we already know that we are exceedingly qualified, I personally need more transparency,” he said. “I consider tolerance to be compassion. So if tolerance doesn’t tolerate the intolerant, then it isn’t really tolerance, is it?”