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A Young Muslim Stands Up to Hate

Siavosh Derakhti recognized the problems of antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia in his hometown of Malmö, Sweden. He chose to speak up and has become a public advocate for building understanding among different groups, through his organization Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia.

President Obama wanted to thank him in person. He wanted to tell the young Muslim activist, who is combating anti-Semitism and xenophobia in his native Sweden, that what he's doing is inspiring, and to keep it up. . . .

Derakhti, a 22-year-old who was born in Sweden, is the son of Iranian immigrants. He says he hopes to travel to the United States one day to share his story – and the story of his hometown of Malmö, a dynamic and diverse city of some 300,000 in southern Sweden.

"Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia are huge problems in Malmö," Derakhti says. "I can't accept that Jews are leaving my hometown [because of anti-Semitism]. I told the [US] president [who was in Sweden on an official visit] that I would never give up the fight for equal rights for all people."

Malmö has gained an unfortunate reputation in recent years (some say unfairly) for being hostile to minority groups, especially Jews. . . . 

. . . 

Derakhti says he focuses on educating young people about the evils and dangers of anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. He has done that by speaking to students and teachers at schools around the country, holding workshops for educators and others, and pressing the authorities to work toward "increasing awareness and understanding between different groups," he says.

Several years ago, upon hearing that his school in Malmö had never invited a Holocaust survivor to speak, Derakhti arranged for two survivors to meet with fellow students. Later, he organized a class trip to Auschwitz, the site of a German World War II concentration camp in southern Poland, for more than two dozen of his classmates, most of them Muslim. . . . 

These days, he has also been a strong public advocate for "building bridges," as he puts it, writing in the local newspaper Sydsvenskan, for instance, that Jews in Malmö have been subjected to "everything from threats to harassment, and it's our duty as Swedish citizens of Malmö to react and stand up."

For his work, Derakhti earlier this year [2013] was presented with the Swedish government's Raoul Wallenberg Award. . . . The selection committee said Derakhti set a "positive example" in Malmö and throughout Sweden. "He is a role model for others," the Wallenberg Award committee wrote, "showing through his actions and determination that one person can make a difference."

. . . 

[Willy] Silberstein  [president of the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism] admires Derakhti because in founding Young Muslims Against Anti-Semitism he took a risk for peace. . . .

Derakhti is "a fantastic guy with lots of humor and warmth," Silberstein adds. He also has a remarkable ability to distinguish between individual Jews in Sweden and the state of Israel. The young Swede has been critical of Israeli policy, Silberstein says, even as he has reached out in friendship to Malmö's Jewish community, which now numbers around 650.

Last year, Silberstein's organization presented Derakhti with an award aimed at encouraging young people to employ social media in their fight against anti-Semitism. 1

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