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Religion, Conflict, and Peace: Walking the Talk Through Fear of the Unknown, to Understanding and Harmony

(an event held at Oakland UniversityRochester, Michigan)
March 13-15, 2009

Profile by: DiscoverTheNetworks.org (February 23, 2009)

In March 2009 Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan will present a conference titled “Religion, Conflict, and Peace: Walking the Talk Through Fear of the Unknown, to Understanding and Harmony.” Organized by the Common Bond Institute, this conference will explore: “the mutual dilemmas of religious ignorance, extremism, intolerance, negative stereotypes, prejudice, demonization and dehumanization, scapegoating, and fear of ‘the other,’ that can lead to toxic divisiveness, polarization, and social paranoia, with a special focus on Islamophobia and the Muslim community.”

The conference is scheduled to feature the following professors and scholars as guest speakers:

Mohammed Abu-Nimer

A member of the Middle East Studies Association, Mohammed Abu-Nimer is an Associate Professor of International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC. He is also the Director of the Peacebuilding and Development Institute at American University.

In February 2006, Abu-Nimer took part in a hunger strike aimed at persuading the U.S. government to begin negotiations with nations and terrorist groups that are hostile to America and Israel. “Join us in a hunger strike,” Abu-Nimer said, “to share in the suffering of hundreds of innocent civilians killed, the wounded, the displaced, those whose livelihoods were destroyed, and those countless children who will grow up with deep traumas.” Co-signer Edy Kaufman, former director of the anti-Israel NGO Betselem, used the occasion to tell the George W. Bush administration: “Talk to Syria, talk to Hezbollah, talk to Hamas, talk to Israel, and talk to Iran. Talk, don't kill. All parties have legitimate grievances and concerns. Deal with them.”

Abu-Nimer is a fierce opponent of the Israeli security barrier, which was constructed in the West Bank to halt the influx of suicide bombers into Israel. In December 2008, he authored a piece titled, “Share Space, Defy the Wall,” which offered suggestions on how Jews and Palestinians alike could neutralize “the adverse effects of the wall”:

“In my view, the most important approaches will address separation by creating more shared Israeli and Palestinian space.... Productive shared spaces, such as youth encounters, economic ventures, environmental initiatives, non-violent advocacy and protests, should increase people's capacity to be self-critical and perceive any wrongdoing on their own side, and provide tools and opportunities for participants to apply the lessons learned, and explore alternatives for a shared future.”

Joseph Montville

Joseph Montville is a former U.S. State Department official who served extensively at posts in the Middle East. He is currently a Board of Directors member of the
Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, which was founded by Board members and former staffers of the American Muslim Council (a group whose leadership has declared its support for Hamas and Hezbollah).

Imam Achmat Salie

Imam Achmat Salie is the director of the Islamic Studies program at Oakland University.

In 2008 Salie rejected the use of the term “jihad” in the DVD titled Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, which presented a factual description of the threat posed by fundamentalist Islam. He denied the film’s assertion that Muslim terrorists were aggressively targeting non-Islamic countries. As evidence, Salie cited a Quranic verse which says that “even though Muslims may be forced to defend themselves by fighting in a war, they don’t want to fight.” Sali further stated that if the claims made in the DVD were true, “there should have been so many more 9/11s since the time Muslims were here.”

In December 2008 Salie characterized Israel’s military response to Hamas terrorism emanating from the Gaza Strip as a form of mass murder. “I think the community in Gaza is becoming dehumanized and marginalized,” he said. “It is becoming a large prison camp.... The world community must stand up and put an end to the slaughter.”

Hassan Qazwini

One of the most influential Shi’a religious leaders in the United States, Hassan Qazwini serves as Imam of the Dearborn, Michigan-based Islamic Center of America (ICOA), the largest mosque in North America. He is also a board member of the American Muslim Council.

Over the years, Qazwini has
spoken at more than 100 churches, colleges, and universities -- consistently assuring his listeners that the authentic teachings of Islam in no way condone terrorism or violence against infidels. In addition, he has urged U.S. political leaders to be sensitive to the needs and concerns of Muslim Americans, and to speak out publicly against non-Muslims who portray Islam or the Prophet Mohammad in a negative light.

On November 15, 1998, Qazwini’s ICOA sponsored an event -- attended by
more than 1,000 primarily Arab Muslim-Americans -- where the featured speaker was Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. According to political journalist Debbie Schlussel, Qazwini and his fellow organizers introduced Farrakhan as “our dear brother,” “a freedom fighter,” and “a man of courage and sacrifice.”

Adds Schlussel, Qazwini professes to oppose al Qaeda but nonetheless: (a) maintains a close affiliation with the Iranian government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; (b) is friendly with Hezbollah spiritual leader Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who issued the 1983 fatwa that resulted in the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut which killed 241 American servicemen; and (c) openly supports both Hamas and Hezbollah.

Imam Mohammad Elahi

Mohammad Elahi is the Imam of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. In March 2008 he penned an article titled “U.S. Should Stop Israeli Atrocities in Gaza,” wherein he condemned military actions carried out by Israel to bring an end to Hamas rocket attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip. In Elahi’s calculus, Israel’s objective was to force “the Palestinians to accept total submission to Israeli occupation.”

Imam Mohamed Mardini

Mohamed Mardini is the Imam of the America Muslim Center in Dearborn, Michigan.

In 2007 Mardini spoke at a conference sponsored by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), an organization that opposes U.S. aid to Israel and has expressed support for Palestinian “martyrdom” campaigns in Israel.

Imad Hamad

Imad Hamad is the Midwest Regional Director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Born in a refugee camp in Lebanon, Hamad is a suspected member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group which has carried out many terrorist attacks during its history – including the hijacking of four airplanes over the course of six days in 1970. According to political journalist Debbie Schlussel, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service spent fully two decades in an effort to deport Hamad because of his terrorist connections.

In a 2002 news appearance, Hamad expressed support for a Palestinian Authority Television program which used puppets to promote hatred of Jews and Christians. For example, a boy can be heard singing: “When I wander into Jerusalem, I will become a suicide bomber.” Hamad described the program as “patriotic.”

lso in 2002, Hamad’s chapter of the ADC sponsored and endorsed the National Palestinian Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement. The keynote speaker at this conference was the North American head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Sami Al-Arian.

At a 2003 awards banquet hosted by Michigan’s ADC, Hamad presented the organization’s “Attorney of the Year” award to Nabih Ayad. Ayad has given legal representation to several accused terrorists, including Omar Abdel Fatah Al-Shishani, who was accused of attempting to launder $12 million in phony bank checks to fund the terrorist organization al Qaeda.

When Israel released hundreds of Hezbollah prisoners in early 2004, Hamad openly celebrated the freedom of “the Heroes.”

Ihsan Alkhatib

Ihsan Alkhatib served as the general counsel of Life for Relief and Development (LRD), a humanitarian assistance organization ostensibly devoted to raising money for children in Iraq. From 1995 through 1997, LRD openly admitted on its tax records to be a funder of the terrorist group Hamas. In September 2006 the FBI raided LRD’s Detroit headquarters.

Osama Siblani

Palestinian activist Osama Siblani is the editor and publisher of the Arab American News (AAN), a weekly publcation representing its eponymous demographic. He also chairs the extremist Congress of Arab American Organizations (CAAO).

According to his biographical sketch by AAN, Siblani “has always been a staunch supporter of Palestinian rights and opponent of Israeli occupation and aggression. When Palestinian was considered the ‘P’ word and virtually no one talked about the subject in public, Siblani stood up and shouted from the pages of The Arab American News and whatever opportunities he could get with the media.”

Siblani was a vocal critic of both the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War.

In July 2006 in Dearborn, Michigan, Siblani was a speaker at a pro-Hezbollah rally sponsored by CAAO. During his talk, Siblani asked all those in attendance to observe a moment of silence “for the martyrs.”

Siblani also serves as the Chairman of the Arab American Political Action Committee, a lobbying group that prepares, advises and supports Arab American candidates for political offices.

Shereef Akeel

An American lawyer of Egyptian descent, Shereef Akeel is a partner in the law firm of Melamed, Dailey, and Akeel. He also serves on the board of the
American Civil Liberties Union’s Oakland County (Michigan) chapter. Akeel has represented mostly Detroit-area Arab and Muslim Americans who filed post-9/11 discrimination cases.

In 2004, however, Akeel gained national recognition when he initiated a class action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners involved in the
Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal. The case began in March of that year, when Akeel was visited in his Detroit office by someone he has identified only as “Mr. Saleh” who was seeking legal representation. “Mr. Saleh” described to Akeel the allegedly abusive treatment to which he had been subjected by his U.S. captors at the Abu Ghraib prison complex in Iraq. The following month, reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib appeared in the mainstream media, igniting a media firestorm and giving Akeel the leverage he needed to pursue a legal case. On June 9, 2004, Akeel and a team of lawyers filed a class action suit in a San Diego federal court seeking compensation for the Iraqi prisoners.

Since that time, Akeel has been involved in lawsuits against two civilian contractors -- the San Diego-based Titan Corporation and the Arlington-based CACI International Inc., which provided translation and interrogation services in Abu Ghraib. Akeel
contended that because the translators had communicated abusive orders from the U.S. soldiers to the prisoners, the translators were liable. “My client does not speak English,” said Akeel. “Who told him what to do? Without the facilitators [translators], the information could not be communicated to the detainees.” Akeel worked closely with the Center for Constitutional Rights on these cases.

John L. Esposito

The Wall Street Journal once described John Esposito as “America's foremost authority and interpreter of Islam.” The former President of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), he currently teaches at Georgetown University, where he heads the Prince Alaweed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

Esposito contends that the Muslim world is steadily advancing toward democratic reform, toward an “Islamic democracy that might create an effective system of popular participation unlike the Westminster model or American system,” the latter of which he disparages as “ethnocentric.”

During the decade prior to 9/11, Esposito predicted that fundamentalist Islamic groups and governments in Arab nations would reject violence and thus would present no threat to the United States. "The [very] term 'fundamentalism,' he said, "is laden with Christian perceptions and Western stereotypes. More useful terms are Islamic revivalism and Islamic activism, which are less value-laden and have roots within a tradition of political reform and social action."

Impugning those who equate Islamist movements "with radicalism and terrorism," Esposito claims that such thinking merely "becomes a convenient pretext for crushing political opposition." Islamist movements, he explains, "are not necessarily anti-Western, anti-American, or anti-democratic." Moreover, he minimizes the fact that those nations that have adopted Islamic law are, for the most part, totalitarian states that export terrorism and egregiously violate the human rights of their inhabitants. "Contrary to what some have advised," he writes, "the United States should not in principle object to implementation of Islamic law or involvement of Islamic activists in government."

Esposito subscribes to the 
Edward Said school of thought, which holds that Middle Eastern attitudes toward Israel can never be understood from an "American colonialist perspective." In other words, they should be viewed from the point of view of Israel's alleged role as a base of American imperialism.

Hamas' program of creating an Islamic radical state to replace Israel -- a genocidal agenda -- Esposito has characterized the Palestinian terror group as a community-focused organization that, in addition to its violence, does a considerable amount of societal good via such productive activities as "honey [production], cheese-making, and home-based clothing manufacture." He likened Yasser Arafat's calls for jihad to social initiatives for the launching of a "literacy campaign" or a "fight against AIDS." And he has called former professor Sami al-Arian, a terrorism-supporter with strong links to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a "consummate professional."

With regard to the 9/11 attacks, Esposito traces their root causes not to fanatical Islamic extremism, but directly to the doorstep of the United States and what he deems its exploitation of Muslim nations. He advises Americans “to look at the proximate grievances, not to justify what terrorists do, but to be able to address, when one can, those conditions which foster the growth of radicalism and extremism in societies overseas.” “There are real grievances,” he continues. “It is not as though we are dealing with a bunch of crazies.... One needs to ask why ... did someone like 
Osama bin Laden acquire something of a cult following? He did because some of the things he appealed to were real issues that exist in the Muslim world and real sources of anti-Americanism as well.”

Complete List of Scheduled Speakers:

John Esposito, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Joseph Montville, Naomi Tutu, Virginia Gray Henry, Imam Achmat Salie, Imam Muhammad Agherdien, Imam Hasan Qazwini, Imam Mohammad Elahi, Imam Mohamed Mardini, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Phyllis Berman, Reverend Joseph Summers, Geshe Gendun Gyatso, Sharif Abdullah, Steve Spreitzer, David Crumm, Adil Akhtar, Said Khan, Rasool Chaudry, Steve Olweean, Imad Hamad, Nadia Fadel, Ihsan Alkhatib, Daniel Tutt, Irene Nasser, Nadeem Savage, Amjad Quadri, Usama DeLozenzo, Mumtaz Haque, Ohad Bar Shalom, Osama Siblani, Charles Mabee, Shareef Akeel, Paula Gutlove, Brenda Rosenberg, Sarah Sayeed, Fatima Al-Hayaani, Josephine Griffin, Cathy Cheal, Michael Sevilla, John Suggs, James Dow, Heather Ecker, Don Matthews

List of Unconfirmed Speakers (as of February 23, 2009):

U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Farid Senzai, Mohamed Ayoob, Muqtedar Khan, and Hemlata Pokharna

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