By Susan Schwartz, TMO
With the phenomenon of Islamophobia on the rise and now the province of Presidential candidates, thoughtful Americans welcome organizations which confront this problem and work toward solutions. The United States cannot truly fulfill its democratic destiny until the issue of Islamophobia is consigned to the dustbin of history. In addition, many other problems – perhaps trumping Islamophobia in impact – call out for Islamic participation with the concurrent application of Islamic values. The Arab Spring and what Americaâ€™s role should be, and the Islamic movements outside of the United States are but two.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) successfully examined these issues during its 11th Annual Conference, rising once again to the challenge inherent in its founding principles. The Convention took place this past Saturday in Los Angeles and was titled: â€œSpring Forward: Americaâ€™s Role in A Changing Worldâ€. The Convention consisted of two parts: three work sessions and an evening banquet with speakers.
During the welcome by MPAC President Salaam Al Marayati, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca spoke about Islamophobia and praised the Los Angeles Muslim community in general and MPAC in particular for their cooperation with law enforcement. His presentation might well have been the prologue to the second workshop session. In a direct approach, Sheriff Baca reminded his audience that the United States Constitution grants religious liberty. There should be no interference in the construction of a church, synagogue or mosque. He said that he, like all law enforcement officers, took an oath to defend the Constitution. If there are officers who for reasons of deep seated bigotry are unable to reconcile their positions with their oath, they should leave the office. He received a standing ovation.
The first session, Plenary I , featured Dr. Nayyer Ali, a member of the MPAC Board, as moderator and was titled: â€œUS Foreign Policy: Potentials and Pitfallsâ€. A diverse panel considered the question of US foreign policy towards the nations of the Arab Spring. While there were answers as diverse as the participants, the results were a mixture of optimism, pessimism, and a wait and see attitude. There was consensus that an American Muslim role is imperative. D Ali gave a summary that perhaps best describes the work of the session.
He said that what we see in the Arab world is the end of the post colonial slumber period much like 1989 was for East Europe. Pay attention to the input of Islam, he continued. It will play a large role and will be integrated into democratic governments.The message of the Koran is a perfect guide as it calls for justice, religious and political freedom, and consensus. Injustice is un Islamic. While the Koran is not a political document, it lays the framework for a just society. The concept of Shura intrinsically prevents dictatorship. â€œThe Arab spring will evolve into something we find admirableâ€.
â€œI feel as if I have attended a graduate level political seminarâ€ said one young woman.
A second session followed a luncheon break. This session was titled: â€œThe Industry of Hate in the Public Squareâ€. Edina Lekovic, MPACâ€™s Director of Policy and Programing, was the moderator. She described a whirlwind of activity with emphasis currently on Loweâ€™s stores withdrawal of sponsorship for the TLC show All American Muslim.
Before the session began, each attendee was given a publication by the Center for American Progress. The book is titled: â€œFear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in Americaâ€.
One of the authors, Wajahat Ali, was the first presenter. Mr. Ali is also a playwright, journalist, attorney, humorist, and blogger. â€œCongratulations. The Muslim agenda is in placeâ€. He cited, facetiously, a Muslim beauty queen and stealth halal turkeys. Mr. Ali spoke of the recent decision of Loweâ€™s stores to remove their sponsorship of the widely acclaimed television series, All American Muslim. He surprised his audience by telling them that the pressure on Loweâ€™s to withdraw its support was initiated by the work of one man. He identified this man as David Canton, virtually the lone member of the highly touted Florida Family Association, and a man with a history of bothering corporations. He continued by saying that even Mr. Cantonâ€™s web site was poorly done. Yet, like the effect of a megaphone, the efforts of one man was presented as a large group effort.
â€œIts like watching a balloon deflateâ€ whispered one audience member.
He cited bloggers Pamela Geller and David Horowitz for their role in taking this issue and publicizing it. He referenced the book he co authored and told his audience to read about the money trails, the donors and the amounts they have contributed, the beneficiaries with their organizations and/or web sites. The book is truly encyclopedic and a valuable weapon in confronting and defeating Islamophobia.
Attendees were given an opportunity to fill out sign up sheets indicating their willingness to work with MPAC in this crucial venture.
Steven Rohde, a well known civil rights attorney and activist, spoke next. He recited a poem which he had written which paraphrased the famous work of the Reverend Martin Niemoller about the German intellectualsâ€™ reluctance to speak up against injustice because they were not not initially targeted. In this version, the Muslims were the minerâ€™s canary.
Mr. Rohde expressed his willingness to stand with Muslims and fight with them against any injustice turned their way. The audience gave him a standing ovation.
Aziza Hasan was the last presenter. She is MPACâ€™s Director of Southern California Government Relations. She said that we are commanded by the Koran to stand up for truth and to speak up against injustice. She told her audience to anticipate and to build. We can reasonably expect that Islamophobia will get worse by the election of 2012. We can prepare for that battle. We will build alliances and work with those already in place.
The final session, Plenary II, was titled: â€œIslamic Movements: Help or Hindranceâ€. Haris Tarin who is the Executive Director of MPACâ€™s Washington, D. C. office was the moderator. Will political movements, suppressed for decades, be able to lead the people in a government that is democratic and pluralistic?
Salaam Al Marayati introduced Haris Tarin and complimented him on bringing the MPAC Washington, D. C. office to new levels of influence. In the Arab world, he noted, Islamic groups were able to organize against the dictators in power.
The Muslim world entered modernity through colonialism and therefore entered it as subjects, said panelist Haroon Mogdul, an Associate Editor at Religion Dispatches, a Senior Editor for The Islamic Monthly, and a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Dr. Jasser Auda said that the landscape is complex. For example, the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood is closer to liberal youth than to the senior leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Dr. Auda is an Associate Professor at the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies. He continued by saying that the Salafist youth are separate from their Imams. Youth are developing the idea of a civil state with an Islamic reference.
Invited guests for the evening banquet were Dr. Cornel West, Professor of Religion at Princeton University and the author of â€œRace Mattersâ€ and Ebrahim Rasool, South African ambassador to the United States.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council has worked since 1988 to promote an American Muslim community which will enrich American society through the application of Islamic principles. These principles are Mercy, Justice, Peace, Human Dignity, Freedom and Equality. MPAC has become the go to group for media and government officials. American Muslims have come to accept it as a spokesgroup on their behalf.
MPACâ€™s programs include: an Anti-terrorism campaign; a Hollywood Bureau; Government Relations; Countering Islamophobia; Young Leaders Development, and Interfaith Outreach.
The foregoing is but a small portion of the work of MPAC. To learn more about the group, to contribute, and to volunteer, please access their web site at: www.mpac.org.