Islam and Western Society

Friday, May 6, 2011

CSI’s Islam and Western Society took place on April 6, 2011 at Western Presbyterian Church in Washington DC. The event had five speakers representing a broad array of different positions on the challenges facing Muslims living in Western Societies. Some, like Deborah Weiss Esq. and Dr. Ali Alyami highlighted current challenges, while others such as Pastor John Wimberly and Dr. Ahmed Moen discussed ways in which communities could work together even in the face of conflicts over religion. Dr. Diane Perlman, a psychologist whose research focuses on perception and conflict, rounded out the discussion with some additional context.
James Littleton moderated the discussion.

Pastor John Wimberly
Pastor Wimberly argued that Muslims and Islam in general are facing the same pressures as all communities of immigrants that came to the United States. Rather than condemn members of the Muslim community, the United States should do more to integrate it into the mainstream society. The United States’ greatest strength lies in its diversity and its ability to welcome in new peoples from around the world.

Dr. Ali Alyami.
Dr. Alyami argued that the lives of Muslims in the west are greatly complicated by the government of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government uses its wealth to advance the religious agenda of its Wahabi religious leaders.  This is done through both Arabic language media and through funding of religious schools.
The Saudi government’s activism abroad is directly contrary to the interests of Muslim communities. According to Dr. Alyami, the Saudi government actively advocates separation between Muslims and non Muslims as well as advocates an extremely conservative interpretation of Sharia law.  This advocacy is not only directed at Saudi citizens, but at Muslim communities of all origins.

Dr. Ahmed Moen
Ahmed Moen asserted that Americans of both Muslim and Christian faiths share many values. These shared values were not just religious, but stretched to many other parts of public life.  He framed the issue as a matter of religious tolerance—religious tolerance which could be reinforced through dialogue between the mainstream and Muslim communities.
Unlike the other speakers, Dr. Moen pursued the most explicitly religious course, supporting his arguments with citations from the Quran as well as the Bible.
Moen argued that Islam has a long tradition of coexistence, citing Ethiopia as a major example. Islam had a presence in Ethiopia since the time of the prophet Mohammed, when according to the Quran the country’s Christian King offered Mohammed and his followers protection from their enemies on the Arabian Peninsula.  Since then both Christian and Muslim communities have coexisted in Ethiopia and have often resolved their differences through interreligious dialogue and arbitrators.

Deborah Weiss, Esq.
Deborah Weiss’s concerns centered on the application of Sharia Law in the United States as advocated by nonviolent Islamists. According to Weiss, non-violent Islamists, such as those ideologically aligned with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood are a danger to the United States. Weiss argues that Islamists advocate the privileging of their own religion above others. This is done in part by requesting special accommodations- such as protecting the name of Islam from criticism- and through the usage of Sharia Law. Sharia, according to Weiss, is intrinsically at odds with the principles of the United States Constitution and is incompatible with mainstream western culture. Weiss singled out Sharia’s approach to women’s rights as one of the most significant issues.  Furthermore, Islamists seek to undermine the separation of Church and State.
Like Dr. Alyami she argued that the isolation of Muslim communities in the United States and Europe was a problem. According to Deborah, this isolation leads Muslims to set up parallel institutions separate from mainstream society, and also contributes to the radicalization of Muslims and facilitated connections with sometimes violent extremist organizations in the Middle East.  These points met the most resistance from the Wimberly, who argued that these features are much less ominous, but rather are temporary traits exhibited by most immigrant communities in the United States.

Dr. Diane Perlman
Dr. Perlman argued that America’s sense of vulnerability has given rise to a somewhat irrational view of the other. In this case certain members of the mainstream society in the United States are afraid of the Muslim community. This leads to reactions that exacerbate the resentments and tensions between the two communities such as the Quran burning in Florida. However these tensions are not about the other, as much as they are about the about perceptions.
In this way, Dr. Perlman’s arguments mesh most closely with those of Dr. Moen’s. The key to resolving tensions between the communities is through communication and dialogue.

For more information on the speakers, check out our speakers’ biographies on the CSI Website.


Videos about and from the Congo

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Citizen Global and VOA have united to increase awareness about the atrocities of the Eastern Congo. CSI has blogged about this topic before and subsequently wanted to share the videos put together on the topic.

You can see videos about the crisis, including interviews with experts, hear from the Congolese women, and see stories about rehabilitation.


CSI Tabletop Discussion Happy Hour

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Qadafi may be one of the most controversial leaders in modern history. This week he defied international calls for restraint against protesters as 1000's have been reported killed. He has vowed to fight till death, claiming the demonstrations held across the Arab world are part of the US conspiracy. However, Qadafi has not always been seen in such a negative light. He was appointed to head the African Union in 2009, and being his female body guard is a highly sought out position.

Who is Qadafi? What will he do next? Does he really have psychological issues or does his speeches have some point that is simply denied by his opponents?

Conflict Solutions International would like to invite you to a table top discussion to discuss Qadafi and his past, present and future.  No speakers, No panelists. Just order a drink or coffee and lets spark a friendly, and maybe controversial conversation. 

What: CSI Tabletop Discussion Happy Hour
When: Wednesday, March 2, 6:30pm
Where: One Lounge, 1606 20th Street NW, DC
Who: You and your friends


11.02.11 الثورة المصرية

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Egyptian Revolution- 11.02.11

I am not Egyptian, but I am in my heart. After living in Cairo for almost three years, I feel a sense of homage to Egypt and its people. Sitting in my office yesterday with Al Jazeera streaming online, I was in tears. The 30 second speech by Suleiman was so quick, followed by such jubilation! Did I hear what I think I just heard? I saw this happiness the day before when the Amy said the demands of the protesters would be met, but only hours later, Mubarak defiantly said he would not be pressured to step aside. So what just happened?  What exactly happened between 11.01.11 and 11.02.11 is unclear as of now, but the speech by Suleiman, stated without the government seal behind, quickly laid out that governmental affairs had been handed over to the military. Mubarak had given up his powers.

What will happen after this is still a unknown- and that is OK. For many Westerners- you need a plan, you need to think through your agenda and have every step established. However, for Egyptians- you don't. You get one thing done first, then you think later about the rest. There is no need to worry about everything, as its God's will, IsA (inshallah) as one may say.

When will elections happen? What about the Muslim Brotherhood? What about the Parliament, Cabinet, the new VP?  Today- these questions do not matter. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is about joy. It is about feeling/being "free" after feeling captive in your own country.

Westerners have come to Egypt for years as tourists, students and workers. Each has its own experience, but each has been witness to the poverty and pollution, each probably has asked- why is it like this? Why don't the people care? Simple-the people care, but regime for years played its cards right- The government treated the people like children- Telling them they were not "mature" or "ready." And kept them from trying to reach for more by using police and central security to quiet any growing voices, creating a world of fear.

The protests, however, gave them a voice and with the voice- gave them power- gave everyone power. Men and women of all ages were there- children, youth, adults, and elderly. Liberals and Conservatives, life long activists/bloggers and those that never had a voice a before, the poor and the rich, the farmers and the actors. Women felt like equals without harassment.  Without the government, they set a city within Tahrir- tents of medicine, tents of food, tents to charge your mobiles. They set up speakers- one for music, one for political chants. They set up large sheets and screen to watch Mubarak give his speeches. They put up pictures of the martyrs. They even cleaned the entire area of Tahrir before I had time to write this post.

This is also something any westerner should have seen and felt when coming to Egypt- the hospitality of Egyptians. The desire to take care of their family and friends. Tahrir was a giant home to Egyptians. They united as a family.

Many people are pointing to social media as a mechanism that started the demonstrations, and I do not doubt the important of social media, however, we must remember that internet use is still limited in Egypt (We are talking about a country that still has high poverty rates). Social Media is important for tying young internet users together, and did unite many to start the protests, but it was a lit match. The gas that drove the fire was the Egyptians overcoming ingrained fear. Not every Egyptian originally believed in these demonstrations, not every Egyptian wanted an immediate departure of Mubarak right away, but people began talking and then believing in the possibility!

We have seen social media bring people to the streets but fail to bring real change in Egypt before - during the Kefeya rise about 6 years ago. On a much smaller scale, protesters took to the street after online discussions. Soon however, people turned on each other all wanting different things- different policies, different goals.  In the time that has passed, young Egyptian bloggers have used the internet as a personal diary to share their views with a known or unknown virtual community. There were also citizen journalists that wanted to keep alive the reality of Egyptian government spreading videos of abuse.  The largest Egypt erupted was on April 6, 2008- when Facebook again played a role, but it was the workers (many without internet) united together.   In all these prior cases, they  lost a strong unification to move forward with a collective idea of change. They were online sharing their voices and unifying, but on the streets soon the unified strength lost its muster. This time in 2011, they left those differences aside. This time they united as Egyptians and said- the rest will be figured out lately, IsA.

They spread the word online, but they also spread the word by mouth, print flyers, and by religious gatherings (be it mosque or church). There were ups and downs, but ups poured more gas and kept the people coming. One up- overcoming the police, one down -looting and thuggery, one up- people finding police tags on thugs, one down- over 200 people dead and over 1000s injured, one up- realizing they could not stop because of the martyrs,  one down-economy wailing, one up- Wael Ghoneim's interview, one up-workers unite, one down- Mubaraks speech, one up- the call answered for a day of departure!

The rest of Egypt's future story is unknown and untold. A land that was run by foreigners for thousands of years, then by the military regime, is now looking for a civilian rule. Egyptians are proud people, and at this time, they are at their proudest.

As I danced outside the Egyptian embassy last night, I saw old and young, tears and smiles. This small group was a glimpse into Egypt and I am proud with you.


Poverty and Human Trafficking in South Asia

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Poverty and Human Trafficking

Southeast Asia is a hub for human trafficking.  Too often, young girls are lured by traffickers through promises of well paying jobs in the cities.  If you have read Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl Wudunn, you will already be aware of the horrors endured by women and girls caught in the web of modern day slavery, and if you don't know, read the book.  It's easy to read but hard to handle.

The United Nations describes trafficking in persons as the “recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion abduction, of fraud, for the purpose of exploitation”.  It is modern day slavery

I write for a woman that runs a non-profit in Northeastern India.  The work I have done for her has changed me.  It's overwhelming to realize that such brutality and twisted sexuality exists in the world.  On the other hand, it is an impetus to keep working and making a difference in the world.  

Poverty is the primary factor in human trafficking.  Most girls are not outright kidnapped, at least not in the sense that they are taken from their homes in the dead of night.  They are often promised a  modeling job or simply selling vegetables to provide for their families, then locked up in a brothel until they die of AIDS.  

What if they had job opportunities in their home villages?  With a bridge out of poverty, the path to slavery is blocked.  

Married to a Vision: Hasina Kharbhih

A successful entrepreneur is married to a vision and cannot rest until it has transformed all of society.” - Hasina Kharbhih

 A young Indian woman who works Northern India, Hasina Kharbhih’s work involves issues like child trafficking, HIV/AIDS intervention, and sustainable livelihood.  She first received recognition as a teenager when she was chosen as a Commonwealth Youth Ambassador for Positive Living. She was then selected as an Ashoka fellow because they want to help her in her efforts to spread the Meghalaya Model, an impressive and complete strategy to deal with child trafficking.

Her model is one of the most effective in all of Asia, and involves rescuing and restoring the lives of young girls caught in the web of human trafficking.  She also rehabilitates them with job training and professional counseling. 

Despite the world’s efforts to stop slavery in the late nineteenth century, it is today the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, with an estimated $32 billion in revenue yearly.  In fact, there are more people enslaved today than in any other time of the world, according to Mary Burke, director of the Project to End Human Trafficking.  They are trafficked to provide labor (domestic services, agricultural or sweatshop labor) or sexual services (street work, brothels, pornography, or massage parlors). 

Throwing Back Starfish:  Trina Talukdar

Are you familiar with the Hawaiian fable about the boy who, after a massive storm over the sea, threw starfish back into the ocean one by one?  An older man ridiculed him for it, saying that no matter how many starfish he threw back, he couldn’t even make a dent in the amount washed up on the beach.  He shrugged his shoulders and threw back another one.  “It makes a difference to that one,” he replied.

Trina Talukdar is doing just that.  She rescues girls from human trafficking and trains them in the career of their choice.  Just recently she rehabilitated a seven-year-old girl.  (I know, we don’t want to hear it, we don’t want to know, we don’t want to imagine the tortures this little girl faced.  But if it was your hometown that lost girl after girl to slavery, wouldn’t you want more people to know and stop this insanely lucrative crime from happening?)  The girls paint, sing, attend concerts, visit museums, and are becoming women who will change the world.  Trina aptly calls them her Revolutionaries. 

Trina Talukdar and a few of her Revolutionaries

This battle is against women, and will be won by women.  Have you ever thought that you would have been active in the Underground Railroad, had you been alive then?  If so, you have now been introduced to a new form of slavery, and have the opportunity to stop it.  You can be one of this generation’s Abolitionists.  I wholeheartedly believe it can be stopped. 

Let the Revolution begin.  


Pro Egypt Protests in Washington DC

Monday, January 31, 2011

On Friday and Saturday crowds gathered in Washington DC to support Egypt's pro democracy demonstrations.

Crowds gathered outside of the White House on Friday and Saturday and called upon the US government to cease its support Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Several groups planned rallies for Saturday. One group of protesters marched from the Egyptian Embassy to the the White House

An onlooker watches as a second group of protesters arrived at Lafayette Square

The crowd was buoyant as the second group of protesters arrived.

Activists shouted slogans in both Arabic and English calling for Mubarak to step down.
The protesters in Washington DC have called for the government to take a less equivocal stand on the protests in Egypt. On Sunday President Obama expressed his support for “an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”


Review of National Geographic's North Korea

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Three nights ago my husband and I watched a documentary on North Korea by National Geographic.  It came out back in 2007 and a lot has happened in North Korea since then, but the core values of the nation are essentially the same.  Then again, they're essentially the same as they were in the 1950s. 

It began with a humanitarian mission to the "hermit country".  A crew from National Geographic teamed up with a doctor who planned on performing one thousand operations on North Koreans with cataracts that cause blindness.  The documentary team was undercover, obviously, and they were the only Americans in the nation. 

I won't tell you too much about it, because it is worth watching yourself, but a few things blew me away.  First, there are two MILLION soldiers guarding the border between North and South Korea.  Two million!  There are also over a million land mines and an electric fence. 

Second, they had a famine during the 1990s that killed three million North Koreans.  The children that grew up during that time are permanently stunted in growth. 

Third, they worship Kim Jung-Il like he is the son of God.  Literally, that's not an exaggeration.  As the people removed their bandages after their successful surgeries, they ran to a picture of Kim Jung-Il with prayers of thanks and promises to do more to make him happy.  

Last, the prison camps are like something out of a Cold War science fiction movie.  If you defect from North Korea and manage to slip past the soldiers, land mines, and electric fence, your entire family is placed in hard labor prison camps.  Children, too, for the rest of their lives.  One defector recounted a story of when he was a guard in one of those camps about a group of children who fought over a kernel or corn in cow dung.  And it's not only the families of defectors that are placed in these camps, it is anyone who is remotely disloyal to Kim Jung-Il. 

I am normally one who sees the possibility of a solution to anything.  Not here.  The children are taught from the day they are able to understand that America is the enemy.  Old men promise to kill all the Americans to honor Kim Jung-Il.  It's hard to imagine a nation that size and with so many people, so completely under the control of such an evil leader.  Check it out.  Tell me what you think.


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