Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pacifica Institute in Irvine Hosts Event Against Violent Islamic Extremism

Last night, I attended an event at the Pacifica Institute in Irvine, California. It was entitled, "Muslim Voices Against Extremism". The panelists were Imam Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Center of Orange County, Jihad Turk, President of Bayan Claremont, a graduate school that trains Muslim scholars, Imam Sayed Mostafa al-Qazwini, a local Shi'ite cleric, and Ozgur Koca, adjunct professor of Islamic Studies at Claremont Lincoln University. Another scheduled panelist Nayereh Tohidi, professor of gender studies at California State University at Northridge and research associate at the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA, was unable to attend due to illness. The event was moderated by Sophia Pandya, a professor of religious studies at California State University at Long Beach. The audience consisted of some 200-300 people consisting of inter-faith and local people. The event was also sponsored by local Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

* Note: I was able to videotape the event. In places below where I indicate uncertainly as to who said what, please refer to the video. Also note that many of the names of people in this report lack appropriate diacritical marks, principally Turkish names.

It should be noted that the Pacifica Institute is a creation of Fethullah Gulen, born in Turkey but who resides in Pennsylvania and a rather controversial figure. He is described by some sources as a Muslim working to build bridges between faiths and by others as an Islamist. Pacifica is a non-profit established in 2003 by Gulen and a group of Turkish-Americans involved in the Hizmet movement. Much of their agenda consists of hosting a series of speaking events.

The program, which began with a short introductory film on the Pacifica Institute, consisted of 10 minute presentations by each panelist followed by q and a.

To highlight, Siddiqi gave his usual presentation saying that Islam is a peaceful religion that condemns acts of terror. He read a  statement from the Fiqh Council of North America (of which he is chairman) condemning the attacks in Paris.

Qazwini placed the blame on extremism largely on the historical rule of dictators in the Arab world and lack of freedom. He also mentioned that the West has supported many of the dictators in the Middle East.

Koca told the audience that Islam was completely opposite of what has been occurring in terms of violence and murder. He listed all the positive aspects of Islam in terms of making everyone's lives better.

Turk (who speaks often in Southern California on Islam),  delivered a historical biography of the Prophet Mohammad from his birth up till the moment he returned to Mecca and proclaimed amnesty to all his enemies. Unfortunately, he only had ten minutes, so the later years of Mohammad's life were not covered. He stressed the positive side of Mohammad's life and his reforms.

During the q and a, I got the first question (beginning of the 4th video). I identified myself a Christian and referred to the t-shirt I was wearing that bore the Arabic character for "n", which ISIS had been placing on Christian homes in Iraq and Syria identifying Christians ("Nazarene"), so that they could be killed.

Image result for arabic symbol for christians , + isis

I pointed out that a Middle Eastern Christian group in the US had adopted that symbol to bring attention to the plight of Christians, and  I asked all of the panelists whether they would be comfortable wearing such a t-shirt to show their support for persecuted Christians.

The response was positive, Qazwini said he would be proud to wear it. Koca asked if I had the shirt in his size. One of the panelists ( I don't recall whether it was Turk or Qazwini) stressed that he believed that Christians belonged in the Middle East and should not leave.) Siddiqi's response was also positive, but I don't think he actually answered the question of whether he would wear the t-shirt. (I can't imagine seeing Imam Siddiqi in a t-shirt anyway.)

In other questions, One Venezuelan woman pointed out that (Islamic) extremism was also present in South America. Her question was more of a speech, but I believe it was she who asked if the panelists envisioned the day when there would be Islamic imams. That question was evaded. It was pointed out that women could lead in prayer, and one panelist (Qazwini, I think) said he wished women were ruling the world. I did not hear anyone say that women should or would someday be imams.

There was a Jewish man who defended the state of Israel when speaking of harmony among the religions. I scoured the audience for reactions and it appeared by the non-verbals that the reaction was hardly positive though nobody made any negative comments.

After the event concluded, I was approached by two reporters from the Orange County Register. One merely wanted more clarification on the symbol on my t-shirt. The second reporter had several questions. She asked if this was my first attendance at such an event. I said that I had attended several. She asked if I had learned anything, and I said that I had not, and that I had heard it all before including from Dr Siddiqi whom I had heard speak many times. She asked me what the problem was. I told her first that nobody was blaming all Muslims for what was occurring in the world, that most Muslims were good people-but that there was a problem. She asked me to be specific. I told her that there was persecution of religious minorities throughout the Islamic world including the Baha'i in Iran. I also mentioned the plight of the European Jews and my oft-stated description of Jews in Europe being attacked on the streets if they wore distinctive Jewish garb. I added that such attacks were generally not at the hands of Europeans, but by young male Muslim immigrants. This, I said has to be addressed.

Here is the video:

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