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By Brandon Fischer, Global Peace & Security Issue Analyst

As beneficiaries of the American system of government, the chance periodically arises for us to forge our voices into its framework during election season. On November 2, 2010, residents who are of 18 years or above will be granted this opportunity. Through this act, American youth will be able to imprint their mark upon the political climate which will affect them and their families for decades to come.

Muslim-American youth, in particular, have much to benefit from contributing in this way. Many sources have found the Muslim-American culture to produce some of the most ambitious and engaged youth in the country. Muslim youth should take hold of the knowledge, access to resources and networks that they possess and put it to use during a process of enormous impact.

The importance of this event becomes evident when considering how critical November’s election period is for the informed voter. Local, state and federal offices will be up for new blood, allowing for an overhaul of policy perspective. By engaging in this act of voting, it provides each the ability to suggest office holders who will represent their unique concerns and desires.

With the rising protectionist and conservative rhetoric that is observed in public and private circles, there exists a huge need for this type of civic engagement in order to provide a bold counternarrative. Apart from voting for office holders who will counter stereotypes and misperceptions of Muslimhood, this voting should also carry the intention of producing a nation that reflects the self-determination of each of its citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim, etc.

Additionally, several reporters have indicated the steep consequences that will become of the results of November’s election, given the state of Congressional seating. With Tea Partiers gaining some footing and Conservatives facing the prospect of taking over Congress, all party members, Democratic, Republican or otherwise, should be conscious of these divisions and their ability to hugely affect the efficiency of our government.

Works Consulted:

By Jenn Piatt, Global Peace and Security Issue Analyst on US-Muslim world relations

The ban on the face veil in a few European countries, has received wide spread attention. Justifications for the legal bans vary; yet, seem to be centered on three key concepts: national security, the oppression/liberation of women, and the promotion of secularism.

Setting aside the legal and secularist arguments that each of these countries face within the context of their domestic laws, is banning the veil really accomplishing what they set out to? Does removing a face covering achieve national security, liberate women, or enhance the secularist perspective? I’ m unpersuaded by the arguments.

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By Richard Lim, GPS Issue Analyst on US-Muslim world relations

Extremism is no way to respond to extremism. Just as bigotry towards Islam (or any group for that matter) is destructive to society, so too is the knee-jerk reaction that assumes America is a nation of overzealous, Islamophobes. Just as the stereotyping of Muslims is unfair, so too is the stereotyping of Americans as ignorant racists.

In the past year, Muslim perceptions of America have reached a nadir. The outcry over the building of a Muslim community center blocks away from the 9/11 site and the highly-publicized efforts of radical “Pastor” Terry Jones to burn the Qur’an have seemed to confirm a pattern of intolerance that has increased since 9/11.

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About two weeks ago Julia and I attended the US Global Leadership Council’s annual conference. The day was filled with brilliant speakers, but in the end we both agreed that one of our favorites was Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Working shop. He discussed “Muppet Diplomacy”, the idea that through educational television we can develop nations and encourage a more positive relationship between the U.S. and other nations. As Julia mentioned in an earlier post, this was a refreshing viewpoint on a panel that mostly focused on the direct impact of development on business’ pockets (not so surprising since it was a panel on development’s economic impacts).

Sesame Workshop was founded thirty-eight years ago to help low income children in the U.S. prepare for school. The concept was simple: use television to address the developmental needs of children. Since then, the Sesame Street model has gone global. Sesame Workshop works with 18 countries (Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt ,France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Mexico, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Russia, South Africa ) on locally produced media following the Sesame model. Each production team involves the top educators, researchers, psychologists, child development experts, artists, writers and musicians in their respective countries. Today Sesame Street if the most researched show in history.

What is most interesting about this process is how local productions are using the Sesame model to talk about regionally relevant issues. Rechov Sumsum, the production in Israel features Arab-Israeli and Jewish- Israeli muppets living together in harmony. Alam Simsim, Egypt’s production features a bright young female muppet, Khokha, to promote the empowerment and education of young girls.

South Africa’s Takalani Sesame embodies the spirit of the “rainbow nation” and features muppets that speak with accents that reflect the diversity of the nation. Most notable is Kami, a young female muppet who is HIV positive. As South Africa continues to be devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the show is attempting to dispel the culture of silence and stigma surrounding the issue.

The name “Kami” comes from the Setswana word “Kamodelo” which means “acceptance.” Kami is a Read the rest of this entry »

The governments of Belgium, France and Denmark have now forbid (or are in the process of forbidding) Muslim women to wear the burqa in the public sphere. Brendan O’Neill, journalist with Spiked Online, writes that these bans are alienating Europe from the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment, the very ideas that have laid the foundation for tolerance in Europe. France has presented this ban as a continuation of the ideas of the Enlightenment, in a way to protect its own values instead of the old fashioned religious ones, when in reality, this ban will only hinder the human right to express one’s religious beliefs, which is contradictory to what the Enlightenment was all about.

The problem with this ban is that it is a ban against the symbol of oppression, not the oppression itself. The oppression lies within cultural differences that will not disappear with the banning of the veil. If the European governments want to integrate the very small number of women wearing the burqa or niqab, there are other more efficient ways to do so, rather than to risk that these women will never leave their house again. Proper education, training and suitable jobs are a way to go, but this will require strong political will amongst politicians to achieve, as well as an effort made by the different ethnic communities around Europe. In this case, it may seem easier to just ban the burqa.

A discussion has arisen about whether Europe has lost its tolerance. There is a fear that this ban might increase intolerance towards Muslims, and that the fact that these liberal democracies are legislating what persons can or cannot wear might be a sign that the open and free values of Europe are declining. You do not have to respect the burqa or what it symbolizes, but forbidding people to wear different clothes than you is a far step away from the values of the Age of Enlightenment, which secured the freedom to express oneself for all living in liberal democracies.

“What have you done today to make you proud?”

Yvonna Chaka Chaka posed this question to the audience at an event I attended last week and it has been on my mind ever since.

The Global Health Council and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health hosted a film screening of The Motherland Tour- A Journey of African Women with Yvonne Chaka Chaka and discussion on the links between global health, development, gender and the Millennium Development Goals.  Speaking on these issues were Dr. Matthew Lunch (Director of the Global Program on Malaria at the Center for Communication Programs, CCP, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health), Louis da Gama (Malaria Advocacy and Communications Director, Global Health Advocates), and Yvonna Chaka Chaka (Entertainer and Humanitarian).

The Motherland Tour documents Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s travels to meet with women across Africa and discuss the most pressing issues they face– including malaria, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, women’s empowerment, education, and poverty. The film features personal stories and women-lead grassroots efforts to tackle these issues. Although optimistic and uplifting, the film does not shy away from highlighting the gravity of the present situation. The narrator reminds the audience of the harsh realities.

Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds.

For rural populations the closest health clinic may be up to a four day walk away.

Most of these clinics are understaffed and under stocked.

In Sub-Saharan Africa over 24 million children and adults are estimated to be living with HIV.

After the screening, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Louis da Gama explained that they created this film with the intent of “giving voices to the voiceless.” They pointed out that leaders must be reminded of the women they are meant to be representing and who brought them into this world. They also stressed the need for programs focused on empowering women to help themselves. In Yvonne’s words, “I will hold your hand as you help yourself.” Her overall message is that “Africa has hope”, and that hope lies in empowering women (or Well Organized MEN as she joked).

Louis da Gama reminded the audience that just because the economy is in recession does not mean that HIV/AIDs, TB and malaria are also in recession. We need continued funding, to the Global Fund in particular, if there is to be any hope for the improvement of health conditions in Africa.

So back to the question. “What have you done today to make you proud?” Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Louis da Gama recommend that you contact your representatives to encourage them act boldly in support of global health funding. Here are some actions you can take today:

Sign this petition asking Obama to commit $6 billion to the Global Fund in the next three years.

Contact your member of Congress urging to honor the promise of $1 billion a year by supporting full funding for malaria.

Contact your members of Congress and urge them to continue exercising leadership on this critical issue.

Go ahead, make yourself proud!

Americans for Informed Democracy, in partnership with Unity Productions Foundation and the 9/11 Unity Walk, is proud to present the second installment of the Hope Not Hate/20,000 Dialogues Film Series:

A screening and discussion of

On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly

with special guest Ambassador Akbar Ahmed


Saturday September 11th, 3-5:30pm

DC Jewish Community Center – 1529 16th Street NW, Washington, DC

(Nearest Metro: Dupont Circle)

Free, but space is very limited!


Click Here to RSVP

About the film: On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly follows one Muslim-American man on his quest to obtain a pilot’s license. But will the “land of opportunity” deny Monem his dream in the aftermath of 9/11 and in the face of heightened domestic security? The cinema verité-style documentary reveals a funny, loveable, altogether human Muslim-American as he pursues the American dream against tides of negative public perception.

About the speaker: Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is the author of the recent book Journey Into America: The Challenge of Islam. He is also the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and has been called by the BBC “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam.” Click here to watch Amb. Ahmed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

All students attending the event will be entered into a raffle for 1) a travel scholarship to Americans for Informed Democracy’s annual student conference in spring 2011 2) grants to organize similar cultural awareness programs on their campus and 3) free copies of the DVD of the film! And if you bring a friend, you’ll get a bonus raffle entry!

Share this Flier Below with Your Friends and Post it on Your Campus! (Right-click and save the flier to your desktop, then print!)

Click Here to RSVP Today

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Ever since my original post on the controversy surrounding the construction of a supposed “mosque” (I will explain the quotations later in this piece), I have had several conversations with friends and relatives, both in favor of and against the project. I want to take advantage of this space to respond to some of the criticisms I have heard as well as reiterate some of the points I made in my original post as I feel they are important to emphasize.

First is my response to the critique I seem to continually come across from people opposed to the “mosque” who say that my opposition to their opposition is somehow infringing upon their right to be against it. My guess is that this is rooted in opponents dissatisfaction with being called either “ignorant,” “racist,” or both. Neither in my original post, nor in my subsequent writings and conversations have I ever advocated the denial of FIrst Amendment rights to anyone opposing the project. Instead, all I have done is exercised my own First Amendment right to call out what I see as blatant ignorance and bigotry.

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Well a mosque is different from those other two houses of worship in some very important ways, but most obviously, they are different because each structure is designed and built for the purposes of practicing a particular faith. A church, Christianity; a synagogue, Judaism; a mosque, Islam. In the United States, we have all three of these structures in many different cities and towns, sometimes right across from one another. We have all three of these structures in the United States because of the founding principle of this nation that we shall not discriminate within our laws for or against any particular religion or creed; that every citizen has the right to practice whatever religion they so choose. It has been a guiding principle of this nation for over 200 years and has brought about iconical phrases that have permeated the American lexicon, such as “separation of church and state.” However, if you have not heard recently, according to the right-wing news media, there is apparently a place within this country that is exempted from this principle, that is subject to prejudices of one religion over another, that is eerily reminiscent of the kind of religious persecution that the settlers of the American continent were fleeing from when they crossed the Atlantic so many years ago. And oddly enough, it’s located in New York City, the metropolis of metropolises, and arguably one of the most culturally diverse settings in the entire United States, if not the world.

If you don’t already know by my inferences, I am of course referring to the disgraceful controversy that has surrounded the construction of an Islamic mosque near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers once stood. Apparently, the right-wing within the media got completely incensed by the idea of religious pluralism, which is what the construction of this mosque is meant to symbolize. Now, the right-wing intolerants have been trying to portray this well-intentioned initiative as some kind of game of “Capture the Hill,” and by letting this mosque be constructed, it is essentially letting the terrorists claim victory. I don’t believe its necessary to go into how utterly absurd and ignorant and disgraceful such a portrayal is, so instead I will pose the question of why this has become such an issue and make an attempt at an answer.

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Well, last Thursday, we officially launched the Hope Not Hate/20,000 Dialogues Film Series that has been months in the making, and is only just getting started! Oh, and by “we” I mean not just AIDemocracy, but also our invaluable partner, Unity Productions Foundation (UPF).

Our first screening took place at Busboys and Poets and we screened Prince Among Slaves, a documentary about an African Muslim prince that was enslaved in the American south. It was actually my first time seeing the film, so I was just as anxious as the audience was, and at the conclusion of the screening, the film did not disappoint. I encourage everyone to see it if you haven’t already. Contact UPF for more details about acquiring a copy. Afterward, we then conducted a dialogue session about the film, the issues it raises, and how it relates to contemporary society and our relationship with Muslims and Islam today. UPF, through their 20,000 Dialogues program, has conducted approximately 300 dialogues so far, and we look forward to working with them to continue increasing that number.

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