Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Interview with the Forum and Link regarding the Sixth Circuit Bible Believers' decision

The Bible Believers v. Wayne County et al. decision of the Sixth Circuit Court
Questions and Answers with Professor and Attorney Ihsan Alkhatib*

On October 28, 2015, the Sixth Circuit Court decided on the appeal for a re-hearing of Bible Believers v. Wayne County et al. The Court decided for the Bible Believers delivering a decision and an opinion that legal scholars considered a significant development in First Amendment jurisprudence. The Bible Believers is a group of evangelical street preachers who used inflammatory tactics and rhetoric to spread their religious message during the Arab American Festival in 2012. The Forum and Link interviewed Professor Ihsan Alkhatib, assistant professor of Political Science at Murray State University in Kentucky with questions regarding the significance of the decision and its implications.

Forum and Link: What do you think of this decision? Were you surprised?
Professor Ihsan Alkhatib: It is a significant First Amendment decision that has been covered by the national media and has caught the attention of First Amendment legal scholars. I was surprised by the decision. The County won at the district court level winning a summary judgment. The Bible Believers appealed and lost. Then they requested that the full court hear the case. At this third bite of the apple, the Bible Believers won and in effect new First Amendment law was made.

F & L: Who are the Bible Believers?
I.A.: The Bible Believers is a street preaching group led by Reuven Israel. I have listened to and watched hours of Reuven and his fellow street preachers spreading their religious message based on their understanding of the Bible and the Christian tradition. It’s not the prosperity Bible of Joel Osteen where you hear an uplifting message. The style of the Bible Believers, an evangelical group, is a fire and brimstone kind of preaching, loud and in your face. They believe that by yelling their message, that if you do not believe in Jesus the way we do then you are going to hell. They believe that by using inflammatory and theatrical tactics, they will be effective preachers of the Gospel. That the hard approach would receive attention. Indeed, their tactics are successful and they have a winning strategy given the goals they set for themselves. They get the attention of the public- it’s a high intensity drama. Had they been peaceful evangelists handing out New Testaments with a smile, their preaching would have been uneventful. They are right about that- they are hard to ignore.

F & L: Why did they choose to target and ruin the Arab American Festival? Are they Islamophobes?
I.A.: They chose the event because it is in Dearborn and it is probably the biggest Arab American festival in the nation. The fact that Dearborn is identified with its visible Arab demographic presence is a blessing and a curse. The curse is that it inevitably attracts the likes of Bible Believers. As to hate, they do hate Islam and its Prophet but it’s not only Islam that they mock and hate- Muslims have good company. They try to evangelize the Jews, the Catholics, the Hare Krishna and the Buddhists because they deem their religions false religions and because Jesus is the only way to achieve salvation. They travel around the country preaching their Christian religious message in a harsh and inflammatory language. Even the Court described them as intolerant, offensive and anti- Islamic. It is important to note that it is not only Islam they are against, their preaching is mainly targeted at lapsed Christians and the Christian Catholics whom they consider to be idol worshippers.

F & L: Why was the Court unsympathetic to the Arab and Muslim American community? How could they decide in favor of such a group?
I.A. When a case goes beyond the trial level, the issue becomes bigger than the parties that are named in the caption. Here the case goes to the core of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. When the Sixth Circuit makes the decision, given that we live in a common law system and not a civil law system like Lebanon has, it is the Court making First Amendment law for Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Therefore, their decision is chiefly concerned with the Constitution and the implications of their decision as the law of the jurisdiction. The decision cannot be fairly or realistically understood as the Sixth Circuit choosing an intolerant group over Wayne County sheriffs and the Arab American and Muslim American communities. That is not the case at all.

F & L: What did the Court say? Why did they rule for the Bible Believers?
I.A. They basically said that despite the fact that the group was intolerant the Wayne County sheriffs had an obligation to protect them from an angry audience if that could be reasonably done. The Court was not happy that the sheriffs did not make an effort to stop the youths in the audience from throwing empty bottles and garbage at the Bible Believers. They thought that the sheriffs could and should have stopped the youths from attacking the group and that they should have allowed them to continue to spread their religious message, a message that despite its being intolerant, was protected by the US Constitution’s First Amendment.

F & L: Could the Festival organizers have banned the Bible Believers from the event?
I.A.: As long as they were peaceful, even if they were saying offensive things, and just exercising their constitutional rights, they couldn’t. The event is considered an “open forum” and they had the right to be there to preach their religious message no matter how obnoxious or unpopular it is or, no matter how “vile” and “offensive” it is as the Court put it.

F & L: Could the County have done anything different as to their legal strategy?
I.A.: It is a clear fact that there was some ambiguity as to the law in situations where you have an unpopular speaker, an angry audience and the nature of the obligations of law enforcement. Judge Griffin admitted that in his concurrence stating that “the right at issue was not clearly established at the time of the 2012 Arab International Festival.” I think that Corporation Counsel Zenna El Hassan did her job very well. I think that attorney Nabih Ayad who represented the County and the other defendants/appellees did a great job- he won twice before he lost the third time. The only reason he lost is that the Circuit Court decided to make new law. The case is going to be sent back to the trial judge to set damages. I hope the trial judge takes the fact that the law was not clear at the time in his assessing of damages against the County and the other defendants. The County’s money is taxpayer money and the law was not clear at the time. Now it is.

F & L: What are the implications for the Arab American community in Detroit?
I.A. I am almost certain that intolerant groups will continue to target the Dearborn community and its events, the community just needs to learn to live with that reality and ignore them- we have to teach our kids to do that. With this guidance from the Court, law enforcement now has a better idea of what is expected from them. I hope that the Festival tradition can be resurrected. Also, the Arab and Muslim American community, a community that regularly engages in demonstrations and protests and often has unpopular political messages as to US foreign policy, benefits from any strengthening of First Amendment rights. 
*Interview will appear in the Forum and Link of 11/5/2015.

The Sixth Circuit Court decision:


Bible Believers videos on Youtube:

Bible Believers in Dearborn:


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Iran and Syria: What Al Aqsa? Conquering the Umayyid Mosque

The Umayyid Mosque

The Iranian motley crew

Below is an excerpt from Shi’ite Lebanon: Transnational Religion and the Making of National Identities by Roschanack Shaery-Eisenlohr. The book was published in 2008. This excerpt sheds light on the way Iranian regime sees its role in the Arab world.

Page 110
          The mission was less to literally fight against the Israelis [in 1982], since the main activity of the Iranian Pasdaran was providing military training to Lebanese Shi’ites in Ba’albak; rather, in the words of Mansur, it was “to propagate the idea that Israel is defeatable (tude’- kardan-i isra’il shekast pazir ast).” 68 Most noteworthy is the visit of the group to the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus prior to their departure to Lebanon, to which the journalist, by drawing parallels between the event of Karbala and the Pasdaran’s mission to Lebanon, is giving historic importance.

History was repeating itself, the followers of Husayn were on their way to the Umayyad Mosque again, but with the difference that in the year 61 hijra [i.e., after the battle of Karbala] they were captured by Yazid and this time they were successful conquerors and with weapons in their hands.69 Omid-i Inqilab 36 (3 July 1982): 45.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Imam Hassan Qazwini and his divisive and controversial legacy at the Islamic Center of America:

Imam Qazwini and then President George W Bush

The Islamic Center of America

Imam Hassan Qazwini and his divisive and controversial legacy at the Islamic Center of America:
A mixed sect mosque in Qazwini’s horizon?

You have to admire the former imam of the Islamic Center of America (ICA). He is savvy, speaks English well and has a knack for hobnobbing with politicians. He has good people skills. During his tenure at the ICA he had been particularly popular with the youth and the women in the community Women are the unsung heroes of houses of worship in the US. Many women felt that Imam Qazwini appreciated their contributions to the ICA.

On September 22, 2015 Niraj Warikoo of the Detroit Free Press wrote an article on Imam Hassan al Qazwini based on an interview at the imam’s Canton home. The imam told him that he wants to start his own mosque. Warikoo wrote:
‘While the Islamic Center’s membership was primarily Lebanese Shia, the new center is “not going to be ethnically based, nor sectarian based,” Al-Qazwini added. “It’s going to be appealing to all Muslims, Sunni and Shia ... and all Muslims as far as their ethnicities and races.”

In the interview, Qazwini called himself a “moderate Muslim.”
Qazwini painted himself as a moderate Muslim, a Muslim that embraces Sunnis and Shiites, an imam who wants a mosque that welcomes Sunnis and Shiites of all backgrounds. This sounds great for people who dislike the Sunni-Shiite differentiation which they perceive as division and conflict. But what was Qazwini’s legacy at the ICA? Was he a uniter of Sunnis and Shiites? The clear answer is a definite no.

Qazwini questions the validity of Sunni-Shiite mixed marriages

A key example is what he did a few years ago during the Ashoura commemoration held at the ICA. Ashoura is the Shiite annual commemoration of the martyrdom of imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala in modern day Iraq. It is an emotionally charged occasion. In one of his sermons in Ashoura an emotional Qazwini spoke against Sunni-Shiite mixed marriages and questioned the validity of these marriages. This caused an uproar in the congregation and upset the board. There are many Sunni-Shiite mixed marriages in the world and that includes Dearborn. Some of those in attendance were Sunnis, Shiites married to Sunnis or the children of mixed marriages. They were not happy with this at all.

Imam Mardini assures Muslims: Mixed marriages are valid

The Forum and Link paper of Detroit reacted to the scandal by interviewing the Sunni imam Mardini asking him about the validity of Sunni- Shiites marriages. Mardini affirmed that such marriages are valid.
Osama Siblani criticizes Qazwini

The Arab American News paper wrote an Arabic language editorial criticizing Qazwini for speaking on such a sensitive matter during the very emotional special occasion of Ashoura. The Shiite Lebanese Osama Siblani, himself married to a Sunni, reminded Qazwini that the land of the ICA was donated by none other than Nasser of Egypt, a Sunni Muslim himself.

ICA Board intervention: Muslim unity first

The board of the ICA was unhappy with Qazwini and acted decisively. The board informed the imam that his behavior is unacceptable. The board of the ICA constitutes some of the most successful and most respected individuals not only in the Shiite- American community of Detroit but in the Arab and Muslim American community nationwide. People like the highly respected and successful businessman Ned Fawaz have a national and international reputation for integrity and leadership.  The board engaged in damage control. The Sunni Lebanese Imam Mardini was invited to speak during one of the Ashoura evening programs to emphasize the brotherhood of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, a tenet that the board members believed was part of their vision for the center.
Qazwini’s legacy: A divisive and controversial tenure at ICA

That Ashoura incident was not the only mistake made by Qazwini during his tenure. Next time Warikoo does an interview with the “moderate Muslim” Qazwini we hope he asks him about his controversial and divisive tenure and that Ashoura episode in particular.
The article:

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Imad Hamad's Detroit News column on the FBI, plane surveillance and CVE

Imad Hamad, American Human Rights Council executive director, has written an excellent opinion column for the Detroit News on the issues of the use of FBI surveillance planes and the use of counseling by the FBI for those young Muslims suspected of radicalization and of being high risk for  involvement in terror activity. The column read in part:

There is no doubt that the U.S. faces a real terror threat. And surveillance, when it comports with the law and the democratic traditions of the nation, is a legitimate and necessary law enforcement tool. The FBI planes are not solely an Arab or Dearborn issue, and portraying them as such is inaccurate and perhaps irresponsible as well.

Most importantly for the Arab and Muslim American community, the news of the FBI planes over parts of Metro Detroit came when the Wall Street Journal published on Aug. 5 a report about FBI efforts to counter violent extremism.

The article quoted Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad, who was contacted by a family concerned about their son possibly joining the terror group Islamic State. The Dearborn police helped the family obtain psychiatric help for the troubled teen. The usage of the intervention model of counseling for troubled teens who sympathize with terrorist organizations or indicate interest in joining them is a very important development that was overshadowed by the FBI plane over Dearborn saga. It is a laudable development that did not get the attention it deserves.



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Lessons of the Wissam Allouche case: About lies, not terrorism

Wissam Allouche arrested by the JTTF

Flag of the Lebanese Shia Amal Movement

The Lessons of the Wissam Allouche case:
An American Lebanese Shiite Muslim caught in the government and media dog- and- pony show

Wissam Allouche, a Lebanese Shia immigrant from Lebanon was sentenced to five years in prison for lying on his citizenship application and for lying to get a security clearance from the Department of Defense. The US government had asked for a ten- year sentence.

Allouche’s criminal case began in 2013 and he was tried and convicted in 2015 in the Western District of Texas district court.  After conviction, the US Attorney for the Western district of Texas issued a press release that read in part:

“Jurors found that defendant lied about his previous association with the Amal militia This afternoon in San Antonio, a federal jury convicted 45–year-old Lebanese–born Wissam “Sam” Allouche of knowingly lying to federal authorities on his U.S. citizenship petition about his relationship with the Amal militia, announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin, Acting United States Attorney Richard Durbin, Jr., and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Division.

Following a two-week trial, jurors convicted Allouche of making a false statement to a federal agent and an unlawful attempt to procure and obtain naturalization and citizenship. Evidence presented during trial revealed that Allouche, who migrated to the United States after marrying a U.S. Army soldier, failed to disclose to U.S. immigration authorities the fact that in the 1980s, he was a member of the Amal militia in order to remain in the United States. In addition, while seeking a contract linguist position with the U.S. Department of Defense that required top security clearance, evidence revealed that Allouche failed to disclose that he was held as a prisoner of war by Israel. Present and former relatives testified Allouche later made statements that he subsequently killed an Israeli pilot captured by Hezbollah in retaliation for his imprisonment.
Allouche remains in federal custody pending sentencing scheduled for April 27, 2015. He faces up to ten years in federal prison.”

The indictment filed on May 15, 2013 had three counts, below is an excerpt from the indictment:

[18 U.S.C. § 1425(b)]

            On or about January 12, 2009, within the Western District of Texas, the Defendant
for himself, a person not entitled to naturalization and citizenship, knowingly procured and obtained, and attempted to procure and obtain naturalization and citizenship by falsely stating regarding his Form-400 Application for Naturalization, Part 10, Question 9.c, “No” in response to the question “Have you ever been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with a terrorist organization?” when in truth and fact the Defendant was a fighter in the Amal militia in Lebanon during the early to mid-1980s and after his release as an Israeli prisoner of war, the Defendant was made a commander in the Amal militia; as an Amal commander, the Hizballah fighters in his sector had to notify the Defendant of their operations. Hizballah is classified by the United States government as a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
            In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1425(b).
[18 U.S.C. § 1425(b)]

            On or about January 12, 2009, within the Western District of Texas, the Defendant,
for himself, a person not entitled to naturalization and citizenship, knowingly procured and obtained, and attempted to procure and obtain naturalization and citizenship by falsely stating regarding his Form-400 Application for Naturalization, Part 2, Question B, Defendant claimed that he and his wife were married and living together for the last three years, when in truth and actuality, the Defendant and his wife they had not lived together since May 2007 and filed for divorce in Bexar County on December 7, 2007.
            In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1425(b).
[18 U.S.C. § 1001]

            On or about October 14, 2009, within the Western District of Texas, the Defendant,
knowingly and willfully made a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch, to wit: in order to gain security clearance from the United State Department of Defense, on his Form SF-86, Questionnaire for National Security Position, Section 29 Question g, “Have you EVER participated in militias (not including official state government militias) or paramilitary groups?”, the Defendant answered “No” when in truth and fact, the Defendant was a fighter and commander of the Amal militia in Lebanon during the early to mid-1980’s.
            In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2)."

Not a terror-related case
Just because Mr. Allouche is a Shiite Lebanese does not make his immigration case terror related. He was charged and convicted for lying to the government authorities about his membership in Amal. He was a member of the Lebanese Shia Amal Movement. Amal is not a designated terror group.  In his capacity as an Amal commander, he was in contact with Hizbullah. Hizbullah is classified as a terror group. But it is highly doubtful that the mere contact he had with Hizbullah in Lebanon during his involvement with Amal would count as an illegal association with Hizbullah that would lead to imprisonment and/or deportation. Interestingly, there is a terrible history of violence between Amal and Hizbullah.  The time Allouche was in Amal, there were violent clashes between Amal and Hizballah. In fact, the clashes resulted, in part, from  Amal not wanting Hizbullah to conduct operations against Israel that would invite reprisals against the Southern civilian population.

The media follows the government’s lead: Allouche as a terror case
Some media sources have gotten the facts of the case mixed up. Allouche was not charged with being a Hizbullah member or a former Hizbullah member as a mysanantonio article described him. He was neither charged nor convicted of being a member or a former member of Hizbullah. The bottom line is that Allouche lied on his application. Allouche also had marital problems. But he also seemingly lived an otherwise law-abiding life. He even volunteered to work in Iraq as a linguist when it was vital for US armed forces to have linguists and being a linguist was a very dangerous undertaking in Iraq.

Reasonable minds would agree: Allouche was neither a terrorist nor a security risk
Was Wissam Allouche a national security risk? Despite the fact the Joint Terrorism Task Force led the investigation and made the arrest, there is zero evidence that, at any point in time, even during his Lebanon years, Allouche was even remotely a risk to US security. He was a member of the Shia Amal Movement, a movement that used to be the leading Shiite Lebanese group before Hizbullah eclipsed it. His involvement with Amal led him to contact with Hizbullah- and it was contact during a period when the relationship was adversarial turning into bloody violent.

Had Allouche not lied on his citizenship application and his security clearance application, he would not have been in his situation now facing a five year imprisonment followed by deportation to Lebanon.  

Allouche made mistakes but the critical fact here is that he is a victim of a bad marriage and the war on terror. Allouche is an American Lebanese Shiite Muslim caught up in the government and media  WOT dog- and- pony show

ADC's Abdrabboh column in the Detroit News

Attorney Fatina Abdrabboh

Wayne county prosecutor Kim Worthy

In the Detroit News, American-Arab anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Michigan office regional director wrote a column entitled "Yes hate crimes happen here." The column's genesis is in the Kroger case that ADC took but the Wayne County prosecutor Kim Worthy declined to prosecute as a hate crime. [This is the same Kim Worthy that charged an Arab immigrant gas station clerk with first degree murder for shooting a customer in the back, once, with the customer dying later from complications]

The picture that attorney Abdrabboh describes as to the prosecution of hate crimes is accurate. Many times meeting the burden of proof is a great challenge and going the civil route with its lower evidentiary standard is the only avenue of relief. Arab Americans need organizations such as the Arab American anti- Discrimination Committee (ADC) to defend their civil rights and civil liberties and the Kroger case shows that while our society is admirably tolerant and inclusive, there are individuals who hate Arab Americans and are willing to act on this hate.  Hating Arabs as a people is immoral, acting on this hate is illegal.
Ms Abdrabboh’s column, however, should not be perceived as an invitation to revisit the issue whether our society should criminalize “hate crime” as such.  The case is settled and the law will not be changed in the foreseeable future.
 'In Wisconsin v. Mitchell, Chief Justice Rehnquist said: "a defendant's abstract beliefs, however obnoxious to most people, may not be taken into consideration by a sentencing judge." However, "the belief is no longer abstract once it provides the motive for discriminatory action.'
In Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 9/9 Justices approved enhanced punishment for hate crimes and 49 states filed amicus briefs in support of harsher sentences for hate crimes. "Hate crimes" exist and state governments, the federal government and the Supreme Court support hate crime legislation.

Link to column: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2015/05/05/hate-crimes-happen/26885183/

The wisdom of the importation of the politics of division to the Muslim and Arab American communities

My dissertation was on the political behavior of Arab Americans. Using the data from the Detroit Arab American study, I examined three forms of political participation- voting, campaign donations and writing to political officials. I looked at the differences between national groups, faith groups and generations. I found that there is no significant difference in political participation between Christians and Muslims and that education and income are, as expected, strongly linked to political participation. One finding that showed assimilation of Arab Americans was the consistent increase in participation between the generations-from the first generation through the third generation.

We know that Arab Americans are assimilating and are part of the political process. However, my study relied on survey data. Surveys are snapshots of reality. The data was gathered after 9/11. Did political participation increase after 9/11? The survey numbers could not address that. In addition to relying on the survey data, I interviewed a number of Muslim Arab American and Arab American activists to get their insights on Arab- American participation. They were able to provide the history and the contextual knowledge to help better understand and explain the numbers.

An Arab American activist told me that a number of factors helped increase Arab- American political participation.  One of them was the Gulf War. Another was the unification of Yemen. Before the unification of Yemen, the Yemeni community was divided between North and South. The pro South would not attend the events attended by the pro North and vice versa. Foreign- based organizations were very active and their American supporters’ attention was on international politics rather than American national politics. Yemen was unified, the Cold War ended, Saddam invaded Kuwait and the US forced him out. All these factors, he said, made Arab Americans turn inward and work together as Arab Americans and get more involved in American politics.

The Muslim American activist attributed increased and accepted Muslim political participation to generational change. He said some in the old generation was divided over whether participating in American politics is halal or haram. Still others even questioned whether a Muslim can live a real Muslim life in America. One argument was that if Muslims cannot change American politics toward the Muslim world, especially as to the Palestinian issue, then there is no point to involvement in American politics. The 9/11 attacks settled this ongoing conversation in favor of those who wanted participation and national Muslim American organization not only said it is permissible to participate in American politics, they now say it is even religiously obligatory. Part of the change is in leadership with younger generations more familiar with and more comfortable with American politics and culture. The other reason the young activist gave was the realization that in a democracy if you do not participate then your interests are not represented or protected. There is strength in numbers, working with large blocs, therefore, these groups tried to minimize internal divisions and work together to counter real threats facing American Muslims.

Political developments overseas again threaten to weaken whatever Arab and Muslim political unity have coalesced.  Unity, or the appearance of unity, was evident until 2003. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was the first divisive development. With the Arab Spring came more polarization. One way to gauge the extent of polarization is listening to anecdotes of daily friction between member of different Arab and Muslim communities. The level of polarization and division is seen in the harsh rhetoric on the Facebook community group, Dearborn Area Community Members, with the division being Sunni-Shia, pro Iran v. pro Saudi Arabia.

Given this reality, are the years of collective action gone? Are the days when Arab Americans used to protest together in support of unifying causes such as Lebanon or Gaza against Israeli aggression over? Are the days when Arabs and Muslims stood together facing the national backlash from the 9/11 attacks long gone?
Arab and Muslim Americans are all together facing a very serious challenge. The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath is not behind us.  That challenge is not gone and the community’s future is still connected to national and international events beyond Arab American and Muslim American control.

The Arab American activist told me that in the aftermath of 9/11 Bush’s Attorney General visited Dearborn and met with Arab American leaders. Listening to the complaints and concerns of the attendees, he told them that if there were another attack on US soil, all bets are off.

We as Arab and Muslim Americans are still demonized by key mainstream media. Our loyalty and patriotism are questioned by important figures. We have a problem of the threat of the radicalization of our youths that risk being brainwashed into joining terrorist organizations or engaging in terrorist acts. This threat of youth radicalization is added to the other threats facing them as American youths- teenage pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, etc. Those who organize divisive events, protests and counter protests are invited to visit the Dearborn courthouse to see what issues face our youths that we are not taking care of.

Young people on Facebook are saying all kinds of things, including speech that is abusive or sectarian and divisive. But it is one thing for the young and immature to be divisive but a completely different thing for the adults, those in leadership positions, to organize around division and conflict.

Importing inter Arab and inter Islamic disputes to our community is simply unwise. The leaders behind the organization of divisive protests and counter protests, divisive events, have to rethink the wisdom of importing division to our community in light of former attorney general Ashcroft candid warning.*

Entry appeared in the Forum and Link of April 30, 2015.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Interview with Imad Hamad, Executive Director of the American Human Rights Council “Our ‘Protecting Our Humanity’ banquet was a great success and we sense a strong support of human rights in the Arab and Muslim communities.”

Imad Hamad, AHRC Executive Director

Imad Hamad is a well- known figure in the Detroit Arab American community. After leaving the American Arab anti- Discrimination Committee, Mr. Imad Hamad and others formed the American Human Rights Council (AHRC). The Forum and Link attended the packed first banquet. The creation of a new organization whose focus is on human rights was a brilliant idea for Mr. Hamad. There are many organizations in the community who do great work. AHRC is the only community based organization that focuses on human rights. H.E. Dr. Clovis Maksoud, AHRC Honorary Chair, in an email addressed to AHRC and its supporters stated: “AHRC comes at a time when the abuse of human rights in many parts of the world and its destructive impact on the unity of many societies, your advocacy to emphasis human rights and humanitarian aid in the United States must also be translated to areas where it is even much more required. What many societies in Africa and in the Arab World are experiencing at this moment must be included in your corrective role of the flaws and political defects that allows the abuse of human and humane rights to be regularly violated. Your role as human rights activists should broaden its scope beyond the American national scene into a network of your colleagues throughout the world in upholding the moral and ethical values to which you are committed and which should be pursued internationally.”

Imad Hamad is a true humanitarian. Over the years through his involvement in the non- profit sector he has helped many people. He has mentored people and encouraged men and women to volunteer and be involved in community activism. Mr. Hamad has received many recognitions over the years and has been interviewed by national and international media. He continues his work in the non- profit sector by moving from civil rights and civil liberties to defending and promoting human rights in the US and in the rest of the world. It is not easy to form an organization and to organize a successful banquet. Mr. Hamad and his team are off to a great start.
 The following are excerpts from an interview with Mr. Hamad.

F & L: Congratulations on a successful banquet. How do you feel?
Hamad: Relieved and thankful. Organizing AHRC, planning the event and the banquet consumed countless hours and a lot of effort. I am relieved that we have been able to reach this point and held an event that everyone acknowledges was a great event. I am thankful for the generosity of our donors and supporters. We have a great board and board chair. Our volunteers did a great job. The owner and the staff at Byblos helped us have a great event. I am grateful to the parents of the courageous American woman Kayla Mueller, Marsha and Karl Mueller, who joined us at our event and accepted her award.

F &L: Why did you choose to recognize and honor Kayla Mueller?
Hamad: We chose her for many reasons two of which are what she stood for and the ultimate sacrifice she made. She was a woman that represented the best American values, who believed in human rights and risked her life to help others- in Palestine and in Syria. She was killed by extremism and terrorism, the enemies of human rights. Kayla is a role model, her legacy inspires us. The words of Marsha Mueller provide inspiration to the work we do, she said “help us carry on Kayla’s legacy through sowing seeds of compassion, kindness and peace.” Marsha and Karl Mueller raised a true humanitarian.

F &L: Are you happy with the media coverage?
Hamad: Yes. The media is very important for the survival and continuity of democracy and for helping create a culture of human rights.

F & L: Who attended the banquet?
Hamad: About 500 people attended our banquet at Byblos banquet hall. We are being talked about because for a young organization we have started with a strong event. We had a number of officials in attendance and received 30 proclamations. We had 12 state representatives in attendance. It is a great vote of confidence in the organization and its leadership. It is an attestation to the need and necessity for an organization like AHRC.

F & L: Some ask whether we need another organization in the community. Why is AHRC needed?
Hamad: The support we get, the turnout we had at the banquet, they all testify to the clear sense people have that AHRC is needed. We are not in competition with any other organization. We believe all of them do good work and are needed. Our vision and our mission complement what others do. We focus on human rights- the creation of a culture of human rights. We need that outlook, that orientation, that frame of reference.

F & L: What do you think of the events in the Arab world? Is advocacy of human rights able to counter violence and hate?
Hamad: What is happening in the Arab world is tragic. Take Yemen for example- one of the poorest countries in the world and perhaps the poorest in the Arab world. You have people dying and suffering. Human rights advocacy is about respecting the human rights of each and every individual. We are helping create a culture of respect of human rights of all. I truly believe that once we respect and honor each other as human beings, we will go a long way in diffusing the tensions that lead to violent conflict.

F & L: Any final thoughts?
Hamad: Our banquet was a great success and we sense a strong support of human rights in the Arab and Muslim communities. We aspire to augment the conversation on civil rights and liberties within the broader frame of human rights. We are working to sustain the momentum. We are moving forward and we are confident that AHRC will grow and the cause of human rights will get the visibility and advocacy that it deserves with our efforts and the efforts of our sister organizations in the human rights community. Dr. Alzohili, our board president, said that “injustice and hatred are a threat to everybody.” The promotion of human rights is the antidote to injustice and hatred.

Thank you for the interview. Please convey my sincere appreciation to the Forum and Link publisher my friend Dr. Assad Dandashli.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Imam Elahi is the Voice of Wisdom and Compassion on the ICA-Qazwini Saga

Imam Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom

Islamic House of Wisdom of Dearborn Heights, MI

The dispute between imam Qazwini and the Islamic Center of America's board has divided the members, friends and supporters of the Islamic Center of America (ICA). Harsh, sometimes nasty and almost always unholy language has been used to comment on the dispute. The most troubling aspect of the Islamic Center of America saga is some of the tactics used and the vulgar language used by some of the supporters of imam Qazwini. Qazwini himself inflamed the situation further when he used inflammatory rhetoric- referring to his opponents as cancer, ISIS and Yazeed. 
Recently imam Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom spoke words of peace, compassion and wisdom. using language of reconciliation and genuine concern in a posting on the Dearborn Area Community Members Facebook page. That Facebook page, whose administrator is Dearborn attorney Majid Moghnieh, had seen many exchanges of harsh and nasty rhetoric between supporters and opponents of imam Qazwini. Some of the comments make you wonder how can such language be used when the issue is an imam and an Islamic center. 

Imam Elahi, troubled by the divisiveness, posted the following:

وَلَا تَنَازَعُوا فَتَفْشَلُوا وَتَذْهَبَ رِ‌يحُكُمْ وَاصْبِرُ‌وا إِنَّ اللَّـهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِ‌ينَ
Do not quarrel with each other lest you fail or lose honor. Exercise patience; God is with those who have patience. The Holy Quran 8/46
My beloved brothers and sisters,
Please read and reflect on the above verse! I say this with a heart full of wound and sadness. It is not about imam Qazwini, IC board, and our community anymore! The forces of Islamophobia who use any opportunity to damage the image of our faith are making so many comments irrelevant to this subject, yet so harmful to our entire identity as Arab and Muslim community. Let’s stop fueling this devastating fire which would eventually burn both sides of this crisis. Let’s be part of a solution; let’s work for some reconciliation between Sayyed Qazwini and certain board members of IC. Even if reconciliation was impossible, let’s find a peaceful end.
Please don’t post the stuff that creates more division and animosity among our community. Our faith is about respect for human dignity, rights and responsibility. Only God is perfect, let Him be our God not our ego and arrogance. Let’s speak with the language of love, forgiveness and appreciation.
Let’s end this war of words that has no victory for anyone and show more humility for the sake of healing and harmony among our brothers and sisters.
I already sent messages to the Sayyed and the Center expressing the willingness of the humble House of Wisdom to help reconciliation or peaceful end to this sad situation. We need everyone prayer and help in this direction!
وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّـهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّ‌قُوا
Hold fast, all together, to God’s cord, and do not be divided ( Quran 3-103)
إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْ‌حَمُونَ
The faithful are indeed brothers. Therefore, make peace between your brothers and be wary of God, so that you may receive [His] mercy.( the Quran 49-10)
Your humble servant
Mohammad Ali Elahi

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Understanding the Dispute at the Islamic Center of America: Excerpts from Liyakat Nathani Takim's book Shi'ism in America

Islamic Center of America

Understanding the Dispute at The Islamic Center of America: Helpful Excerpts from Liyakat Nathani Takim's book Shi'ism in America

The Islamic Center of America is in the news due to the dispute between the board and its imam Hassan Qazwini.

There is nothing exceptional or suis generis in the ongoing dispute. Issues of ethnicity, finances, “mosque politics” all help understand the dispute.

One academic work that helps one understand the dispute is Liyakat Nathani Takim's book Shi'ism in America. Below are excerpts from his book:

  Page 55:
Most Shi’i immigrants try to impose the homeland culture in America by determining how the mosques are run, or what is an acceptable dress code, language, and behavior. Newer immigrants also tend to have their own predispositions on issues such as gender integration, political activism in a non-Muslim country, engagement with different ethnic groups, interfaith dialogue, joint activity with Sunnis, and the like. In many cases, Shi’i immigrants tend to emphasize the public expression of their religious beliefs and practices and are thus less likely to assimilate.

Immigrants also challenge the American expression of Islam, precipitating a crisis and even splits within certain mosques. They bring with them a more intense form of Shi’ism, one whose discourse is frequently more aggressive and polemic, reasserting thereby the traditional demarcating lines between Shi’ism and Sunnism. Thus, immigration has enhanced tensions between the Sunnis and Shi’is who come from a different culture. As they try to impose a homogenized, monolithic Shi’ism in America, immigrant Shi’ism is also challenged by the youth in the community. According to Najjah Bazzy, a prominent member of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, the Iraqis brought with them an intense form of Shi’ism and expression of devotion to the family of the Prophet and have impacted the Lebanese community who relinquished some of their religious laxity and became more strict. More specifically, she notes, the Iraqis carried to the States the intensity of ‘Ashura’. The Lebanese were too lax; the Iraqis, on the other hand, were too stringent, leading to much altercation between the two groups. Due to such disparities, there has been considerable resistance to the Iraqi presence in some Lebanese centers in Dearborn.

Page 58:
In Dearborn, the Islamic Center of America is frequented primarily by the Lebanese. Within a few miles lies the Kerbala Center, which was established in 1995 to cater especially to the Iraqis. In my discussions with them, a few members of the Lebanese community in Dearborn restated the view that the relationship with the Iraqis in Dearborn was not very strong; in fact, there was some resistance to the Iraqi presence at the Islamic Center of America. Shaykh Hisham Husainy of the Kerbala Center in Dearborn admitted that a cultural chasm existed between the Lebanese and Iraqi Shi’is. The former, he observed, are more lax and do not observe a rigid interpretation of Islam. According to him, only a few Lebanese frequent the Kerbala Center.

Page 61:

The ethnic division dissipates in communities where Shi’is of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds come together to share limited resources and form multiethnic centers. In communities like Cleveland, Indianapolis, Seattle, Nashville, Phoenix, and Austin, the ethnic divide is almost nonexistent as different ethnic Shi’i groups coalesce under the common banner of the prophet and his progeny. Others may even hold joint religious programs with local Sunni communities. However, even in such multiethnic centers, there is much tension as different groups try to impose their peculiar understanding and articulation of Shi’ism. Occasionally there are disputes regarding which speakers to invite, what kind of food to serve, whether men and women should be seated in the same hall, whether and how to perform acts of flagellations, and the like. I observed much tension in one center engendered by a debate as to whether tabarri’ (which was understood by some to refer to the explicit cursing of the enemies of the ahl al-bayt), was to be undertaken during the programs or not. Some clearly felt that the center should replicate the old tradition of cursing the enemies of the family of the prophet whereas other members favored accentuating the more positive tawalli (stressing the virtues and following the examples of the prophet and his family)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Interview with Ali. S. Wehbi, Lebanese Extreme Runner, Adventurer:

Ali Wehbi at the North Pole

Ali Wehbi at Tanzania's Uhuru Peak

Interview with Ali. S. Wehbi, Extreme Runner, Adventurer:
Overcoming challenges, promoting social causes*

On my last visit to Lebanon I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Ali S. Wehbi an Extreme Runner, Adventurer. Lebanonization is synonymous with communal conflict and the breakdown of the state. The news from Lebanon is almost always depressing due to one conflict or another.  News coverage is biased to the negative, to bad news. But there is also good news- news that inspire, that give hope and provide a good example for all of us. Such a news story is Ali Wehbi’s story. Ali’s story is a great inspiration.  When his mother died of cancer in 2005, Ali felt helpless. There was nothing that could be done medically to save the life of the person whom he loved most in the whole world. To cope with this loss, he decided to challenge himself and help others. Ali was always an athlete. He jogged and played basketball. The trauma of the loss pushed him to embrace extreme running, for a cause. He decided to push himself to overcome most challenging runs while helping causes in Lebanon. He ran for the Brave Heart fund (by running the Lebanese coast, from the Northern border to the Southern, 240km in 29h35m), ran at the north pole for the Red Cross (The Red Cross Flag from the North Pole to the ICRC), climbed the Kilimanjaro summit, Tanzania, in the memory of Talal Kassem, Roads for Life and helped raise funds and awareness about autism in Lebanon (by running 12 marathons in 12 days around Lebanon). Ali continues to challenge himself. In April 2015 he is planning to run 1000km (Beirut - Beirut) around Lebanon to help the fundraising to create a blood bank for the Lebanese Red Cross. In 2016  he is planning to run from Lebanon to Mecca (50 Days, 50 Marathons Throughout LEBANON, SYRIA, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan & KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA  ) to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the passing away of his mother and to help fund raising to support 10 children with cancer for 1 year. He is working on a book project and continues to give motivational speech engagements.

The following are excerpts from this interview. 

 Forum &Link: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Tell me a little about your background.

Wehbi: I am an ordinary Lebanese man who took up a challenge to help myself and help others. I was born in Lebanon and spent a number of years living in France. I have a degree in business and computers from France and work as an ICT consultant. I am happily married with two children.

F & L: Are you a professional Extreme Runner, Adventurer?

Wehbi: I am not a professional runner. Professional runners all they do is run and they have a big budget and team. I am semi professional- I still have a day job as a consultant, but I am keen on turning pro to give more and better focus for my efforts and the causes I promote.

F &L: What got you into extreme running; this is not the easiest activity to undertake, especially in a place like Lebanon?

Wehbi: The death of my mother from cancer was traumatic. It was sudden. I wanted an outlet for the intense feelings of loss and pain. I took on running. There are a lot of people facing health difficulties and many organizations helping them. I run for personal reasons and for social reasons. I help give social causes media coverage and thus help their funding.  I run for myself and for others.

F &L: You told me you wake up early in the morning to run in all kinds of weather. What gives you the energy the motivation? What challenges do you face?

Wehbi: I am driven and focused. Running in Lebanon is harder than in other countries. In Lebanon there is no infrastructure to have a proper training or park. I run on the roads and for safety reasons very early in the morning.  I start very early sometimes as early as 3 a.m., especially when I have a long run (5 to 8hrs).  Every Saturday I run Saida - Beirut, so I have to be up very early. Many days the weather is awful and I would rather sleep. But I get up, get dressed and hit the road. I have discipline and determination.

F & L: How do you balance extreme running, consulting and being a father and a husband?

Wehbi: Extreme running and the commitment of time it require a big part of my time. I have no social life and I wish I could spend more time with my friends and family whom I dearly love. I run very early and spend afternoons with my kids. But sometime I have fitness training in the afternoon at the 180 degrees Gym & Spa a great place to exercise and their support I appreciate much. Many times I have a 2nd run end in the afternoon so I spend the early evening with them. As for work most of the time I do my work in the morning. My wife is a great source of sup and encouragement.  My wife is in the medical field so she take care of all my nutrition and medical issues. She is part of what I do, and all the time support me. Her support and dedication is priceless and she is a big part of my life and what I do.

F &L: Are your children athletes? Are they going to be like you?

Wehbi: Yes, they play basketball, tennis and they are in my support team during the big run and help in the support association. About going to be like me as to extreme running, I don’t know but I know they already want to be with the Red Cross Youth once they are 18.  They play sports and are socially conscious- I am happy with that.

F & L: Tell me about your extreme running. What were the most challenging experiences?

Wehbi: Well all of them were challenging. I ran in the desert with +50 Celsius temperature and in -50 C (Antarctica and North Pole), but I can tell the hardest one maybe the North Pole. For the North Pole run I had to train inside a freezer of a big supermarket in Beirut to get used to running in the extreme cold weather of the North Pole. Imagine I was running on a treadmill in a freezer surrounded by frozen food and meat.   Running Lebanon last year was a hard task too. I had to run every day and give presentations and motivation speeches at schools and universities in the afternoon so I had no rest during the 12- day run.

F &L: Do you get any financial support from any organization or individuals?

Wehbi: BankMed is my main sponsor. Alfa, one of the two operating GSM networks in Lebanon, is supporting me in my Lebanon Run also I have a sports partner with the 180 degrees Gym & Spa Lebanon. The Red Cross sends a team of their volunteers to accompany me in the run. The Lebanese government, the Interior ministry, handles security. They are all wonderful and I am grateful to all of them.

F &L: What awards have you received?

Wehbi: In 2007 I was awarded the Lebanese Order of Merit by President Emil Lahoud, the President of the Republic of Lebanon. In 2012 I was awarded the National Order of the Cedar, Knight Grade by President Michel Suleiman the President of the Republic of Lebanon.  I was given an award by the Red Cross as well.

F &L: What are your plans?

Wehbi: #Road2MACCA is one of my biggest dreams I am working on, as well I want to write a book about endurance, hope and resilience. A book about challenging ourselves to achieve our potential, about how it’s hard, but not impossible, to be an athlete and live in a country like Lebanon, where I had to run under bomb during the 2006 war, and finally about motivation and determination.

F &L: You have an inspiring story. Would you accept an invitation to speak before Lebanese or Arab communities in the United States?

Wehbi: I would welcome this opportunity. I like to speak to the youth. I think the problem we have with the youth today is that they are fixated on indoor electronic gadgets. They need to go out more. Another issue is that personal setbacks can trigger withdrawal or even depression in some people. I say we should channel energy positively. I enjoy speaking before audiences about my story. I want to inspire the youth to channel frustrations and setbacks into positive energy.

F &L: Have you ever visited the US?

Wehbi: Yes, twos time before. But I would love to visit again. If I get an invitation I would definitely come.                                                                                        

F &L: Any final words?

Wehbi: I want to thank my sponsors BankMed, Alfa and 180 degrees Gym & Spa. I want to thank the Red Cross for ensuring my health and for Lebanese Internal Security Forces for providing me with security while running. I want to thank the organizations that provided me the opportunity to help them get exposure and funds for their worthy causes.  Special thanks to the Forum and Link and its publisher Dr. Asad Dandashli for this opportunity. 

* Interview will appear in the Forum and Link on 1/29/2015. www.forumandlinkcom

The following sources provide more information on Ali Wehbi: