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AUM to hold forum to aid understanding

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The recent controversy over locating an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan weighs heavily on Antioch University Midwest Professor Jim Malarkey, an anthropologist who spent eight years living in Islamic countries. To Malarkey, the controversy reflects an unfortunate American tendency to fear those we don’t understand.

“This is one more manifestation of the ignorance, fear and prejudice that pervades this country,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s exasperating. We need to turn a corner on this.”

To help address the situation, Malarkey has organized an opportunity for villagers to learn more about issues facing Muslim-Americans. The event, a free public forum called “Muslims in America and the Principle of Religious Freedom,” will take place Sunday, Sept. 26, at 2 p.m. at the PNC Bank Auditorium at Antioch University Midwest.

Malarkey hopes that those who attend come away with a richer awareness of a reality that is different than their own.

“I want people who come to get a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the dilemmas faced by Muslims in America,” he said.

Forum panelists will be Dr. Wayel Azmeh, physician and board member of the Mercy Society/Islamic Center of Dayton; Dr. Suheil Bushrui, professor emeritus of the University of Maryland and author of The Spiritual Heritage of the Human Race; Dr. Naseem Rahim of Antioch University Midwest; Dr. Jay Rothman of the conflict resolution firm The Aria Group and author of Resolving Identity-Based Conflict in Nations, Organizations and Communities; and Brandon Sipes, senior researcher for the Aria Group.

The panelists are individuals who have deep experience in inter-cultural conflict, yet a perspective that emphasizes nonviolenct solutions, Malarkey said.

“These are wonderful people who know the path of peace,” he said. “They are deeply experienced and aware of what humanity can do to itself, but are individuals fighting hard to create bridges where currently there are walls.”

Malarkey himself fits that description. He taught at the American University of Beirut from 1979 to 1984, a time during which the Lebanese suffered extensive civil and political violence, and later lived in Algeria not long after that country experienced chaotic upheaval.

“I had a ringside seat at some of the lowest ebbs of human civility,” Malarkey said.

These experiences left their mark on Malarkey, who is now a Bahá’í, a religion that advocates “addressing problems through nonviolence and dialogue,” he said. While people have mainly sought violent solutions to conflict throughout human history, it’s clear that violence does not work, Malarkey said. As soon as one person — or group, or country — commits violence against another, a reciprocal violent act, fueled by revenge, inevitably follows in an escalating spiral, a situation further heightened by the destructive capacity of modern weapons.

“Modern weaponry makes the body count impossible to control,” he said.

In the past decade, terrorism by Islamic extremists has further de-stabilized the world situation by creating fear and suspicion between the Muslim world and this country. But most Americans aren’t aware either of Muslim Americans’ genuine grievances over past American foreign policy, or of their love of this country and its religious and political freedoms, Malarkey believes.

“Everyone’s afraid of unwarranted violence against them,” he said. “And each side presumes there are more out there against them than there are.”

It’s not surprising that Malarkey has been influenced by the nonviolent strategies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and he finds himself “haunted” by a speech King gave April 4, 1964 in New York City, in which the civil rights leader came out not just against the Vietnam War but also against nationalism and sectarianism in any form.

“A genuine revolution of values means that in the final analysis our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies,” King stated in the speech.

King was questioning the very structure of modern society, and consequently he received considerable criticism after his speech. But King was right, Malarkey believes, although he was ahead of his time.

“We’ve yet to catch up to the vision and understanding he articulated on that day,” Malarkey said.

There are some, including many in this country, who say that nonviolent solutions are naïve, and that violence is the only realistic answer. To this, Malarkey counters that few have given nonviolence a chance.

“To say there’s no other way but violence is to capitulate to that philosophy and to self-perpetuate more violence,” he said.

There are people who are “going down the path of love and acceptance,” and who have realistic strategies for helping the world find peace, Malarkey said. And he believes that those on the panel next Sunday are some of those people, and that they have a message that villagers need to hear.

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