Date of Event: January 26, 2013
by Philip Rico
On Saturday evening, a crowd of approximately 100 persons congregated at Madjid An-Noor on Heim Road as part of the MPAC-WNY Annual Meeting and Symposium to hear Dr. Abdiweli M. Ali, former Prime Minister of Somalia, speak on current affairs in Somalia. The crowd also participated in the following open forum that included Aisha Rahman, Executive Director of KARMAH, and Harris Tarin, Executive Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
Dr. Ali spoke about how 21 years of civil war in Somalia had led to lawless anarchy in the country, destroying not only lives, but the fabric of society. Efforts have been made since 2000 to restore order in Somalia. Dr. Ali became prime minister in 2011 and implemented “Roadmap for the End of Transition” which were benchmarks set to stabilize the country. These benchmarks include completion of the constitution, accomplishing political outreach, ridding the country of extremism and violence, and initiation of a strong government. Ignoring the skepticism of the International Community of his ability to achieve such goals, Dr. Ali explained that by late 2012, 80% of the country was liberated and stabilized. A “good government” initiation was put into place ensuring that civil servants and soldiers were paid, an anti-corruption commission was implemented, and a report documenting the countries finances was issued. By August 2012, Somalia had finalized a draft of the new constitution.
At the completion of Dr. Ali’s presentation, the former Prime Minister was presented with a plaque of recognition by Judge William Hochul, U.S. Attorney, and Dr. Khalid J Qazi, President of MPAC-WNY.
Dr. Qazi moderated an open forum with Ms. Rahman, and Mr. Tarrin as panelists discussing the issue of discrimination against Muslims. They discussed the importance of how the place of Muslims in the United States needs to have clarity in the public’s view. Mr. Tarrin cited how the Pew Research Center determined that Catholic advocacy groups in the U.S. spend approximately $70 million each year, and Jewish lobbying groups spend $40 million. By comparison, MPAC spends between$2 and $4 million annually for advocacy. MPAC is not a lobbying group, but an organization that aims to educate the public about Muslim culture.
Mr. Tarrin emphasized how the public view of Muslims is impacted by public officials speaking about Islam, and that there is a correlation between how the public perceives Islam, and discrimination in housing and jobs. He said that Muslims, in general, need to be more civicly and politically savvy, and through participation in community organizations, make issues impacting MPAC an American issue. For instance, Mr. Tarrin cited Congressman Andre Carson, U.S. Representative from Indiana, who is Muslim, and has built understanding among his constituents.
Ms. Rahman spoke of how domestic violence is not just a women’s issue, but a community issue. She cited a case she worked on in her native Knoxville, in which a prominent physician physically and emotionally abused his wife. Because of legal and financial complications associated with their marriage in the United Kingdom, which does not recognize Muslim marriages unless a civil ceremony takes place, she was not legally married and therefore not entitled to alimony. The significant negative interpretation of Muslims that resulted from this case is an example of what is perceived as a “women’s issue,”when in fact it is a community issue.
The “Otherization” of Muslims (being viewed as a separate group) is a new concept following 9/11, which brought Muslims to the forefront of scrutiny in the U.S.. As Mr. Tarrin explained, “Muslims must engage in the mainstream and public sphere rather than Al-Jazeera.” Non-Muslim Americans will be more likely to accept Muslims as equals if they have friends who are Muslims, or if they interact with Muslims in a positive way, be it at the PTA or the grocery store.