About Me

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Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html

Thursday, February 25, 2010

On the Irvine 11 - Ayloush and Lafferty: Rude, unpopular speech worth defending

The Orange County Register


Eleven students heckled Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren at different intervals at a UC Irvine event recently and set off a debate on what constitutes free speech and when it should be protected.

The right to freely express oneself, particularly against government policies, is a cherished freedom protected by our Constitution. That's why we were not surprised when people protested at health care town halls, when a congressman interrupted the president's address to Congress, or when audience members disrupted a speech by former White House lawyer John Yoo at UCI in 2005.

While some may argue that the students' tactics against Oren were loud and rude, our opinions on the politeness of such conduct are irrelevant. The students merely voiced their passionate discontent on a grave political and moral matter they deemed worthy of their activism.

Israel has undertaken a massive public-relations campaign to salvage its negative image over its violations of international humanitarian and human-rights law, and Oren – as the Israeli government's representative – must have anticipated vocal audience opposition, the same way supporters of Apartheid-era South African government speaking at U.S. campuses did in the 1980s.

Though their protest was delivered in a loud and shocking manner intended to express the gravity of Israel's immoral policies and actions, the students were nonviolent, nonthreatening and peacefully left the public gathering as soon as they spoke.

Some try to characterize this incident as a case of Oren's right to free speech. News reports and videos of the event clearly show that his talk was not wholly disrupted. The interrupting remarks amounted to no more than 10 seconds by each student, barely two minutes total, versus Oren's allotted time of about an hour. Oren left the stage for some time, but then returned and, despite shout-outs from supporters and opponents, was able to continue his speech.

Public speakers, including ourselves, know that speaking on highly charged topics invites opposing viewpoints. Our own public appearances over the past 15-plus years have been interrupted by jeers, heckling and protests. And, although we don't enjoy being subjected to that, we know that the freedom exercised by some who rudely interrupt us is the same that protects our right to publicly and freely speak our minds on important political matters.

We are troubled to see that, for exercising their right to free speech, the 11 students at UCI were cited by campus police and faced the threat of disciplinary action, including possible expulsion, not only by the university, but also potential criminal charges by the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

It is incomprehensible that an institution of higher learning that claims to engage in and promote the free exchange of ideas now seeks to punish its students for peacefully expressing political views, however unpopular, at a student-organized event.

Over the years, there have been countless instances of protest activities during campus speeches, including at UCI, with no comparable disciplinary action taken that we know of. By disproportionately and selectively punishing one set of protesters and not others, including the counterprotesters at the same event, who cursed, threatened and even assaulted students, the university has chosen to censure a particular set of political views – the legitimate criticism of Israel.

Freedom of speech is a two-way street, and it must not be restricted to what is popular, respectful, or appropriate speech, though such guidelines might be preferred by us and others. Oren has the right to speak, even if it is to justify Israel's occupation and brutal policies. Similarly, the students have the right to dissent, even discourteously.

Both sides exercised that right.

We urge the university to drop all charges and disciplinary actions against the 11 students and redouble efforts to reach out to all students, including Muslim and Jewish students. Not doing so will cause a chilling effect on First Amendment rights on college campuses and our society at large, and leave many students feeling excluded and unwelcome.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Muslims in America seek understanding

Muslims in America seek understanding
Monday, February 22, 2010
By GAIL SCHONTZLER Chronicle Staff Writer

Nine years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many Americans still fear Muslims and ask the question, “Why do they hate us?”
Hussam Ayloush, 40, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles, dealt with the question Monday at Montana State University as keynote speaker a day-long conference, Islam in America, sponsored by the MSU Muslim Students Association.

Former President George Bush’s answer that terrorists hate us because of “our freedoms” is obviously wrong, Ayloush said during a panel discussion. The reason Muslims around the world have problems with the United States is because of our policies, not our values, he said. Their No. 1 grievance is the plight of the Palestinian people, as the 9/11 Commission concluded.

Most people deal with grievances in legitimate ways, like lobbying or sending relief supplies, Ayloush said. Unfortunately, a few “deviant” Muslims, like Al Qaeda terrorists, have embraced violence and misinterpret Islam to justify it.

Ayloush argued it makes no more sense to fear and condemn all Muslims for the “tragic” 9/11 attacks by a few terrorists than to fear and condemn all Christians because a few fundamentalists have killed abortion doctors. Lots of people dislike the IRS, but most don’t fly planes into buildings and kill innocent people, as just happened in Texas, he added.

Today there are up to 8 million Muslims living in the United States, including immigrants from many nations, their American children, foreign students, engineers, auto workers and African-Americans. There are two Muslims in Congress, and 10,000 in the U.S. military. Muslims in American probably enjoy more rights to practice their religion here than anywhere else, he said.

An immigrant himself, Ayloush left Lebanon as a teenager for America, studied engineering and became a U.S. citizen. He said he believes America has “the best man-designed political system on earth,” which lets people debate and dissent.

“It’s worth fighting for, defending and celebrating,” he said.

But many American Muslims, he added, feel “like second-class citizens,” who are demonized on TV as “the enemy.”

About a quarter of the world’s people, 1.6 billion, are Muslims, and they are very diverse. Only about 18 percent are Arabs and fit the stereotype many Americans hold.

The world’s Muslims don’t fit our stereotype of hating America either. In every Muslim country’s capital, people line up at 2 a.m. to get visas to come to America, he said. They proudly display the diplomas they’ve earned at American universities in their homes or offices.

Since the 9/11 attacks and 2006 London subway bombings, CAIR has collected on its Web site messages of condemnation by hundreds of Muslim leaders and scholars from all over the world.

“We need to emphasize humanizing one another,” Ayloush said. “We need to insist again and again to reject hate-mongering.”

American attitudes may be slowly changing, said panel member David Grimland, a retired U.S. Information Agency spokesman who worked in U.S. embassies from Turkey to Bangladesh and now lives in Montana.

Grimland cited a Pew poll that in 2007 found 58 percent of Americans thought Islam was more likely to encourage violence than other faiths. By 2009, that had fallen to 38 percent.

Still, there are e-mail messages all over the Internet that spread a “twisted, aggressive, hateful, phobic” view of Islam, Grimland said.

“They take one or two spoonfuls of truth, a few cups of innuendo,” add it to “outright lies and disinformation” and end up with the fearful message that “this is a religious war against America,” Grimland said.

It’s vital that Americans learn to understand, not fear, Islam, he said.

Panel member Tim Spring, Lutheran pastor at Christus Collegium, said Christianity and Islam share common values of caring for the poor, the hungry and powerless.

MSU electrical engineering student Monther Abusultan, a Palestinian and head of the Muslim Students Association, said the two goals of the annual conference are to help Montanans feel comfortable with Islam, and to help Muslims not feel afraid to feel accepted. In general, he said, people in Bozeman accept difference cultures.

“They’re friendly,” he said.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

Friday, February 19, 2010

L.A. Times Commentary: Desecrating a Muslim cemetery with a Center for Human Dignity

Palestinians in Israel have protested the piecemeal destruction of Jerusalem's Mamilla Cemetery over the decades. It's just that their complaints have fallen upon deaf ears.

February 16, 2010|By Hussam Ayloush
Los Angeles Times

It is a leap in logic for the Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to argue in his Feb. 13 Times Op-Ed article that because a parking lot has been built by Israel over part of the Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem, or that power and sewage lines have been placed underground, the Muslim cemetery ceases to exist.

The crux of the dilemma is a simple moral one: The Wiesenthal Center is seeking to build a Center for Human Dignity on top of a Muslim cemetery, a historic landmark and a place held sacred by many. Under the Wiesenthal Center's supervision, more than 200 skeletons have been unearthed at the site.

The cemetery land, along with other property in the waqf (Islamic trust), was designated as "absentee property" when West Jerusalem came under Israel's control after 1948. The land was ruled no longer sacrosanct in 1964 by the state-sanctioned Islamic Sharia Court in Jerusalem, whose members were appointed by Israel and largely distrusted by the Muslim population. In violation of international law, the land was then designated by Israel as public open space, and the municipality built a parking lot on it.

Hier's claim that there has not been any opposition to the building of the parking lot ignores the fact that the government imposed martial law on Palestinians in Israel until 1966. Under this martial law, Israel ensured that any indications of national spirit or identity among Palestinians were quickly and forcefully crushed.

Despite this, Muslims in Israel did legally oppose the designation of waqf land as absentee property in the 1960s, lobbied to rebuild and maintain the Mamilla graves after the 1967 war, protested the desecration of the graves in the '70s and '80s, and today oppose the Center for Human Dignity's construction on the cemetery land. One cannot blame Muslims in Israel because their protests fall on deaf ears.

Hier's assertion that the "Israeli Supreme Court deliberated for almost three years before unanimously . . . authorizing the Wiesenthal Center to begin construction" must be understood in context. This is the same court that has long excused internationally condemned apartheid-like policies and human rights violations against Palestinians, including occupation, settlement construction and denying refugees the right to return. An organization like the Wiesenthal Center -- whose proclaimed mission is to protect the human rights and dignity of all people -- must certainly understand that the Israeli Supreme Court's decision does not settle the moral issue. Building a Museum of Tolerance over the cemetery will only add to the existing pain and suffering of Palestinians and Israelis, further damage relations between Muslims and Jews worldwide and sow new feelings of animosity and division for generations to come.

Ironically, the same Wiesenthal Center that now plans to destroy Jerusalem's historic Muslim cemetery previously spent nearly 15 years forcing the removal of a Roman Catholic convent from Auschwitz, which the organization's associate dean said in 2005 is "the largest Jewish cemetery -- the single largest unmarked human graveyard -- in history," and it "deserves universal respect." Does the Wiesenthal Center believe that a different set of standards should apply to Jewish cemeteries versus non-Jewish ones?

Out of respect for human dignity, which is what this museum is supposed to honor, it would behoove the Wiesenthal Center to relocate the building to land that is not a burial ground. Doing so would not only save the center time and money, it would also keep the name of their Center for Human Dignity from becoming a mockery.

Hussam Ayloush is the greater Los Angeles area executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Islamic group defends student protest (Daily Pilot)

District attorney should drop charges against 11 students because the incident took place on campus, says CAIR.

A pro-Islamic group is urging UC Irvine to drop disciplinary actions against a group of students who were arrested after protesting the Israeli ambassador’s presence on campus by intermittently interrupting him during a speech last week.

In all, 11 students, many of whom yelled and screamed in protest, were detained and cited by campus police for causing a ruckus during Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech. Their tones at times reached fever pitch, according to scenes from the event that were captured in a video posted on YouTube.

Oren was trying to speak about diplomatic relations between Israel and the United States, but was interrupted so often that he had a hard time delivering his message, UCI officials said.

The matter has been forwarded to the Orange County district attorney for possible criminal prosecution, but a decision won’t be made until later this week because the office has not yet received the complaint, said Susan Schroeder, spokeswoman for the D.A.’s office.

But the D.A.’s office should drop the charges because the incident occurred on campus, said the Anaheim office of a pro-Islamic group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“We feel this is a campus event. It was noncriminal, nonviolent and nonthreatening,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR’s Greater Los Angeles Area office. “Off-campus police should not be involved in such matters. The D.A.’s office shouldn’t be involved in such matters. It was just a bunch of students who spoke out at a student event.”

If the campus decides to pursue disciplinary action, then it would only be perceived as “selective enforcement,” Ayloush said, adding that the campus probably does not want to be viewed in such a light.

“We strongly see the protest as a matter of free speech, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees,” he said. “Students complain all the time, they interrupt all the time, or they boo people all the time. This is nothing new. People have yelled to me, ‘Go home, you terrorist,’ and I take it. I don’t complain.”

UCI spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said the process of disciplinary action has already begun and that the university will treat the case “just as it would with any student who faces university discipline.”

She said the students could face disciplinary consequences ranging from a simple warning to a suspension to all-out expulsion. She did not give a timeline on when a decision would be made.

This is not the first time that the Muslim Student Union or a pro-Palestinian group have stirred the pot at UCI as it pertains to Israel-Palestinian relations abroad.

The same can be said of pro-Israeli groups, including the Zionist Organization of America. Demonstrations by both factions have become quite common on campus.

At one point a few years ago, the pro-Palestinian groups during one of its demonstrations compared the plight of the Palestinians to the Holocaust, a view they announced on the back of T-shirts sold at the event.

Jewish students took offense to the comparison.

Eventually, the Zionist Organization of America complained to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, calling the atmosphere at UCI campus “anti-Semitic.” It cast partial blame at the university for standing by and not doing anything about what it viewed as a “hostile environment.”

Ultimately, investigations stemming from complaints in 2004 and 2007 were conducted by the Office of Civil Rights, and after three years of “extensive investigation,” it was determined that there was no basis to back up ZOA’s claims, according to Lawhon...

On campus, is heckling free speech? Or just rude? (USA Today)

On campus, is heckling free speech? Or just rude?
By Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed
USA Today, 2/17/2010

Every few minutes during a talk last week at the University of California at Irvine, the same thing happened. A student would get up, shout something critical of Israel, be applauded by some in the audience, and be led away by police.

The speaker —Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States— was repeatedly forced to stop his talk. He pleaded for the right to continue, and continued. University administrators lectured the students and asked them to let Oren speak. In the end, 11 students were arrested and they may also face charges of violating university rules. (See video of the event)

Those who interrupted Oren, not surprisingly, are strong critics of Israel who believe that they must draw attention to the Palestinian cause. But an argument put forward by some national Muslim leaders in the last week has sent the discussion in a new direction. Those groups maintain that interrupting a campus speech — even repeatedly — should be seen as a protected form of speech.

"The students voiced political views to shame the representative of a foreign government embroiled in controversy for its outrageous violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Delivering this message in a loud and shocking manner expressed the gravity of the charges leveled against Israeli policies, and falls within the purview of protected speech," said a letter released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. That statement followed one by Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which said: "These students had the courage and conscience to stand up against aggression, using peaceful means. We cannot allow our educational institutions to be used as a platform to threaten and discourage students who choose to practice their First Amendment right."

Those statements are quite different from the view of Irvine officials. Michael Drake, the chancellor, had this to say after the interruptions: "This behavior is intolerable. Freedom of speech is among the most fundamental, and among the most cherished, of the bedrock values our nation is built upon. A great university depends on the free exchange of ideas. This is non-negotiable. Those who attempt to suppress the rights of others violate core principles that are the foundation of any learning community. We cannot and do not allow such behavior."

All of this raises the question: Is interrupting a campus speaker ever a legitimate form of free expression?...

"That's definitely not free speech," Jarret S. Lovell, a professor of politics at California State University at Fullerton, said of the interruptions at Irvine and similar tactics elsewhere. Lovell is a scholar of protest and the author of Crimes of Dissent: Civil Disobedience, Criminal Justice, and the Politics of Conscience (New York University Press).

Not only does Lovell think the tactic is wrong in that it denies a hearing to whoever is being interrupted, but he thinks it fails to win over anyone. "When you only hear sound bites" from those interrupting, the students come off as intolerant, he said. "There are so many better ways to demonstrate."

...As one who identifies himself as critical of Israel's policies and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, Lovell said that the Irvine hecklers should realize what will happen next. "It's only a matter of time until Norman Finkelstein speaks at UCI and Jewish groups shout him down," Lovell said of the controversial scholar viewed by many Jews as anti-Israel...

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, defended his group's defense of the interruptions at Irvine. He said that it was unfair to say that the students who interrupted were trying to shut down the talk because they voluntarily left the room after each interruption, and let the talk start again (until the next outburst at least) and eventually let it finish. "Let's put it in perspective. The speaker had an hour to speak, and they each had less than a minute."

Ayloush noted that he is frequently interrupted when he gives lectures, and that it goes with the territory. "We firmly believe that both the representative of the foreign government had the full right to speak and the students being addressed have the right to express their speech, too," he said.

Asked why it might not be better to organize protests with a rally outside or leaflets or signs that don't interrupt a talk, Ayloush said such approaches might well be better, but that this was beside the point and that he wouldn't exclude the heckling strategy used at Irvine. "These are all tactics and different methods of expressing their free speech, and everyone might have their favorite," he said. "The First Amendment was never intended to be exclusively polite and courteous."

Yet another perspective holds that some, modest interruption (less than what took place at Irvine) may be seen as an expression of free speech that doesn't limit the right of a speaker to be heard.

Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, said he holds that view, although he said this was not a question on which AAUP has a policy. And he said that he believes that "most faculty members regard interruption as unacceptable."

Nelson said he is a fan of the speech/protest policy of the University of Michigan. That policy says: "Within the confines of a hall or physical facility, or in the vicinity of the place in which a member of the university community, invited speaker, or invited artist is addressing an assembled audience, protesters must not interfere unduly with communication between a speaker or artist and members of the audience. This prohibition against undue interference does not include suppression of the usual range of human reactions commonly displayed by an audience during heated discussions of controversial topics. Nor does this prohibition include various expressions of protest, including heckling and the display of signs (without sticks or poles), so long as such activities are consistent with the continuation of a speech or performance and the communication of its content to the audience."

Along these lines, Nelson said that some brief demonstration against a speaker doesn't strike him as an assault on free speech "so long as the speaker is allowed to continue." He added that "an interruption that signals extreme objection to a speaker's views is part of the acceptable intellectual life of a campus, but you have to let the speech go on," and he said that he did not believe that repeated interruptions were appropriate in that they would disrupt a talk. "Free speech doesn't mean you are able to trample a campus event."

While defending such a tactic as potentially consistent with ideals of free expression, Nelson added that he personally always favored other approaches. Nelson was at a speech by John Sexton, the president of New York University, after that institution ended recognition of its graduate student union and fought off a strike by supporters of the union. Nelson said he walked to the front of the auditorium, turned his back on Sexton and stood silently through the talk. While the speech was not about graduate unions, Nelson said he wanted to show "my rejection of everything he stood for." But he said he wouldn't have interrupted...

Politics, religion and ignorance — an unhealthy mix

Politics, religion and ignorance — an unhealthy mix
By Hussam Ayloush
IFN Guest Columnist
Thursday, 11 February 2010

Lancaster, a growing city of 145,000 people just north of Los Angeles, recently became embroiled in a heated religious controversy after its mayor called for actively cultivating a Christian city and a member of its city council wrote bigoted anti-Islam comments in an online post.

During his official State of the City address, Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris said his city was “growing a Christian community” while the PowerPoint display behind him showed a large Christian cross and the phrase “2010 Growing a Christian Community.”

He also used the speech to promote a ballot measure that would ratify the city council’s ongoing practice of inviting clergy who mostly invoke the name of Jesus Christ before city council sessions.

Last week, Lancaster City Councilwoman Sherry Marquez posted a short rant on Facebook saying “the Muslim religion is all about ... beheadings, honor killings ... they don’t even blink at killing their own wives/daughters, because they are justified by their religion ...”

In response to these two incidents, CAIR-LA, along with other interfaith and civic leaders, decried the councilwoman’s remarks and asked her to meet with members of the American Muslim community in order to begin to understand how inaccurate her comments were and to gain some understanding of the true beliefs of the constituents she seems to disdain.

Later, CAIR-LA sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling for an investigation into a possible violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause by Mayor Parris.

The Antelope Valley Human Relations Task Force called for an emergency meeting to investigate the remarks by both elected officials as possible hate incidents and to collect information from individuals who may have been adversely affected by those remarks.

What we are witnessing in Lancaster is an unhealthy mix of politics, religion and ignorance. This controversy needs special attention and a long-term remedy.

The issue here is not freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Both these rights are ones I cherish dearly and pledge to defend for every American, including individuals I may completely disagree with.

In the mayor’s case, the issue of concern to me and many other people of various beliefs is simply the upholding of our constitutional principle of separation of church and state, and maintaining the values of inclusiveness and fair treatment.

Parris is an official elected to public office serving Americans of diverse faith backgrounds. He is required to honor and uphold our Constitution. It is that simple.

As an elected official speaking in his official capacity at an event paid for by the city, the mayor must not promote a particular religion — a news story reported that Parris is now offering to reimburse the city for its cost of putting on the event.

In fact, no elected official should be in the business of promoting or favoring a specific religion in his/her official capacity. I would not agree with any mayor, senator, president or elected official in our country using public or elected office to advance the Muslim faith or any other religion. How would residents and citizens of other faiths feel if this happened?

We have a secular government and a pluralistic nation whose Constitution respects the practice of religion, or lack of it for those who choose. Pastors, imams, rabbis and all private citizens are welcome to work on building and promoting any religious community they wish, but our government and its officials must not.

As a person of faith, I strongly value the important positive role that religion, including Christianity, plays in benefiting society. Equally valuable is the parallel and separate role our government and Constitution play.

Being pro-Constitution is not equivalent to being anti-religion, anti-Muslim or anti-Christian.

Our nation and its citizens have thrived for more than 200 years on the Establishment Clause, which mandates that the government will not establish any official religion. The Establishment Clause has allowed all religions to be treated equally and to flourish and contribute to society.

This principle is expressly affirmed by the Supreme Court’s rulings that have fashioned two separate spheres for religion and government, and have explicitly established the government’s neutrality on religion.

Our purpose in filing the DOJ complaint is not to undermine the important positive role that religions, including Christianity, play in benefiting society, but rather to protect religious freedom and ensure that Lancaster and its elected officials abide by the same constitutional separation of church and state as the entire nation.

The city of Lancaster and other public and religious leaders have a critical job now — to take appropriate measures to ensure a secular and inclusive government representative of all residents.

Hussam Ayloush is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Greater Los Angeles Area.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

IN PALESTINE - A touching song by Rich Siegel


Music by Rich Siegel
Lyric by Dave Lippman and Rich Siegel
Copyright 2009, all rights reserved
Way to Peace Music Publishing, ASCAP

Rich Siegel- "In Palestine" from Richard A Siegel on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Corey Saylor: Is America a Christian Nation?

By Corey Saylor
Feb. 16, 2010

The founders wrote, and the state's ratified Article VI, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution which states, "...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Additionally, the First Amendment, added to the Constitution as part of the deal to get it ratified, says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The Library of Congress published a piece entitled "The Founding Fathers and Islam” in 2003 and that hallowed institution concluded, “The Founders of this nation explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic.”

However, in all honesty, whether our nation was founded as a Christian or not is an argument best left to academics debating over the dusty tomes of history.

America was definitely founded as a nation that counted African Americans as three-fifths of a human being (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, but the language was wisely scrubbed by the Fourteenth Amendment) and denied women the right to vote (took them until 1920 until someone wised up and enfranchised the all the ladies, credit to Wyoming for giving them the vote first).

We evolved for the better. The slaves secured their natural right to liberty. Women secured their natural right to vote.

Today, America is a multi-ethnic and multi-faith society with a shared set of core values: individual freedom and dignity, rule of law under which everyone is treated equally, individual opportunity, all committed to fostering the common good, etc.

Christianity is there, contributing to the good of our nation. But so are Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and a host of other faiths.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Mayor Parris apologizes for religious remark

Mayor Parris apologizes for religious remark

Recent comments by the mayor of Lancaster have generated a religious controversy. An Islamic group claims the mayor improperly used his office to promote Christianity.

The mayor met with local religious leaders Monday and apologizes for his remarks.

In a state of the city address a few weeks ago, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris described the city as a Christian community.

"We are a growing Christian community and don't let anybody shy away from that. I need Lancaster residents standing up and saying we are a Christian community and we're proud of it," he said in his speech.

His comments drew strong reactions from religious groups in the Antelope Valley.

Some say that they think the mayor's remarks excluded non Christians.

Monday afternoon at Lancaster's City Hall, Parris along with many religious leaders supporting him, gathered to clear the air. Parris apologized for his remarks and said he wanted to clarify what he meant.

"I think that communities are robust and vibrant when we do everything we can to facilitate all churches, all religions, all faiths to have a robust, vital part of that community," said Parris...

The Council on Islamic American Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, indicated that it plans to file a complaint with the Department of Justice, but the complaint has not been filed yet. The mayor is running for election this year.

(Copyright ©2010 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Lancaster mayor in spotlight (Contra Costa Times)

By Kevin Modesti
Contra Costa Times

An American Muslim group said Friday it has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to look into Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris' remark last week that the city is "growing a Christian community."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations' Los Angeles-area office said in a statement that Parris' comment in support of a municipal ballot measure endorsing prayers at city meetings is a "possible violation" of the Constitution's First Amendment restrictions on laws regarding religion.

CAIR said the letter from executive director Hussam Ayloush to the Department of Justice also alludes to last week's comment on Facebook by Lancaster City Councilwoman Sherry Marquez that beheadings are what Muslims "are all about."

Alyoush said in a statement the complaint is not intended "to undermine the important role that religion, including Christianity, plays in benefiting society but rather to ensure that the City of Lancaster and its officials abide by the same Constitutional separation of church and state that the entire nation abides by."

CAIR's announcement came two days after an anti-hate-crime group called the Antelope Valley Human Relations Task Force said it will hold a hearing Monday to discuss whether the Parris and Marquez remarks constitute "hate incidents."

In an interview Friday, Parris called the groups' actions "outrageous" and said again that his comment was misrepresented, and that it reflected his opinion, not city policy.

"I certainly did not mean to make anybody feel excluded," Parris said. "To anybody who was truly offended, I apologize to them. But I don't regret making the statement."

L.A. Times: Lancaster mayor comes under fire from Muslim organization

Los Angeles Times
February 5, 2010

A Muslim advocacy organization is requesting a Department of Justice investigation into whether comments made by Lancaster’s mayor were unconstitutional.

In his State of the City address last week, Mayor R. Rex Parris said Lancaster was “growing a Christian community.”

"And don't let anybody shy away from that,” he said to an audience of ministers. “I need [Lancaster residents] standing up and saying we're a Christian community, and we're proud of that."

The Greater Los Angeles area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent a letter Friday to the department requesting an investigation into whether Parris’ comments violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which bans the government from supporting or endorsing a religion.

"The divisive statement made by the mayor, when analyzed in context of other recent developments, represents a disturbing pattern by the city of Lancaster," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR-LA.

Parris said he stands by his comments.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice wouldn’t comment on whether it had received the letter or whether other groups have complained about the mayor’s comments.

Complaints like the council's are “reviewed to determine what action, if any, is appropriate,” said Alejandro Miyar, a department spokesman.

-- Raja Abdulrahim

Muslim group seeks govt probe of mayor's remarks

The Washington Post
The Associated Press

Friday, February 5, 2010

LANCASTER, Calif. -- A Muslim group filed a federal civil rights complaint Friday after a Southern California mayor remarked that he was "growing a Christian community" in a state of the city address last week.

In a letter to the U.S. Justice Department, the Council on American-Islamic Relations claimed Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris violated the civil rights of non-Christians and shouldn't have used his official capacity at a city event to advance a particular religion.

The civil rights group also said Parris referred to an April ballot measure that would endorse prayer at city meetings without restricting its content, including references to Jesus Christ, as a way to "validate a Christian stance."

Such a mixing of church and state is "unhealthy, unconstitutional and very divisive," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR in greater Los Angeles.

"The role of any faith, of religion in general, is needed as much as the role of government... Our concern is when the wall of separation is blurred," said Ayloush, whose letter requested a Justice Department investigation.

Parris, who was elected mayor in 2008, said he made the comment in a speech to Christian ministers at an event he paid for and thought it was appropriate. He said he was sorry if anyone was hurt by the remark, which was not his intent.

"I think it is totally ludicrous," Parris said Friday. "Something very dangerous is happening in America when a profession of your faith can end up in actual government hearings.

"All of us get to express our opinion wherever, whenever we want to, including opinions of faith, and that is what I did and that is what I will continue to do."

The controversy follows an uproar in the bedroom community about 40 miles north of Los Angeles about anti-Muslim remarks posted by a city councilwoman on her Facebook social networking page.

Muslim community leaders criticized Lancaster Councilwoman Sherry Marquez for a posting about the 2008 beheading of Aasiya Hassan in New York that reportedly read "this is what the Muslim religion is all about." Marquez apologized for the effect her comments had on the city at a recent City Council meeting.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

BYU publishes classic text written by Islamic philosopher, Avicenna/Ibn Sina

By Michael De Groote
Mormon Times
Wednesday, Feb. 03, 2010
One of the greatest Islamic philosophers is getting some help from Brigham Young University.

Avicenna, who died in 1037 A.D., may not be a familiar name to many people in the West, but his multivolume masterwork, "The Healing," is well-known in the Islamic and Arabic world.

A section of Avicenna's work from "The Healing" called "The Physics" was translated by Jon McGinnis, an associate professor in the department of philosophy of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The resulting two volumes, titled "Avicenna: The Physics of 'The Healing,'" are now available as part of BYU's Middle Eastern Texts Initiative.

"(Avicenna) was one of the greatest minds to walk this earth," Daniel C. Peterson, a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at the Mormon school, said in a phone interview.

BYU published another portion of "The Healing" in 2005 titled "Metaphysics of 'The Healing.'" The current translation is a brilliant synthesis of Aristotelian ideas and Avicenna's own philosophy, Middle Eastern Texts Initiative director Morgan Davis said in a press release from BYU's Maxwell Institute, and is a crucial text for understanding many of the concepts Avicenna develops more fully in the "Metaphysics."

...The publication of Avicenna's work is "an acknowledgment of the great contributions Arabic and Islamic civilization have made to the world," Peterson said. "It is an expression of respect for Muslim tradition on the part of Latter-day Saints."

The book is published by BYU Press and distributed by the University of Chicago Press.


Learn more about Ibn Sina