U hosts talks on U.S.-Muslim relations

Matthew Gruchow

The University will host a free lecture series on the future of U.S.-Muslim relations in a townhall meeting at Coffman Union today.

Now in its second year, “Hope, Not Hate” aims to open a dialogue between moderate Muslims and Americans, Seth Green, “Hope, Not Hate” executive director said.

The series will begin at 5 p.m. in the President’s Room in Coffman Union. More than 30 campuses nationwide will host the series, which runs from Sept. 8 to Oct. 11.

“U.S.-Muslim relations have deteriorated immensely, especially with the war in Iraq,” Green said. “If you look at polls and surveys and stuff like that, people in the Muslim world are incredibly opposed to current U.S. foreign policy.”

The Americans for Informed Democracy, the University’s chapter of a nationwide nonpartisan group, began the series on Sept. 11 of last year to combat rising tension between Muslims and the United States, according to the “Hope, Not Hate” Web site.

Too much attention has been given to terrorists who have distorted the Muslim faith, and not enough to the moderate Muslims, Green said.

“And so it’s really critical that we have a better and more complete understanding of one another,” Green said. “(It’s) critical here that we understand the moderate Muslim community and critical over there that they understand that Americans are making thoughtful decisions based on their national security, and not on a hatred of Islam.”

Lectures such as “Hope, Not Hate” help combat the idea that the current U.S. government is not favorable to Muslims, said Abdul Basit, a first-year graduate student at the Institute of Technology.

“To organize these sorts of events on campus, it just gives you a better chance to share things,” Basit, who is from Pakistan, said. “There’s more chances you’ll reach a middle point.”

But U.S.-Muslim relations might worsen before improving, said the series’ co-chairman professor, Akbar Ahmed, who is the former high commissioner of Pakistan to Great Britain.

This year’s lecture series is more focused on U.S.-Muslim relations than previous years. Ahmed said he hopes to overcome barriers to change by engaging all types of people from both communities.

“I think one barrier is ignorance on both sides. The ignorance which is confirmed by the polls, which tell us that 80 percent of Americans knew nothing about Islam and were also hostile to Islam,” Ahmed said. “Similarly, polls in the Muslim world that showed high incidents of anti-Americanism.”

The series will include a bipartisan group of speakers varying from scholars, journalists, military personnel, and foreign and U.S. government officials.

Similar lectures and efforts are planned overseas to carry the message of tolerance directly to Muslim countries, Ahmed said.