The Words of the Haider Family

From 9/11 To The Iraq War - A Leading American Moslem Calls For Dialogue

Peter Haider
November 8, 2005
IIFWP Austria

Lecture of Dr. Mohamad Bashar Arafat and panel discussion with leading Austrian Moslems, in cooperation with the US Embassy in Vienna.

Imam Dr. Mohamed Bashar Arafat, known for his project Civilizations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation explained in his lecture the situation of Muslims in America, emphasizing the importance of dialogue und tolerance against an atmosphere of conflict and distrust. Dr. Arafat mentioned that Muslims are not without guilt concerning the lack of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, because the Muslim community is separate from the society in which it exists. Imam Arafat, who is an advisor in Islamic affairs to Maryland, explained also that the dialogue between American society and the Muslim community became more intensive since the terrorist attacks from September 11, 2001. "That should have happened already before 9/11 and it is still not enough, but at least it is a positive start." The Imam continued, "Our biggest enemy is ignorance". He himself experienced this ignorance when his Syrian family opposed his marriage with an American woman. "They knew American women from ‘Baywatch’ or ‘Sex In The City’. As a Muslim from Syria with the name "Arafat" he was always watched skeptically when he entered a Western country. Such resentments have to be overcome. Neither governments nor churches can do this alone; a close cooperation is necessary.

The US Embassy in Vienna, which had invited Imam Dr. Arafat for a lecture tour to Austria was the co-sponsor and initiator of the event and was represented by Mr. Peter Schröder, public affairs officer at the Embassy. In preparing the visit they approached the IIFWP-Austria to function as a mediator with the Viennese Muslim community which did not want to have any official relationship in public with any person invited by the American government, even not with an Imam. At the event Mr. Schröder praised the contributions of this American Imam and spoke about his government’s readiness for dialogue, better relationships and more understanding in order to fight radicalism and terrorism. As a spokesman of the American Embassy Mr. Schröder mentioned that friendship and cooperation, peace, tolerance and cultural diversity should be promoted instead of fighting among religions and cultures. After 9/11 such efforts have become much more important.

Mag. Aiman Morad, representative of the "Islamic League of culture" in Austria, participated in the panel discussion which followed Dr. Arafat`s speech. He voiced his criticism of Dr. Arafat`s opinion, stating that dialogues of that nature will not achieve the desired success, since avoiding the bitter reality with nice words cannot solve the problems. According to Mr. Morad, in a genuine dialogue the real nature of the problems must be addressed. He then pointed out the apparent contradiction between the American government's PR activities through their Embassy in Vienna, proclaiming their readiness for dialogue on one hand, and the endless chain of scandals in US international politics, which prove the opposite: Wrong information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Guantanamo, Falluja etc.

Mr. Schröder listened patiently to the harsh criticism of Mr. Morad, a representative of a world deeply hurt by the Americans. Also Dr. Arafat kept his peaceful attitude and tried to reemphasise the importance of dialogue in creating an atmosphere of trust. Mr. Schröder who endured Mr. Morad`s criticism without comment gained the sympathy of the audience by the end of the evening. When I talked to him a few days later he told me that that evening was the best of all the lecture evenings that took place in Austria with Dr. Arafat, as it was an encounter with reality, not just fine words.

Peter Haider – IIFWP Austria

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