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Local Muslim Panel at the Akron Art Museum

Our second event for Thursday, September 6th, took us to the Akron Art Museum where we witnessed a panel discussion featuring members of the local Muslim community who were:

***Ms. Aminah Fogarty who a convert to Islam and spent 25 years living as an expatriate in Saudi Arabia.

***Mr. Shammas Malik, Esquire who is an Assistant Director of Law with the City of Akron.

***Dr. Ghulam Mir, MD who immigrated to the United States from Kashmir in 1974 and is now a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital as well as being very actively involved in the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent.

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The discussion was moderated by Mr. Joshua Gippin, a documentarian whose most recent effort was a film titled "The Chosen People" explored divisive aspects of religion. Supervising the program was Ms. Alison Caplan, Director of Education for the Akron Art Museum who we met at another museum gathering in August that featured Mr. Puspa Gajmer, a refugee from Bhutan/Nepal who settled in Akron in 2011 and made an excellent life for himself. This evening's program was inspired by the Visible Collective's "Disappeared in America" series which is currently on display at the museum as part of the "FRONT International" festival.

Prior to the start of the discussion, Mr. Gippin showed four short films which are part of the series that dealt with the current paranoia about Muslims and their detainment by our authorities.

Placed on the museum wall in close proximity to the "Disappeared in America" series is a statement which Mr. Gippin read to us describing the Visible Collective as a collection of artists organizers and lawyers who have united to to combat "post 9/11 security panic" through "art interventions in public spaces and galleries aimed to humanize immigrants..." The statement goes on for a bit and finally concludes by saying that the "Disappeared in America" series "looks at the experience of being treated as an outsider-and a threat-in your own home."
(see https://front art.org/artists/visible-collective-2001-2007/ AND http://www.disappearedinamerica.org/)

Subsequently the panelists discussed either their own encounters with discrimination in the post 9/11 world or those of their families and/or friends.

Then Mr. Gippin invited audience participation which paved the way for several emotional testimonies including that of a Muslim man who acknowledged that members of his family were once literally spat upon but still believed that the best path to take would be to put aside such hostile acts and move forward especially considering the other serious problems faced by the world at this time and the overall wonderful benefits that the United States has to offer. This viewpoint was challenged by a Muslim woman who believed that such abusive actions were too serious to put aside and, as such, must be protested.

Subsequently, a gentleman sitting behind us who was a Sikh, and was often mistakenly considered to be a Muslim, effectively countered by maintaining that we cannot allow bullying to take place because it can leave long-term emotional scars. Therefore, we should take advantage of the benefits allowed to us by this great country to address the underlying issues that result in such abuse so the next generation will not be treated badly.

Indeed, it was pointed out that we need to learn from our past mistakes, such as discriminatory immigration laws, so they will not be repeated. Concern was expressed about recent controversial practices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Above all, however, the panelists and the audience members seemed to all agree that the United States is a great country and that, despite the problems discussed, they would not want to live anywhere else. Also, the belief was expressed that we would make it through these troubled times.

Along these lines, on an upbeat note, both Mr. Gippin and Dr. Mir talked about how rewarding it was for both of them to participate in recent Jewish-Muslim dialogues sponsored by the Temple Israel because they have been wonderfully effective in creating a genuine sense of all-encompassing community.

Justin Faulhaber