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A Future that Belongs to Us All Part 2; Council of World Affairs' (CCWA) 4th annual Global Impact Award presentation

img_5619On Tuesday, October 25th, our first event took place at noon at Trinity Cathedral on Euclid Avenue which was a dialogue between the Very Rev. Tracey Lind and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who, as the program notes indicated, is "the founder and Chairman of the Cordoba House, a multi-national, multi-faith organization dedicated to improving Muslim-West relations" as well as the author of several books.

From Cordoba Initiative website, we learned that "the name Cordoba was chosen to symbolize the time in history when Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in peace and harmony and created a prosperous center of intellectual, spiritual, cultural, and commercial life in the city of Cordoba in Southern Spain."

This event was the second one in the "A Future that Belongs to Us All" series which celebrates Trinity Cathedral's 200th year anniversary. This series is sponsored by CSU, WVIZ, 90.3 WCRN, and the City Club of Cleveland.

At the start of the program, Imam Feisal defined his role as an "Imam" in the United States as being a prayer leader, a counselor, and perhaps most importantly, one who serves as an interlocutor to bring people of all faiths together to promote an "intergenerational dialogue." Imam Feisal, who was 68, believed that this was somewhat more easier now than it was when he was younger because people are connected or have the potential to be connected because they share commonalities like iPhones, apps, and apparel (like Nike) that have found popularity throughout the world.

He said that he was comfortable with Islam as his own faith and hoped that other people throughout the world had found or would find a faith that they could be comfortable with and then behave towards one another in a "nonaggressive" manner. Of course human beings will always have challenges working with each other but it is very rewarding when common ground can be found.

Imam Feisal believed that the reason that so many have misunderstood Islam has to do with the tumultuous political situation in the Middle East which he believes will eventually be resolved. Of course he didn't believe that it was fair to say that Islamic extremists represent the Quran any more than the Inquisitors in Spain represented the Bible.

He upheld the United States as the ideal place for religious diversity to be practiced because here everyone has the right to practice his/her faith without fear of reprisals. Certainly there are social injustices here in the U.S. but by working together on common causes we can make things better. He urged us all to get to know each other and hopefully develop friendships. This is very important because Imam Feisal believed that "friendship" is the basis for all constructive interactions.

During the Q and A, Imam Feisal talked about some of the cultural challenges facing Muslims particularly those who have immigrated to the United States.  For instance, the style of dress for Muslim women is more modest and restrained as opposed to the more sexually provocative style of dress that is often dominant in our culture. Fortunately, however, designers have latched onto this and have come up with fashions that emphasize beauty without being provocative that is very appealing to women of all faiths.  He believed that it is exchanges like this that can be very helpful to understanding each other.

We asked him to talk about some of the other challenges facing Islamic immigrants and he mentioned that when he came to the United States when he was younger it was difficult for men to express affection for each other (which is common in the Middle East) without being labeled as LGBT. He also very thoughtfully stated due to intermarriage amongst different ethnicities and faiths many "multinational" children are being born who must find a place in the society of today. Imam Feisal then made the observation that the U.S. was once a "melting pot" and now it is more like a "salad bowl" which, in our opinion, couldn't be more true.

We arrived early and were greeted by Ms. Ginger Bitikofer, a representative of the Church who recognized us and sat next to Mr. Philip Corfman, a freshman majoring in History at CSU with whom we also sat several weeks ago when U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and his wife, Ms. Connie Schultz spoke there.

Among the audience members were students from Shaker Heights High School who had been taking a class on human rights and conflict resolution. Their teacher, Ms. Jessica O'Brien told us that they had discussed Imam Feisal's efforts to get a Human Rights Mosque established in New York after 911 blocks away from Ground Zero.

This motivated us to further explore the Cordoba Initiative and were impressed by the work that it is doing. As we read on its website, it "intends to develop a series of multi-faith, multi-cultural institutions that will help make possible those one-on-one introductions necessary for true learning and harmonious engagement. Our dream is to have a Cordoba House in every nation where religious tensions exist...Each Cordoba House plans to provide a physical space housing the programs necessary to bring different people together...Through regular participation in such activities people of all faiths people of all faiths will be able to forge and multiply the bonds that transform human dislike into human understanding and acceptance. The global Cordoba Initiative will provide a scalable model for instilling tolerance for the beliefs of others."

On Tuesday night we went to the Intercontinental Hotel on Carnegie Avenue for the Cleveland Council of World Affairs' (CCWA) 4th annual Global Impact Award presentation.

img_5628 As our program notes stated, "the Global Impact Award seeks to recognize an individual or organization whose actions have had positive impact in helping to create greater understanding and cooperation among people or countries around the world."

This year the honoree was former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker, III whose biography read that "he served under George H.W. Bush as the Secretary of State from 1989 to 1992 and was Secretary of the Treasury from 1985 to 1988 under Ronald Reagan. He served twice as White House Chief of Staff-from 1981 to 1985 under President Reagan and from 1992 to 1993 under President Bush. Long active in American presidential politics, Mr. Baker led campaigns for Presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush over the course of five consecutive presidential elections from 1976 to 1992. In recent years, he has served with former Congressman Lee Hamilton as co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, with President Jimmy Carter as co-chairman of the Commission on Federal Election Reform and with the late Secretary of State Warren Christopher as co-chairman of the National War Powers Commission. He is Honorary Chairman of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University."

On this occasion, Sec. Baker gave the "Brooks Emeny Distinguished Lecture" and the title of his speech was "Challenges Facing the Next President." Before he began, Sec. Baker paid tribute to his now-departed good friend, Senator George Voinovich who had personally called him to ask him to come here. Sec. Baker said that U.S. government needs more people like Senator Voinovich who wasn't afraid to work with the opposing party and get things done.

He then talked about how he had first gotten into politics at the request of his old friend, George H.W. Bush who needed help with his U.S. Senatorial campaign back in 1970 and how that experience paved the way for his political career. He then turned to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and said (and a lot of people feel this way) that at age 87 he thought he had seen it all but this election was truly "unique" becauseimg_5636 three out of five voters distrust both leading candidates and both parties nominated the person that the other side could easily beat. Nevertheless, whether the winner is Mr. Trump or Secretary Clinton, he/she will have his/her work cut out for them.

First of all, he believed that the U.S. economic recovery was only sputtering along and steps must be taken to make it stronger because without a strong economy, we cannot be strong in the areas of foreign affairs and defense. He went on to present his view on such important issues as the potentially high interest rates and the national debt and believed that the now and future President could learn from the pro-growth policies of President Ronald Reagan.

As for foreign affairs, he believed that the U.S. needs to move to the forefront and display more leadership which we can do via our economic and diplomatic policies and only rely on the military as a last resort. He then discussed what we could do and/or should have done in regarding Isis, Iraq, Syria and Putin. He said that we must also cope with the emergence of China as a world power and credited President Obama doing well in U.S./China relations.

He then said that both Republicans and Democrats must once more learn to work together (i.e. "too much bickering and quarreling") if issues like climate change are to be resolved and talked about the potential benefits of a "carbon tax." He returned to the subject of both sides working together and compromising and said that the "voters need to understand that no one side gets to make the rules."


When he had completed his speech, Sec. Baker received a standing ovation and everyone we talked to thought he had done a terrific job.

At the reception prior to the dinner, we talked to Mr. Ken Conley who told us that Ms. Margaret W. Wong helped "CCAI" a company that he was once connected with on some immigration matters involving workers from Canada and Australia. Mr. Jim Foster, former Executive Director of the City Club, told us that he really appreciated the participation of "Margaret W. Wong and Associates" at the City Club spelling bee in September where we were represented by Mr. George Koussa.

At dinner we sat with five teachers from Lincoln-West High School, which enjoys the support of the CCWA, who were Ms. Lindsey Oates, Ms. Theresa Carlin, Ms. Nora Rege, Ms. Cynthia Morales, and Ms. Esther Velez. Ms. Oates told us that there are refugee students at Lincoln-West from such countries as Africa, Syria, and Nepal. She said that it is often difficult for them to share their story but they work hard and do well in terms of mastering the English language. We spoke for a few minutes about the bilingual education and the immersion process.

We would like to mention that other fine speeches were given that night by Mr. Wael Khoury, Chairman of the CCWA Board of Directors, who explained the purpose and the accomplishments of the Cleveland Council on World Affairs; Mr. P. Kelly Tompkins, Executive Vice President & CFO of Cliff's Natural Resources, who introduced Sec. Baker; and Mr. Richard W. Pogue, Chairman of the Global Impact Award Dinner.  Regarding the fact that both the Indians and the CAVS were playing on this particular night, Mr. Pogue observed that this banquet had "a great turnout on this night of competition" and noted that "we announced long before the CAVS!"


Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC


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