Margaret W. Wong Forum on Foreign Born Individuals of Distinction
On Friday, June 17th, we were proud to attend the "Margaret W. Wong Forum on Foreign Born Individuals of Distinction" at the City Club of Cleveland along with our colleagues Ms. Cecilia Wong, Ms. Sage Wen, and Mr. George Koussa.
In this introductory remarks, Mr. Dan Moulthrop, City Club CEO, acknowledged Ms. Margaret W. Wong for her support of immigrants and such local institutions in Cleveland as the City Club. Former City Club President Dick Pogue also paid tribute to Ms. Wong when he gave the closing remarks.
On this day, the speaker was Mr. Mustafa Akyol, noted Turkish writer, journalist and scholar, and the title of his presentation was "Is Islam Compatible with Freedom?" In answer to that question, Mr. Akyol said that the answer is "yes" provided Islam is practiced in a way that gives people choices which is the way it is largely done here in the United States and in most places throughout most of the world. The trouble is that several countries in the Middle East (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan) are taking it totally out of context and using it as a form of oppression. An example that he gave was that in Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive because there is a line in the Qur'an that says that women should not be sent alone into the desert which made sense centuries ago when they would have been bait for bandits and warring factions but it has absolutely nothing to do with using an automobile for practical purposes in everyday life in the 21st century.
We looked up Mr. Aykol on "Wikipedia" and learned that he considered himself "a classical liberal" and that was certainly evident. He interspersed the proper amount of humor and seriousness into his speech as he talked about how he first visited the United States 20 years ago and saw it as "the land of Rocky Balboa." His friend took him to have breakfast at McDonalds where he fell in love with pancakes; only it took him quite a while to discover that McDonalds did not have a pancake monopoly and other restaurants and homes prepared and served them. He said to make a mistake like that about a culture was understandable and easily remedied but the trouble is that the media portrays an inordinate number of Muslims in foreign lands as dangerous, United States-hating radicals which certainly isn't true any more than the media in the Middle East broad-stroking the number of Christians who agree with the burning of multiple copies of the Qur'an by Pastor Terry Jones to commemorate the anniversary of September 11th.
During the Q and A, several people like our Mr. Koussa asked what can be done to counter these misinterpretations so Mr. Akyol urged the study of the history of Islam from ancient times up to now. He also urged the young people who have thankfully crossed religious lines to make all kinds of friends "to take up the banner" of championing the benefits of diversity. Along these lines, Mr. Aykol believed that globalization will help a great deal.
Before the program started, we introduced ourselves to Mr. William Green, a retired pastor who does a lot of work with Ms. Irshad Manji who advocates for of a "reformist" interpretation of Islam. We also talked to Rev. Doug Horner of St. Paul's Community Church who believes such dialogues as we were taking part in today to be immensely important.
After the program, Mr. Akyol was available to sign copies of his book, "Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty" which was being sold as the City Club by Cultural Exchange. Our Ms. Cecilia Wong came with a copy from the library which she asked Mr. Aykol to sign on behalf of the people here in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County which he gladly did. She plans to give it directly to Mr. Felton Thomas, Director of the Cleveland Public Library, who we know will be delighted by the results of her efforts.
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