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American Muslim

Third AMV Convention:
Reflections on an Extraordinary Afternoon

By Shereen Khan

On August 20th, 2006, I had the privilege of attending American Muslim Voice's 3rd Annual Peace Building Convention, “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Heroes.” The Convention provided a setting to learn more about those individuals and organizations that have played a key role in interfaith understanding, cross-community building, and global peace efforts. Guest speakers covered a broad range of topics such as policies and personal experiences with racial profiling, FBI interrogations, global peace movements, personal narratives of losing loved ones to violence, interfaith relations, and historic parallels between the past and the present. The Convention appealed to people of all faith and backgrounds, including the Catholic Filipina woman sitting next to me who was missing her husband’s birthday celebration in order to attend a Muslim event for the first time and learn more about Muslims in the process.

It was wonderful to witness the Muslim community take the initiative to honor those who have lost their lives as well as recognize and thank deserving individuals with the wide-ranging “People’s Choice Awards.” At a time when many complain about the negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the media, it was encouraging to see Argus reporter Jonathon Jones awarded with the Peter Jennings Unbiased Media Award for “providing all dimensions of a story and searching for truth.” The Marla Ruzicka Social Justice Award, named after the 28-year-old humanitarian aid worker who lost her life in Iraq, was presented by her mother, Nancy, to Delores Lundie for her peace building efforts. In a historical moment, Fred Korematsu's 85-year-old wife presented the Civil Rights Award on his behalf to Senator Liz Figueroa for her leadership in passing a resolution against the U.S. Patriot Act in the State of California.      

The Convention also offered important education about civil rights. Immigration attorney Stacy Tolchin with the National Lawyer's Guild provided invaluable advice about what to do in the event of being contacted by the FBI, something that has become increasingly common for Muslims, South Asians, and Middle Easterners. Attorney Walter Riley discussed the debate of racial profiling, citing Amnesty International's report on the subject, while Halema Buzayan and her parents shared their experience as victims of racial profiling at the hands of Davis, CA police and what actions they are taking to combat such injustice.

It was inspiring to hear from Bob Watada on behalf of his son, Lt. Ehren Watada, the first U.S. soldier to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq, rightly accusing the U.S. of waging an illegal war. I admire Ehren’s courage in holding onto his beliefs and making a public statement, despite the stigma and repercussions he currently faces. 

The program was everything the title promised: It was an honor to be in the presence of these seemingly ordinary individuals who had the courage to share their personal struggles of losing loved ones and their decisions to honor them through a commitment to positive change. I am pretty sure that there was not a dry eye in the audience as John and Bev Titus narrated how they heard of their 28-year-old daughter, Alicia’s, death on United Airline Flight 175 on September 11, 2001. As I witnessed them relive that extremely painful moment, I understood how easy it would have been for them to succumb to anger and hatred towards Muslims. And yet, they understood that hatred would not solve anything, and instead joined September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, founded by victims of 9/11. Another featured guest speaker, Azim Khamisa, similarly had every reason to be angry when his only son was murdered in 1995 by a 14-year-old as part of a gang initiation rite. Instead, Azim chose to meet with and forgive the grandfather and guardian of his son’s murderer, with whom he now tours on behalf of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation in effort to speak out against youth violence. Such individuals are truly the heroes of today and have the potential to create a more peaceful future.

I was also impressed by the fact that many of AMV's chapter presidents are young adults who value the importance of dialogue and education in promoting mutual respect and understanding. I left the Convention reflecting on all the speeches I had heard from all the remarkable individuals present and was grateful that AMV had organized such a powerful event. With the current, chaotic state of affairs in the world, it was definitely encouraging to witness true passion for justice and peace, and I hope that such positive efforts will continue to be fostered at a global level.

Shereen Khan is a pre-med student at the University of California at Berkeley, majoring in Integrative Biology. She is involved with a number of student groups on campus. In addition, she is on the executive staff of Generation M, a grassroots youth organization committed to working with other community and faith groups to build bridges of understanding, promote social consciousness, and create dialogue on issues from an American Muslim perspective.