In February I was asked by my friends at Pacifica Institute Utah and Anatolian Cultural Center Utah to moderate a community discussion with Dr. Daniel Hummel, Assistant Professor of Political Science from Idaho State University. We were responding to Imam Fethullah Gulen’s article in the Wall Street Journal, Combating the Extremist Cancer.
Extremism of any stripe hurts everyone, and we had a lively discussion on how ordinary people can help fight this terrible cancer on our society. My article on the event is also on the Pacifica Institute national website, and the pictures come from my friends at Pacifica Institute Utah and Anatolian Cultural Center Utah.
Friday, February 12, 2016 saw the inaugural event of the new Salt Lake City location of the Utah Anatolian Cultural Center/Pacifica Institute. This was an open community discussion on Combating the Cancer of Extremism, with special guest Dr. Daniel Hummel of Idaho State University. Dr. Hummel, an Assistant Professor in the ISU Political Science Department, is a specialist in Public Administration and has a very hands-on and practical approach. Raised a Christian, Dr. Hummel is a convert to Islam and plays a very active role in his community in addition to the university – he is an interfaith leader as well as acting imam at his mosque in Pocatello, Idaho.
The topic of discussion was the November/December 2015 The Fountain article by Imam Fethullah Gulen, “Combating the Cancer of Extremism” (first published in The Wall Street Journal August 2015). Introducing Dr. Hummel and moderating the community discussion was Andrew Kosorok, glass artist and chaplain-in-training – he is a Christian, and Pres. Coskun of the Utah ACC/Pacifica felt this would set a tone of inclusiveness for the evening. Many faiths were represented including Muslims, Christians, Pagans, and Humanists, all taking an active role in addressing one of the most serious and devastating of modern ills.
“One thing that is truly remarkable about Imam Gulen,” said Andrew in his welcome, “is the fact that although he hangs his messages soundly on the teachings of the Qur’an, the truths he share echo through the belief system of every major faith and decent person in the world.” Extremism is aptly described as a cancer, drawing energy to itself as it seeks to crush the healthy “organs” and systems of society it touches.
Six points from Gulen’s article iterated by Mr. Kosorok were: 1) Religious platitudes like “turn the other cheek” refer to patience and nonviolence in response to evil action, and does not mean we should “fall prey to victimhood”, 2) We should nurture “holistic understanding” of religions, particularly Islam, and bond with like-minded people regardless of cultural or religious differences, 3) We need to be actively vocal in our support of the human rights of dignity, life and liberty, 4) It is vital that we encourage education in the arts, humanities, and science in an atmosphere of respect for every life, 5) We must support religious education and religious freedom so we are prepared with the tools necessary to combat extremist dogma, and 6) We must actively promote and support equal rights for women and men. “Basic human rights and rights of gender equality are an inextricable birthright of the human experience,” Andrew pointed out, “We cannot grant them – but we must recognize and respect them as they are already there.”
Dr. Hummel presented some fascinating and saddening statistics. “Out of dozens of mass shootings around the US last year, the popular media only keeps a handful in the news cycle – those involving horrible people claiming association with Islam.” He also shared that in 2015, out of 56 extremist attacks foiled in the US at least 44 were stopped directly because Muslims stepped forward to help. And worldwide many more Muslims die and are hurt at the hands of so-called “Muslim” terrorists than any other faith group. “Terrorist extremists who commit atrocities in the name of Islam are only a fraction of one part of one minor sect of Islam, yet popular media uses them to define Islam for all of us.”
Be vocal yet polite, be engaged as a neighbor, sincerely care about those around you regardless of faith, and take an active and healthy role in the democratic process – all were ideas Dr. Hummel shared with several examples. One audience member asked, “What are you and your family doing specifically?”
“I am very active in interfaith work and dialogue in Pocatello,” he responded. “Our mosque works with the LDS, Episcopal, and other Christian groups whenever we can. Our child attends a Catholic school with children of many other faiths. As we interact with each other familiarity and friendliness dispel the mistrust of ignorance, and each of us see the other is a person too.” Dr. Hummel also shared a recent encounter with an evangelist Christian group who came to Pocatello to picket and proselyte the mosque. “We completely shocked them by coming out, introducing ourselves, and asking them inside for refreshments!” The group took them up on the offer and what began as a contentious encounter quickly transformed into tentative friendship. “They invited us to come to their home town for a religious debate, we countered with the offer of a friendly debate, and now we are making plans for a real dialogue.” Education, dialogue and mutual respect, Dr. Hummel emphasized, are invaluable keys to overcoming extremist hatred and violence.
Another audience member shared her own ongoing project – “I am going through the Qur’an and writing commentary on what I read from my own Christian perspective, finding all the points of commonality and intersection I can.” The faiths are different, but through thoughtful and prayerful comparison she is finding cause to respect the differences and celebrate the similarities.
The audience discussion was lively and animated, and voices from many faiths were heard – extremism is a problem not just for Muslims, but for everyone to resolve. After the close of comments, Dr. Hummel remained to answer individual questions and the audience broke into friendly conversations among new friends as the evening came to a satisfying end.
All in all a very fruitful evening.
For more tools on combating extremism, here’s a good resource.