Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2006, pages 54-55

Northern California Chronicle

Dalai Lama Defends Islam at San Francisco Summit to Counter Religious Intolerance

By Elaine Pasquini

Imam Mehdi Khorasani (l) listens to the Dalai Lama express his thoughts on interfaith dialogue and the need for religious tolerance (Staff Photo P. Pasquini).

TENZIN GYATSO, the 14th Dalai Lama, defended Islam and the often-maligned religion’s traditions in a San Francisco interfaith conference April 15. Sponsored by the Zaytuna Institute and the Islamic Society of California, among other groups, the “Gathering of Hearts Illuminating Compassion,” an invitation-only conference held at the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel, drew 500 guests and featured some 20 speakers of various faiths. Among these were the Rev. Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral, Maryam Al-Khalifa Sharief, Waleed El-Ansary and Gray Henry, editor of Islam in Tibet and a member of the organizing committee.

“Nowadays to some people the Muslim tradition appears more militant,” the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism told attendees. “I think that is totally wrong. Muslims, like any other traditions, have the same message, same practice—a practice of compassion.” Wearing his recognizable maroon and saffron robe and sitting lotus-style in a center stage baronial chair, the 70-year-old monk noted the need for an understanding of all religions. “In terms of community, in terms of humanity, the concept of several truths, several religions is very relevant,” he stated.

The conference was organized after Imam Mehdi Khorasani of the Islamic Society of California invited the spiritual leader to speak in San Francisco to counter religious intolerance.

Hamza Yusuf, co-founder of the Zaytuna Institute, a Hayward-based center for Islamic study, thanked the Dalai Lama for reaching out to Muslims. “This is something so essential to an increasingly globalized environment,” he emphasized. “The Dalai Lama said that the essence of pain and suffering is ignorance. This is a completely Islamic understanding. In order for us to root out hatred, we have to root out ignorance. We have much to learn from the Buddhists. As a Muslim, I have learned from this man and I want to learn more.”

Now based in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala, India after fleeing his native Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese occupation, the Dalai Lama promised to attend any interfaith dialogue conference to which he is invited. The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner also urged the audience to become involved in interfaith dialogue. “We need action,” he said.

His Holiness concluded the program by leading the audience in a moment of meditation.

Dr. Riyad Mansour Addresses ADC-SF

Dr. Riyad Mansour at the ADC-SF banquet (Staff Photos P. Pasquini)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to unilaterally define the borders of Israel by retaining control of strategic parts of the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and three major illegal settlement blocs is illegal and would be the end of the two-state solution, Dr. Riyad Mansour told some 300 people attending the annual banquet of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC-SF). “This is in clear violation of relevant provisions of international law as reaffirmed in Security Council Resolutions and violates the rights of the Palestinian people,” he stated. “It is an attempt to confer legitimacy on illegal Israeli settlements and to negate the rights of the Palestinian refugees.”

Dr. Mansour, the permanent observer for Palestine to the United Nations, was the keynote speaker at the April 22 event, held at the Clarion Hotel near San Francisco International Airport. Also featured were comedian Aaron Kader and musicians Raed Maleh and Ziad Elchatle.

The ambassador called on Israel to release some $54 million in monthly tax and customs receipts, which legally belong to the Palestinian Authority but which Israel has been withholding since Hamas won a majority of Palestinian Legislative Council seats in Jan. 25 elections. “The choice of the people deserves respect and support,” he reminded his audience. “Therefore, the Palestinian people must not be punished by anyone for exercising their democratic right to elect their representatives.”

Decrying the ongoing and escalating Israeli military attacks on densely populated Palestinian civilian areas, Mansour noted that between April 7 and 12 Israeli forces killed 22 Palestinians, bringing the number of Palestinians killed since September 2000 to more than 3,800.

Mansour discussed the Arab League Summit held March 28 and 29 in Khartoum, Sudan, which affirmed the reinvigoration of the Arab League’s Beirut Declaration of March 2002 calling for full Israeli withdrawal from all of the Palestinian territories occupied since June 1967 in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel. “Israel should respond positively to this call for peace and end its nearly 39-year-old occupation and aggression against the Palestinian people,” he said.

Stressing the need for “a just solution to the Palestinian refugees,” Mansour insisted there must be “a negotiated settlement and not one that is imposed on the Palestinian people.”

“Only until Israel complies with U.N. resolutions and adheres to international law will we see the end to the cycle of violence and bloodshed that has taken the lives of innocent civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian,” Mansour concluded. “Only then will genuine peace, freedom and security be realized for both people and for the entire region and future generations.”

Views on Iraq War

Participants in a March 31 presentation on the Iraq war included (l-r) New York Times journalist Chris Hedges, Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf, filmmaker Deborah Scranton and photographer Kael Alford (Staff Photos P. Pasquini).

On March 31, the Zaytuna Institute sponsored the program “Does God Love War?” at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School, featuring journalist Chris Hedges and Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf. Prior to the program, Zaytuna Institute co-founder Hesham Alalusi hosted at his home near San Francisco a presentation on the Iraq war.

Photographer Kael Alford discussed her experiences photographing the Iraq war in 2003. Her photographs, and those of three other photographers, are featured in the book Unembedded. While many of her photos were published in U.S. newspapers, she recalled one editor telling her, “Don’t send us any more civilian casualty pictures. We can’t run pictures of dead civilians every day.”

The guests gathered in the Alalusi living room—many of them Iraqi-Americans—viewed with horror Alford’s photographs of injured civilians in hospitals, damage from stray missiles hitting a house while a family was eating lunch, and civilians trying to get around safely amid the street fighting.

Next, independent filmmaker Deborah Scranton presented a short clip of “War Tapes,” a documentary of the war shown through the eyes of five New Hampshire National Guardsmen who, equipped with digital movie cameras, filmed at their discretion. Again, guests sat quietly viewing scenes of the daily trauma and callousness of the war and the power of modern weaponry. 

New York Times correspondent and war reporter Chris Hedges gave his views on the Iraq war. “Rarely do the people at home get any sense of how revolting and horrifying war is, which is essentially about destruction and hatred,” he said. “What is happening in Iraq—and is very similar to what is happening in Palestine and what happened in Vietnam—is that we [U.S. military] are carrying out far more acts of murder than acts of killing—”˜killing’ being the killing of people who are trying to harm you, ”˜murder’ being the death of people who don’t have the ability to harm you.”

The author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning blasted the media for “not showing what is happening on the streets of Iraq. Until we begin to grapple with what is being done in our name and the media begins to do its job, things will just get worse.”

Lastly, Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf lamented American civilian indifference to the war. “Our country’s apathy about the Iraq war is overwhelming,” he said. “We need to make Americans more aware of the responsibility we have to people around the world.”

For more information on the Zaytuna Institute, a non-profit educational institute dedicated to Islamic studies co-founded by Hesham Alalusi and Hamza Yusuf, visit its Web site: <http://www.zaytuna.org>.

Egyptian Cultural Night

More than 100 people gathered at San Francisco’s Arab Cultural and Community Center April 27 for an evening celebrating Egyptian culture.

While the April 24 bombings in the south Sinai resort of Dahab remained on everyone’s minds, Consul General Abderahman Salaheldin reaffirmed Egypt’s commitment to peace and delivered an upbeat talk on his country’s efforts to improve its economy and move the country forward.

Asked about Egypt’s economic ties with Israel, Salaheldin said they are continuing. Egypt supplies Israel with oil and will soon supply it with natural gas, he said, while Israel reciprocates by providing Egypt technical expertise regarding desert irrigation. He pointed out, however, that until Israel withdraws from the occupied Palestinian territories, there will not be a comprehensive peace in the region. This will require the U.S. to play a forceful role, however. “Without it,” he concluded, “there will be no peace.” 

Elaine Pasquini is a free-lance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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