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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1998, pages 104-108

Muslim-American Activism

“Vision” Examined at AMA’s Third Annual Convention

“Co-authoring America’s Vision of Itself” was the theme of the third annual convention of the American Muslim Alliance held Oct. 3 in Hempstead, New York. The national convention of the AMA, a grassroots Islamic political organization which has opened some 80 local chapters all over the United States in its first three years of existence, also assessed progress in its “2,000 by 2000” campaign to promote and assist in the election of 2,000 Muslims to elected offices in the United States by the end of the 20th century.

As at both previous AMA national conventions in Boston in 1996 and St. Louis in 1997, representatives of other national Islamic political organizations participated. AMA Secretary-General Dr. Agha Saeed, a Pakistan-born professor of political science in the University of California system, was a major advocate of the formation of a coordinating council of national Islamic organizations in the United States and was elected its chairman at its first meeting earlier this year. An average of 350 persons attended each of the AMA plenary convention sessions, and some 650 persons, including a number of candidates for political office, attended the evening banquet.

The morning plenary session, entitled “Vision,” chaired by Dr. Farouq Khan, was opened by Nassau County executive Thomas Gulotta and covered both the American political scene and the Palestine and Kashmir problems overseas. Dr. A’isha Kareem, chairman of the AMA California organizing committee, spoke on “the importance of character in politics.”

President Amr Alshawa of the Islamic Association of Palestine, who spoke on “Palestine, the American Context,” criticized “the tremendous amounts of U.S. aid going to Israel in a very unjust way.”

He noted that the largest number of refugees in the world are Muslims, many of whom have suffered 50 years of dispossession from Palestine.

“Muslims have to check in,” he said, so that their activities, their letters and other political actions will motivate President Bill Clinton to support human rights everywhere, and not just where non-Muslims are involved.

Executive director Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai of the Kashmiri American Council in Washington, DC spoke on “Kashmir: Post-Nuclear Imperatives.” He said, “The linkage between Kashmir and the nuclear age is very important because the cause of the nuclear tension between India and Pakistan is none other than Kashmir.”

“Kashmir is an independent territory,” Fai said. “Kashmir is neither India nor Pakistan. Therefore talks are not going to succeed unless all parties are included in all talks regarding Kashmir.”

Dr. Riaz Ahmed, a member of the AMA board of directors and an activist in Pakistani-American organizations in Detroit, introduced the next speaker, Rep. David Bonior. In addition to representing a constituency in the northern suburbs of Detroit and being House Minority Whip (second-ranking House Democratic leader after Rep. Richard Gephardt), Representative Bonior “is the most popular congressman among Pakistani-Americans,” Dr. Ahmed said, because of two measures he has introduced into Congress to improve U.S.-Pakistani relations. (The full text of Representative Bonior’s speech is on pp. 76 of this issue.)

The next speaker was Dr. Eqbal Ahmad, a professor of political science whose antiwar and anti-imperialist activism in Pakistan and Britain gave him international prominence during the Vietnam War period. His fiery rhetoric of the 1960s replaced by the eloquence of deep thought and conviction, Dr. Ahmed spoke movingly of the vital importance to the entire world of Muslims integrating into and playing a positive role in America.

“How do Muslims join the mainstream of American life without losing their identity?” he asked. “It should not be any more difficult than it has been for the Jews, the Italians, or the Spaniards to join the mainstream. It is said that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. This is not a cliché. It is the truth.

“The demands that the U.S. makes of immigrants are very limited, and they are very well-defined. You’re not really welcome if you don’t work hard. It’s a society of producers, and of workers.

“Even the capitalist works very hard at exploitation. If you’re a good producer, worker, you’re respected. God knows I’ve given a lot of trouble to the authorities, and yet I’m respected.

“In fact, I’m honored because I’m a good worker. Taking an interest in the schools, in the society, means taking action where you’ve seen injustice. Citizenship is a responsibility. It is an obligation and, quite frankly, it’s a hard obligation if you wish to do it well.

“This society in turn leaves people alone. There is no contradiction between being an American and being a Muslim. As citizens we have to carry out our civic obligations.”

Dr. Ahmed described the Palestinian dispossession as “the last full-scale genocide after World War II...We cannot allow the present suffering. We must look at ourselves objectively. We are turning Islam into a pure ritual,” he charged.

“Islam is the only religious system in which the idea of progress was inherent. That is one reason that Islam expanded not only politically, but culturally,” Ahmed said. “This [Islamic] civilization is a synthesizing civilization. Therefore there is no problem of mixing your identities as Muslims and Americans. If this community is to contribute to this society, we will be judged by what we do where we live.”

Concluding with more historical analysis, Dr. Ahmed attributed the decline of classical Islamic civilization to a “loss of courage.” He said, “the last scientific laboratory in the Islamic world closed in the same year that the first scientific laboratory opened in Europe. One linked to knowledge at the same time the other de-linked from knowledge.”

Applying this theme to the catastrophe in Palestine, Dr. Ahmed concluded: “After you have studied every detail of how Palestine was lost and taken over by Jews,” he said, “you will conclude that the cause was absence of attention to detail by the Arabs and extraordinary attention to detail by the Jews.”

The concluding speaker of the morning session was AMA founder and Secretary- General Dr. Agha Saeed, who spoke on “AMA’s Vision of the 21st Century.” Pointing out that the previous speakers had made it clear “that we need a strategy to turn things around,” he told his audience, “if you are hurt by what you see in Palestine, then hold that anger and channelize it in a strategy.”

Dr. Saeed said that American Muslims have developed a coordination council for their political organizations that includes the American Muslim Council (AMC), American Muslim Alliance (AMA), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Muslim Political Action Committee (MPAC). He expressed the hope that it soon will be joined by the largest Muslim group, the Coalition for Good Government headed by Warith Deen Mohammad.

The ultimate goal of American Muslims should be to earn the right to be “co-authors of America’s vision for itself,” Dr. Saeed said. But this will not happen until their fellow Americans become more aware of the positive role Muslims can play in American civic as well as economic life.

“In America not to be seen on TV means not to exist, and to some extent it means not to be an American,” Dr. Saeed said. He added, however, that while U.S. Muslims are seeking to introduce themselves to their fellow Americans, “Zionists have started a concerted effort to indict us on television.”

“The Muslim agenda for the 21st century is to build at least 10 think tanks and to qualify candidates for public office. And we have to come to grips with problems that exist among Muslims,” he said. Noting that Zionists have used leverage in the media to defame Muslims, he added that “it is precisely in the area of elections that we have leverage,” given the growing U.S. Muslim population, and its concentration in key electoral states such as California.

The luncheon session, chaired by Dr. Abdul Kumbargi and moderated by Dr. Mahjabeen Islam-Husain, included a special presentation on Malcolm X, the former Black Muslim leader who, after a pilgrimage to Mecca and well before his murder, led the evolution of his followers from adherents of a race-based sect to full acceptance of and integration into mainstream, Sunni Islam, which eschews racism.

Dr. Islam-Husain, a medical practitioner in Toledo, Ohio, who also writes a column for this magazine, described in humorous terms her personal experiences in helping members from her city’s several mosques to organize “meet the candidates” events prior to the 1996 and 1998 elections.

Noting that “moving Muslims to political action is like moving mountains,” she drew a parallel between the current struggle and the struggle of Malcolm X. Pointing out that “Congress and the media are the two bastions of power in the country,” she declared, “As Malcolm conquered the devil within, let us conquer the devil without.”

Speaking on “Understanding the Legacy of Malcolm X,” Chicago attorney Seema Khan said, “he gave us the ability to confront injustice.” Listing “six major waves of immigration after the [American] revolutionary era,” Ms. Khan said, “it is because people like Malcolm X had the courage to stand up that we, as the sixth wave, are able to come in and say that we want to participate.”

After poet Bilal Kareem presented a tribute to Malcolm X, African-American AMA board member Eric Vickers said that it was “reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X that inspired me to be an attorney and then to become a Muslim.

“The greatest jihad a Muslim can perform is the jihad he performs on himself,” Vickers said. Malcolm X had the courage to change his own life...Everything good that Americans stand for, Muslims stand for and maybe a little bit more.”

Imam Warith Deen Mohammad, son of Elijah Mohammad, the founder of the Black Muslim movement, joined in the tributes to Malcolm X. As a child when Malcolm X was a close associate of his father, Warith Deen Mohammad came to know him well. Later, after Malcolm X’s pilgrimage to Mecca and acceptance of Sunni Islam, Imam Mohmammed followed Malcolm X into Sunni Islam, bringing with him the huge following which Imam Mohammad still leads.

“Malcolm was loyal to whatever he believed in,” Imam Mohammed recalled. “At first he was conscious of justice for African Americans. After he made the hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca], he felt free to work for justice for all people.

“This man had a dream to make a contribution to bring about justice in the world. Had Malcolm lived, he would have been engaged in opposing discrimination against ethnic groups in this country. But I think he would be looking more internationally now.

“He would be a spokesman for the Palestinians, for the Kashmiris, for the Bosnians. He would be reminding leaders of their duties to stand up to fight injustice and corruption and to free themselves from their own ignorance and corruption.”

The afternoon plenary session was chaired by Dr. Mohammad Bari, co-chairman of the AMA convention host committee, and moderated by Dr. Fakiuddin Ahmed. After updates on activities by AMA board member Dr. M.A.Q. Siddiqui and finances by AMA treasurer Dr. Riaz Ahmed, representatives of three other national groups discussed “AMA’s program to get 2,000 Muslim Americans elected by the year 2000.”

Hesham Reda, director of the newly established Washington office of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), discussed domestic programs meriting Muslim support, with emphasis upon education and better schools.

New York civil rights attorney Abdeen Jabara, former president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), recalled a prediction made by Rep. David Bonior during a visit to Beirut in 1982 that the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress would come from an area with a heavy Arab-American population because Christian Arab Americans do not display “the knee-jerk anti-Muslim attitudes found in the general American community.”

Executive Director Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said American Muslims must prepare a clear vision of the future. “We need maximum involvement. We need unity of purpose and action. We need our scholars to introduce the legitimate involvement of Muslims in the political system of this country. It is halal [permitted]. It is not haram [forbidden]. But we still need to introduce this to the masses of Muslims,” he said.

Executive editor Richard Curtiss of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs spoke on “Strategizing for the Next Presidential Election.” He pointed out that while it is important to have Muslim activists working with both major political parties in the U.S., it is a bloc vote by virtually the entire Muslim community that will maximize Muslim-American and Christian Arab-American influence not only in local and state affairs, but also at the national level.

“What’s important is not to try to pick a winner, but to show all candidates that you have the discipline and organization to turn out and vote as a bloc for the candidates who come closest to the ideals you represent,” Curtiss said. “That way the candidates will be competing for your votes, and the larger that vote, the more carefully they will listen to your concerns.”

He cited Michigan as a state where the support of large Christian Arab and Muslim communities already has freed the state’s Arab-American senator, Republican Spence Abraham, and two Detroit Democratic representatives, David Bonior and John Conyers, to vote according to their consciences on such issues as human rights for Palestinians and Kashmiris.

It is important, he said, to put together agreed mechanisms for choosing the best-qualified candidates. Such choices at the local level should be made by committees representing congregants of the various mosques in each metropolitan area. The same can be done at the state level to make sure that Muslims in Toledo and Cleveland, for example, are not canceling each other out in recommending Ohio senatorial or gubernatorial candidates.

This is more difficult, but perhaps most important of all, at the national level, Curtiss said. He suggested that the heads of Islamic political organizations already enrolled in the Islamic coordinating council designate in advance a committee of “wise men” with no personal political bias or ties to either political party to make the final choice for a nation-wide Islamic bloc presidential vote.

He noted also that if the imam of a local mosque or the minister of a church communicates in a sermon or via literature made available to his congregants the decisions made outside the mosque or church of such independent groups or committees, this does not jeopardize the tax-exempt status of the mosque or church.

Speaking on “Key Steps for Political Success in the Year 2000 and Beyond,” former California Congressman Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey, who now practices law in Northern California, said “the United States needs the inspiration that the organized Muslim community can provide.”

He called upon members of the audience, upon returning to their own communities, to abandon “shyness in pushing your agenda. Find the potential leaders and persuade them to come forward,” he urged.

He suggested that American Muslims emulate Abraham Lincoln, who wrote while still a young boy, “I will study and get ready, and then the chance will come.”

Speaking on “Strategies for the Growth of Muslim Life in America,” Imam Warith Deen Mohammad discussed the Qur’anic injunction to Muslims to “cooperate with each other for righteousness.”

“Righteousness is not ritual,” Imam Mohammad said. “Righteousness is doing good work...Every new group that comes into this country has to prove itself. God made every human being with inherent dignity. This is one nation. We cannot live separately and expect too much.

“We have numbers, but that is not enough,” he said. He called upon American Muslims to have both a political and an economic strategy to enable them to make their contributions to American life.

Closing the afternoon plenary session, AMA chair Dr. Agha Saeed described “AMA’s 14-State Strategy and the California Action Plan,” saying, “we need an economic strategy, we need a political strategy, and we need a social strategy.”

There are 521,000 elected officers in the United States, very few of whom are Muslims, Dr. Saeed said, while there are more than 1,000 Pakistani-American millionaires. “How is it that the system lets us become millionaires, but not become a city councilman?”

Answering his own question, he said “what has held us back is our own lack of strategy and willingness. What I want to outline is a 14-state strategy.”

He explained that the president is elected in three steps. These are the party primaries, the general elections, and then the vote of the 538 members of the electoral college, who cast all of each state’s votes for whichever candidate won the majority of popular votes within that state. Of those electoral college votes, California has 10 percent of the total. “Win 11 [of the right] states and you’ve won the presidency,” Dr. Saeed said.

He noted also that in the last presidential election, only 49 percent of eligible voters voted. Therefore every Muslim who votes already has bypassed 51 percent of the voters. To illustrate the potential power of a Muslim bloc vote in some of the key states which have large Muslim populations, he explained that in the previous California election the margin between Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates was 65,000 votes.

Yet in California, he said, there are 800,000 Muslims, 2.2 percent of the state’s population. The implication is that a bloc Muslim vote could easily determine not only who is the governor of California, but how that state’s electoral votes would be cast in the next presidential election, without which perhaps neither candidate could win the presidency.

The afternoon plenary session was followed by six workshops. A workshop on running for a public office was moderated by Al-Haaj Ghazi Khankan and presented by North Carolina State Senator Larry Shaw, Morshed Alam, Najeed Hameed, and Ms. Rima Nashashibi.

A workshop on how to organize and operate an AMA chapter was moderated by Dr. Salman Zafar and presented by Dr. M.A.Q. Siddiqui, Dr. Fakiuddin Ahman, Farooq Ansari and Dr. M.H. Qazi.

A workshop on strengthening women in leadership positions was moderated by Ms. Rabia Aziz and presented by Dr. Mahjabeen Islam-Husain, Ms. Shamin Habiba, Dr. Talat Khan and Dr. Parveen Noor.

A workshop on public debate and public policy was moderated by Tahir Ali and presented by Ms. Jerri Bird, Robert Keeler, Nihad Awad and Ms. Aasma Khan, Esq.

A workshop on political action and accessing through the Internet, which proved so popular that chairs had to be placed in the hallway so that the audience could hear, if not see, the proceedings, was moderated by Khizer Sheikh and presented by Monis Rahman, Asim Ghafoor and Abdul Rashid Abdullah.

The final event of the day was the awards banquet, chaired by Dr. Mohammad Bari, who read a message of greetings to the AMA from First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (see box, next page) and moderated by Dr. Faroque Khan, who reviewed AMA highlights of the year. A plaque was awarded to the AMA Massachusetts chapter (the national organization’s first chapter) and to the AMA Dallas-Ft. Worth chapter, which was accepted by its chairman, Ambassador Ahsani.

New York State Comptroller Carl McCall, the first African American to hold a statewide elective office in New York, awarded a plaque “in recognition of outstanding contributions to the cause of justice for all and for being the voice of conscience of American journalism” to executive editor Richard Curtiss of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

In a keynote speech, McCall told his Muslim audience, “You have contributed to this country and you can contribute more as you work with others who share your agenda and your purposes in this great country.”

Candidates for elective office in New York and Muslim candidates from other areas were introduced. Then, following a tradition started at last year’s AMA convention, fund-raisers from other Muslim organizations—in this case CAIR and the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP)—raised some $70,000 for the AMA and the tax-exempt AMA Foundation from those attending the banquet.

In a final keynote speech, North Carolina State Senator Larry Shaw, an African-American Muslim businessman who founded the Shaw Food Services Company, reminded his audience that as African Americans and Muslim Americans progress, “sometimes we’re inclined to forget the shoulders on which we stand.

“Muslims in America,” he said, “live within a free system with a Constitution like no other in the world. The Constitution gives you the right to do anything anyone else in the world can do. So it’s time to give something back...It takes resources to run an organization that will carry on long after all of us are gone. But we have a mechanism in place.

“You don’t know how blessed you are,” he concluded, “to have people among you like Dr. Agha Saeed.”

—Richard H. Curtiss

Hunger Striking Muslim Activist Honored By His Community

The Dar Al Hijrah Islamic community of Northern Virginia celebrated the long-awaited homecoming of one of its members, Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar, on Oct. 2, 1998. Dr. Ashqar is the Muslim-Palestinian activist who undertook a 180-day hunger-strike in protest of FBI harassment and government prosecutors’ handling of his civil contempt case. He was jailed by District Court Judge Denise Cote on Feb. 23, 1998, after refusing to testify before a New York grand jury impaneled to investigate allegations of money laundering in support of Hamas. Dr. Ashqar maintains that the authorities are engaged in a “fishing expedition” to pressure him to testify falsely against Muslim activists who are involved in humanitarian work on behalf of the occupied people of the Holy Land.

Dr. Ashqar was released on Aug. 21, 1998, when it finally became clear to Judge Cote that he would not testify. He had been kept alive by forced feeding since June in the Westchester Medical Center jail ward in New York.

As a member of the Muslim community of Northern Virginia, and the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center located in Falls Church, he became an instant hero to those aware of his ordeal. At the outset of his imprisonment, a committee was formed from the local community to work for his immediate release.

The Free Dr. Ashqar Committee (FDAC) began a political and legal campaign in his support. Posters and flyers were distributed throughout the country, a letter-writing campaign to Judge Cote was organized, petitions to Attorney General Janet Reno were signed, and national and local media and organizations were contacted throughout the campaign.

More than 300 well-wishers turned out for the FDAC-sponsored homecoming at Dar Al Hijrah. There Dr. Ashqar thanked the community and stressed the need to stand up to government and grand jury abuse. He explained that for him it was a matter of “paradise or damnation” and that he would not open his mouth if it would lead to the “unjust harm of another person.”

Simone Monasebian, co-counsel with Michael Kennedy in representing Dr. Ashqar, passionately summarized his ordeal, relating how at one point “he was pricked with a needle over 35 times in a futile effort to reach his, by now, collapsed veins.”

Ms. Monasebian reiterated the need for Muslims and Arabs to mobilize and work within the system in order to combat stereotyping and discrimination against Muslims and Arabs. She used the example of Dr. Ashqar’s wife, Asma, who, through her relentless work on behalf of her husband, shattered the commonly held notion that Muslim women are docile and subjugated.

Keynote speaker at the event was Stanley Cohen, the noted New York criminal defense attorney who has been an active supporter of the civil and political rights of Muslims and Palestinians in the U.S.

Mr. Cohen made it abundantly clear that only through struggle can an oppressed people gain its rights. He related how he came to understand the plight of Palestinians when he lived with them in the refugee camps of Gaza. In his speech he called his former client, Hamas political leader Mousa Abu Marzook, his brother. He prodded his audience not to shy away from the fact that the true terrorists are the state of Israel and its supporter, the U.S., in perpetuating the victimization of the Palestinians in their own land.

Cohen concluded by calling Dr. Ashqar a hero, and likening to him another of his clients, Ismail Elbarasse, a Muslim Palestinian U.S. citizen and father of six, also from Dar Al Hijrah community. Elbarasse has been incarcerated in the federal prison in Otisville, New York, for refusing to testify before the same grand jury and for the same reasons as Dr. Ashqar. Mr. Cohen explained that the testimony of these two Palestinian Americans was being sought as part of a campaign to intimidate the community from donating humanitarian aid to Palestine.

Cohen concluded by reading from an affidavit that 18-year-old Alhassan Elbarasse had written in support of his father’s motion to be released from civil contempt. “I miss father. I want him back, but I want him back as a hero after knowing that he did not cave in to pressure from those who fight us because we are Palestinians.”

By fund-raising standards the night was indeed memorable. In barely half an hour the audience contributed over $27,000 to what had by that time become the Free Dr. Ashqar/Elbarasse Committee. Organizers, hosts and participants all promised to persist in the struggle to achieve civil, political and human rights for all residents of the United States.

—Ashraf Nubani

Islamic Media Foundation Prepares TV and Radio Announcements

The Islamic Media Foundation, a national not-for-profit broadcast media organization, is gearing up for its annual Ramadan media campaign. “Work has begun on new public service announcements in our ”˜Your American Muslim Neighbors’ public service announcements series,” said Mamdouh Rezeika, IMF executive director. “We are also making great efforts to have local Islamic communities contact their television stations to have the PSAs broadcast.”

Rezeika emphasized that although IMF produces the PSAs and has sent tapes and satellite broadcasts of them to television stations, the most effective way of getting public service announcements broadcast is for local organizations to approach the television and cable stations serving their area.

“Television stations want to serve the public, but they also want to serve local nonprofit organizations,” explained Andy McGowan of PCS Broadcasting Services, a company that has worked with IMF on the distribution of PSAs. “They are much more likely to broadcast PSAs if someone from a local organization approaches them.”

Rezeika also emphasized the need for communities to begin contacting their television stations now rather than waiting until Ramadan is almost here. “Most television stations do their scheduling well in advance of broadcast time, so it’s important to contact them in October or early November if you want PSAs broadcast during Ramadan, which will be the last 10 days of December and the beginning of January,” he said.

McGowan pointed out that this is a good year for Muslims to have PSAs broadcast during Ramadan. “The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is typically a very slow time of year for television stations, so more PSAs are broadcast then,” he explained. Since this week also falls near the beginning of Ramadan, McGowan said local communities should find television and cable stations more receptive than they would be during other times of the year.

Demonstration VHS tapes of the nine PSAs in the “Your American Muslim Neighbor” series are available from IMF for $20. These are used to show television and cable stations the PSAs, their content and quality. Broadcast-quality tapes, which come in a variety of formats and which are required for the stations to air the PSAs,are currently available as a pre-Ramadan special for $99.95 per PSA. The usual cost is $250 per PSA.

“If you feel like you don’t know where to begin, don’t worry,” said Pamela Taylor, IMF News editor. “We have a booklet that explains the process in easy steps.” Titled, How to Broadcast PSAs, the pamphlet costs $2 or is free with the purchase of the demonstration videotape. PSAs which are currently in production should be available by the end of the year, Rezeika said. This year is particularly exciting because along with their customary launching of television PSAs, IMF plans to launch a series of radio PSAs as well.

“Of course we don’t want PSAs broadcast only during Ramadan,” Rezeika said. “The ”˜Your American Muslim Neighbors’ PSA series is being broadcast on cable and television stations all over the country year round.” McGowan added.

“Ideally, local communities would take a couple of PSAs to the stations every three or four months throughout the year rather than try to have all nine shown at once.” But Rezeika said IMF recognizes that the majority of Muslim communities are most active during Ramadan. “That’s why we have this big push at this time of the year,” he explained.

For more information about the PSAs and how to obtain them, IMF can be reached at: P.O. Box 51545, Indianapolis, IN 46251, phone (317) 240-4200, fax (317) 240-4205, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Raja’ M. Abu-Jabr

SIDEBAR

The White House, Washington, DC, Oct, 1998

Dear Friends:

I am pleased to have this opportunity to send greetings to each of you attending the American Muslim Alliance Convention.

Diversity has always been America’s great blessing—and our greatest challenge. We are a nation of immigrants, strengthened by many faiths, yet united by a common faith in democracy. As you come together today, you recognize the importance of offering members of your community the opportunity to learn from and support one another. As I have traveled throughout this country and around the world, I have learned that in too many places individuals are blocked from participating fully in the political lives of their countries. We choose not to hear the voices of many; and in too many places, there are those who never learn to project their voices. I commend you for your efforts to encourage others to work to make their voices heard in the present and for the future.

Please accept my best wishes for a wonderful convention.

Sincerely yours,

Hillary Rodham Clinton

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