Tag Archives: Islam

The Rhetoric of an Immigrant Building


Dr. David Klope speaks.

The Mother Mosque, the oldest standing mosque in North America, was built in Cedar Rapids in 1934, used as a house of worship until the early 1970s, and then fell into disrepair until it was renovated as a historic building in the 1990s.

And, according to Dr. David Klope, the building “speaks” to Cedar Rapids. That is, the associate professor of communication at Mount Mercy University made the case Nov. 1, 2016, buildings can be thought of as a medium of communication that send messages.

For example, he noted the new African American Museum in Washington, D.C, communicates by its design and location that it represents an important and integral part of the American experience.

The mosque is in a quiet, modest residential neighborhood south of the Cedar River. The way it is designed and located, Klope said, communicates that Muslims are long time neighbors in Cedar Rapids, part of the immigrant quilt that built Iowa’s second city, an integral and accepted part of the fabric of our community.

image-of-logo-colorThe presentation tonight, part of the MMU Fall Faculty Series on immigration, was attended by about 40 people—a good turnout for a Tuesday night. It also brought the first reporters to one of our series events—which is a bit of a surprise to me. The Gazette, KCRG, KWWL, KGAN, WMT, Mediacom—they all have had material about our series, but primarily small announcements of upcoming events, or, in the case of The Gazette, guest columns by speakers. Here is a link to Dr. Klope’s column.

While I’m grateful that the fall series has generated some local media buzz, I’m a bit taken aback that the first journalists to attend a series event are from Japan. Julia Masuda, from Yokohama, and Akihiro Yamamoto, an NTV production coordinator from Japan but based in New York, were at the forum tonight. I don’t know for sure what story they are working on—they actually were speaking with Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque when they learned of the MMU event—but there you have it. Journalists have arrived. I guess I just assumed when that happened, they might be from KCRG or The Gazette before they were form Yokohama.


Akihiro Yamamoto, a production manager, listens. Two journalists attended the presentation tonight–both from Japan.

Anyway, I found Dr. Klope’s presentation to be engaging and interesting. I had not thought of the way a building itself is the convener of messages, but I think he makes a valid case. His rhetoric sold me.

But the best line of the night, I think, was from Imam Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque, who spoke after Dr. Klope finished. Tawil recounted a bit of his personal journey from Jerusalem to Cedar Rapids, and reviewed, as did Dr. Klope, some of the history of the Mother Mosque. He also invited all of us to call him someday and tour the Mother Mosque, something I hope to do soon.


Taha Tawil, Imam of The Mother Mosque.

Anyway, Tawil finished the night with some thoughts about American Muslims and politics. He noted that Muslims in America are a diverse group whose members have more political opinions than “the colors of the rainbow.” And he noted that it’s a terrible error to paint all Muslims with the same brush—to say, for example, that ISIS, which he condemned, is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.

“It’s like saying the mafia represents Catholics,” he said.

Yeah, that was it. Valid rhetoric, I think.

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A Great Thought and a Great Name for a Bike

Campus Ministry and Mount Mercy University President Laurie Hamen hosted a prayer service in the Chapel of Mercy Thursday—an afternoon ecumenical gathering meant to emphasize respect for all faith traditions.
An Imam from the local mosque was the featured guest. That was by intention, as rhetoric in our public discourse has turned dark, with one presidential candidate even calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. I liked the service, partly because I agree with the sentiment behind it. It also included this video from Pope Francis in which he calls for respect among religions.
And, during the service one of my favorite hymns, “The Prayer of Saint Francis” was sung. Sadly, I sang along, and for that, universe, I apologize.
Following the service, I took advantage of the chance to sign the Mercy Door in the chapel, a replica of a special jubilee door opened at The Vatican in honor of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I felt a little funny signing, because I was putting my name under a “pledge” to do an act of mercy each month.
Door signing

Another MMU faculty member signs the Mercy door.

Today, its Jan. 15. Half a month is left and I have to figure out how to be deliberately merciful, and then try to carry that on throughout 2016. I’m sure my CO 101 students could suggest an idea, but of course “giving” a good grade is not a true act of mercy because it doesn’t aid the recipient. Still, it wasn’t an intention to do an act of mercy, it was a pledge. That feels like a serious promise. I’ll have to think about that.


Anyway, I was glad to be there, to hear from Pope Francis, to sing a song that reflect the ideas of Saint Francis and then to hop on my bike—Francis—to ride home. Somehow, the pretty sunset on campus seemed to fit the whole mood. Where there is mercy, let there be hope.

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Maybe The Cartoons Were Not Funny, But ….

I don’t think mocking religion represents the best in media content. The Russian punk band Pussy Riot made themselves look offensive and ridiculous when they shot one of their videos misbehaving in an Orthodox church.

And I’m not OK with cartoons that mock the Prophet Mohammed or Jesus or Buddha. But, as one of my graduate school journalism professors said, the cure for bad speech is speech. Never violence.

The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo do not cater to my taste nor my comfort level.

That does not matter. The slaughter of 12 French journalists (and yes, satirical cartoonists are a type of journalist—a subset of opinion “writers,” and the weekly magazine the cartoons appeared in had satirical stories as well as drawings) this week is unspeakable. As Jon Stewart said, comedy should not be an act of courage.

The quality of the expression is not the point. After all, God needs neither guns nor libel laws to protect himself. He’ll get the last word anyway.

So whatever I might think of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, they are an expression of ideas that must be allowed if we all are to be free to say what we think and feel, warts and all. We can shout “God is Great” if the Spirit moves us, in Arabic or Urdu or English, but we cannot shout out those who don’t share our opinion or want to make drawings of the Spaghetti Monster to express a different ethos.

Just as American soldiers at Lexington or Gettysburg or Normandy sacrificed their “last full measure of devotion” to an ideal of liberty, those 12 scribblers in France died for the cause of freedom. They didn’t choose to, but they did.

They should not be forgotten. In our mourning, we should not malign Islam or Muslims. Islamic terrorist no more represent Muslims than IRA bombers in the 1970s represented all Catholics.

And we must agree together that whatever your religion or lack of it, your faith cannot be used as an excuse to cut off the life of a nonbeliever. After all, a confident religion should view any human as a soul who might be saved. And yes, I know that Christianity has a violent history, too—but that doesn’t change what hundreds of years of slow progress should teach us, Christian and Muslim and Jewish and Agnostic and Atheist together. Maybe we Christians didn’t know it at first, but now we do—you can sell your faith or lack of faith if you want to, but it is absolutely a sin to do so with the point of a sword.

And, whatever your faith or lack of faith, I hope that you would agree that only God or Chance or the Universe or the person himself or herself has the only right to decide if a human lives or dies.

Not terrorists, no matter what flavor of religion they favor.

Je suis Charlie.

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Nurturing Young Grass May Be All I Can Do Right Now


Some new grass (mid-picture) in front yard after I watered.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

Me, I watered grass.

I don’t have much clever or pithy to say on the “Innocence of Islam,” except to note that the Internet makes the spread of odd, jerky nonsense way too easy. And that violence against Americans is a sad knee-jerk reaction. Neither extreme in this dispute, as the world again seems a more violent and less tolerant place, seem to have much appeal to me.

And we’ll be inevitably thinking about what the First Amendment means, so I guess this creates a new case study to talk about in my media courses. Frankly, I’d be much happier with the old case studies.

The drought in Iowa is easing, just a bit. Rain is expected tomorrow. But with new grass sprouting, I can’t let the surface of some new grass areas of my lawn dry out. They say you should water every day when you have new grass, although I never have. But, it was Sunday when I watered last, and I meant to water Tuesday and ran out of time.

Every other day is what I aim for. Tuesday’s watering was Wednesday morning, and Mother Nature should take care of things until this weekend.

I was a bit distracted as I watered this morning. I usually enjoy being outside doing something that benefits growing things, but I had listened to NPR, and the day after the anniversary of 9/11, yet another tragedy had befallen my fellow Americans.

It leaves me a bit angry and scared. It leaves me upset with the jerks in California who made this loathsome, stupid film. It also left me queasy, thinking that some attack on the First Amendment freedom of expression may be looming out there.

And it left me a bit nervous about what comes next. How will we react? How will the rest of the world react? These are complex problems.

Remember when Hillary ran the “3 a.m.” ads in 2008—who do you want to answer the phone when there is a crisis at 3 a.m.?  Barack or Mitt

Barack, hands down. As I water, one point in comfort that I have is that the person at the helm seems more experienced and steady than Hillary imagined four years ago (and yes, it helps that her fingers are in the mix, too). On foreign policy, Mitt doesn’t seem ready for prime time.

Or so it seems to me, for now. I’m glad these delicate and big decisions don’t depend on me at this moment. I hope, and pray, that cooler heads on all sides will prevail, but I’m afraid of what will happen between then and now.

In the meantime, I guess I will water. It seems all I can do at the moment.


Rose in front garden, damp from morning watering.

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Can America Sell Its Ideas?

Dr. James Zogby

Dr. James Zogby speaks at MMU March 7.

I suppose I’m jumping to a big conclusion, but I think the answer is “yes.” However, the effort might fail if America can’t understand the world, and our understanding of the more than 1 billion souls in the Islamic part of that world is often frighteningly faulty.

That, I think, is one of the main points I heard from Dr. James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute and a leading pollster of both American and Arab attitudes about each other. Zobgy spoke at Mount Mercy University March 7 as part of his book tour.

Zogby wasn’t just presenting impressions based on his opinion, but conclusions drawn from polling data.

Some of those pieces of statistical evidence are startling. For one thing, there is a clear and dramatic attitudinal difference between how Islam and the Arab world is viewed, depending on whether the American who is asked is a Republican or Democrat.

Ten years ago, right after a handful of radicals from the Arab world engaged in deadly terrorist attacks on the United States, 75 percent of Americans polled said they needed to learn more about the Islamic world. Today, that figure is more like 50 percent. After thousands of American deaths in two wars, we remain ignorant but no longer want to learn.

Among Republicans, 85 percent have an unfavorable view of Islam and consider it a threat.

Zogby took some Republicans to task for their opposition to mosques in American—not only in New York near Ground Zero, but in other places, such as a community in Tennessee. The same voices raised against the mosque are also calling for educational changes in American—changes that would increase American ignorance towards and distrust of Islam.

Now, folks, a bit of an aside from a plain old Iowan. One of the oldest Islamic communities in the United States is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the “mother mosque” is located, and where there is a vibrant Islamic center. Zogby asked us how we felt since we’d been “conquered” by Islam—obviously, since, apparently, mosques are symbols of Islamic conquest.

Ha. Not so much. Cedar Rapids may be home to the mother mosque but it’s pretty clearly middle America, and the dirty little secret is that the Irish and German and Czech (and Hungarian, not so many of us, but don’t forget the Magyar)  immigrants who populate Iowa have no problems getting along with the Egyptians, Lebanese, Sudanese, etc., in our midst. America may be more of a quilt than a melting pot, but where the community doesn’t rise up against its local mosque, the mosque poses no threat to the fabric of the community. Score a big one for Zogby.

I don’t think I have adequate notes to describe all of the fine point he made. He was a provocative, thoughtful speaker.  Just to touch on a few points he made:

  • American education may be going backwards. Zobgy described the texts of his youth as using a “stone age man to Ike” approach, where, apparently, humans became civilized as they painted in caves in France and then evolved throughout Europe until finally Eisenhower became president at the culmination of all that was good. Asian and African “civilization” was not only left out, so was the idea that Asia and Africa could be civilized or that those civilizations could influence our western culture. Some of the same anti-mosque voices have been trying to reform education by emphasizing a rather narrow “American” attitude, which isn’t really American at all but rather a quaint rejection of modern ideas.  I think Zogby makes a good point, and I like the “stone age man to Ike” analogy.
  • Obama hasn’t always lived up to the strength of his own rhetoric, but his speech in Cairo still echoes in the Arab world and signals an opportunity to change our relationship with that world. In fact, a large majority of Arabs like American culture and want more of it. Zogby’s polling provides an interesting contrast, where a majority of Americans think that the Arab world dislikes our democratic values, while the majority of Arabs have a clearly favorable view of much of American culture, particularly our democratic values.
  • Zogby noted  many myths Americans believe about the Arab world. One problem is that American don’t know enough about the vast areas of the Middle East and North Africa to recognize that many group of diverse people from difference cultures live there, and we shouldn’t lump them together too much. On the other hand, there are some cultural strands that do bind Arabs together—such as a deep vested interest in the Palestinian issue—so that we shouldn’t ignore the connections in that part of the world, either. Zobgy drew a useful comparison to the United States, where a kid from Alabama and a kid from Brooklyn would have very different cultural experiences, but nonetheless would share a great deal of American culture and heritage.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. I would like to get a copy of Dr. Zogby’s book—it sounds like a fascinating read.

And put me in the category of American who recognizes I need to keep an open mind and learn more.

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Egypt Is Not Iran, Amer Points Out

Dr. Ayman Amer

Dr. Ayman Amer answers a question Feb. 23 during a meeting of Iowa Workers for Peace in the Busse Library, Mount Mercy University.

All kinds of interesting factors helps bring about the recent outbreak of potential democracy in Egypt, as Dr. Ayman Amer, Associate Professor of Economics at Mount Mercy University, pointed out Feb. 22.

He also said many of the analogies made between Egypt and Iran—such as I had made in an earlier blog post—are faulty due to deep differences between the countries and cultures.

Amer spoke to a meeting of Iowa Women for Peace, which Dr. Charlotte Martin, president of the group and another MMU Professor, she of Religious Studies, pointed out is being renamed Iowa Workers for Peace “because we have more men than women and it was getting awkward.”

Anyway, Amer said that there were four factors that led to Egypt’s revolution:

1) A rigged fall election in Egypt, which emphasized to the people how fake the Mubarak government was.

2) A speech two years ago by President Obama in Cairo—and Obama’s election in the United States, both of which energized and excited the Egyptian people.

3) The recent revolution in Tunisia, where the president quickly resigned in the fact of popular protests.

4) The advent of social media and direct communication through Facebook, Twitter and phone texting.

As for the contrast between Iran and Egypt, Amer noted that Sunni Islam and Shia Islam, which both sharing a lack of church-state separation, have a different relationship to the formal church. In Shia-dominated Iran, Islam is economically independent of the government and, indeed, oversees the government.

Sunni Egypt does not have that tradition. While church and state are not separated in Egypt the way they are in the U.S.—indeed, they are not separated in a U.S.-like system anywhere in the Islamic world—neither does the church have the authority to dominate the government.

Amer said Americans need to have a more complete understanding of the Middle East in order to understand events in Egypt. Among other things, he noted that we tend to lump all Muslims and all Muslim groups together—thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as if it were like the Taliban or al Qaeda. In fact, not only is the Egyptian group different, but the Taliban and al Qaeda are also very different from each other—one a tribal force in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the other an amorphous international group.

Another point he made is that American policy has historically tended to favor “order” at all costs—which has led to support for dictatorships that are unpopular with the people

Not only is this morally dubious, but, as Amer said, governments come and go, even if it takes 30 years. The people remain. He said that it would strategically benefit the U.S. in the long term to be seen as being on the people’s side.

Amer also said that we can’t play down the importance of American politics. When the 2008 campaign was going on, Amer would hear from his mother about quotes Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee or others stated during the campaign. His young nephews and nieces also comment on American politics.

America is not just a military power—perhaps more importantly, American media are a worldwide force. CNN is everywhere, and Egyptians follow American political news very closely.

The theme of the successful 2008 Obama campaign? “Change,” and change is a message that Egyptians have taken to heart.

Well, I’m not completely prepared to let go of the Iran analogy in the sense that people power revolutions don’t always turn out well in the end.

In Egypt, a huge question mark is what role the military will take. Just as the Islamic world does not separate church and state as the U.S. does, Egyptian government does not have the tradition of the military being controlled by civilians. Indeed, when he was named Vice President in the 1970s, before an assassination made him president, Hosni Mubarak had been an Air Force general.

The interim government is a senior military council. I’m glad that the Egyptian military didn’t attack the people—and wish the Libyan military would follow suit—but, it’s still an open question:

Can democracy come to Egypt? Will the generals allow it?  Another Obama theme comes to mind–hope.  At least there is hope.

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