Reflections on an Extraordinary
By Shereen Khan
University of California, Berkeley
I had the privilege of attending the Third Annual Peace
Building Convention entitled “Ordinary People, Extraordinary
Heroes” of the American Muslim Voice (AMV). The Convention
provided a perfect setting to learn more about those individuals
and organizations that have played a key role in promoting
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 had 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 heartening 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 US Patriot Act in the State of California.
The Convention also provided important information about
civil rights. Immigration attorney Stacy Tolchin with the
National Lawyer's Guild furnished 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 were
taking to combat such injustice.
It was inspiring to hear Bob Watada on behalf of his son,
Lt. Ehren Watada, the first US soldier to publicly refuse
orders to fight in Iraq, accusing the US of waging 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 those 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 for a 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 an 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.