Ambassador Ahmed Presents “Islam in Europe” Fieldwork to Distinguished, Eager Audience at American University
By Patrick Burnett
The American University (AU) community, His Excellency the Ambassador of Iraq to the United States, prominent Pakistani officials, friends, and supporters came together February 10 to hear Ambassador Akbar Ahmed’s findings from the field in the Journey Into Europe project.
Ambassador Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at AU and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK, reported on findings from his extensive fieldwork in Europe over the past two years, coming off the heels of a final leg of research in Denmark, France, and Italy during the winter.
Distinguished guests of this important lecture included Ambassador Lukman Faily, Iraqi Ambassador to the US and his wife, Mrs. Fally, Brigadier Chaudhary Sarfraz Ali, Defense and Army Attache of the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, Pakistani Senator Akbar Khwaja, Dean Louis Goodman, Dean Emeritus of SIS, Ann Kerwin, wife of AU President Cornelius Kerwin, Brooke Beardslee, president of the SOAS Alumni Association of America, and Paul Smith, director of the British Council USA. Dear friend of the project Begum Kosar, who hosted a dinner for the Journey Into Europe team in her home in McLean, Va. in March 2014 to launch the project, also attended the lecture with her grandson.
Dean Jim Goldgeier of the AU School of International Service (SIS), a strong supporter of the Journey Into Europe project, opened the afternoon lecture to a standing room only audience. He reflected on the state of Islam in Europe with kind words on how he is always eager to hear the latest work of Ambassador Ahmed.
Before giving his remarks, Ambassador Ahmed and his team, Harrison Akins, Chief of Staff, and Frankie Martin, senior researcher, played a preview of the pending Journey Into Europe documentary. Showcasing Ambassador Ahmed’s statements from Marseille, France, and Palermo, Italy, as well as an interview in Granada, Spain with Muslim Spanish women led by Dr Amineh Hoti, a Journey into Europe team member and director of the Centre for Dialogue and Action at Forman Christian College University in Lahore, Pakistan, and an interview with Rabbi Bent Melchior, the former Chief Rabbi of Denmark. The videos presented the breadth of perspectives and depth of knowledge behind this cutting-edge research project.
Ambassador Ahmed, in his keynote address, discussed the working conclusions of the Journey Into Europe fieldwork, emphasizing above all his goal to help “heal a fractured world” through “cutting-edge, innovative work.” He began his speech with a warning of the “ominous, threatening landscape in Europe” at present, highlighted by the recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the rise of the PEGIDA movement throughout Germany, and the rise of young European Muslims traveling to Syria as recruits of ISIS. Given Europe’s role as the “mother continent,” its massive Muslim population, and continued tensions between Islam and the West, Ambassador Ahmed emphasized the importance of such a comprehensive research project here and now. He said it was crucial to identify the bridges between civilizations and gave the example of Allama Iqbal who is honored with plaques and even roads named after him throughout Europe. Ambassador Ahmed also emphasized how such a project cannot be undertaken alone, and for that, he thanked Dean Goldgeier, his wife Zeenat, the panelists, and the team, including Harrison, Frankie, and others, for their dedication and faith in the project. These were real “heroes” as they were dedicated to understanding and scholarship to promote peace between civilizations.
Dean Goldgeier also moderated a distinguished panel of scholars to discuss Ambassador Ahmed’s work. Professor Randolph Persaud, the director of the Comparative and Research Studies Program in SIS, Professor Michael Brenner, Director of the Israel Studies Center at AU, and Professor Tamara Sonn, the Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in the History of Islam in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, all expressed their support for the project while also providing recommendations for its continued development.
Professor Persaud began by emphasizing that in the Western psyche, European Muslims are living in a “third space” that neither fits into traditional notions of the Middle Eastern Muslim nor the Orientalist notion of the imperial era. Professor Brenner, a Jewish scholar originating from a small town in Bavaria, Germany, notes that while there are parallels between the Muslim and Jewish experience in Europe, there have also been tensions between the communities due to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Professor Sonn reminded the audience of the importance of Ambassador Ahmed’s projects to the human community, as they aspire to deepen our understandings of one another, while also balking at common American notions of “the Muslim World” as a unitary body and lack of understanding of the role imperialism has played in sparking turmoil in Muslim-majority countries worldwide.
Following an active question-and-answer session, Ambassador Ahmed sent the audience off with a call to “Tikkun ulam,” or “heal a fractured world,” a reminder of the importance of us each playing our part in building peace. (Patrick Burnett is Research Assistant to Amb. Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, Washington DC)