Interesting Dialogue on Muslims at National Press Club on World Press Freedom Day
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Wajahat Ali, a Pakistani lawyer, playwright and opinion writer, moderated an interesting ‘Dialogue on Muslims’ at the National Press Club on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2017.
Within humor and style - that would make him a strong candidate to deliver biting humor perhaps at the next White House Correspondents Dinner – Ali presented the 2017 Goldziher Prize for Journalist – an event hosted by Merrimack College Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations. The event was also made possible by William and Mary Greve Foundation.
The 2017 Goldziher Prize winners - Joshua Seftel, Samuel Freedman and Robin Wright – are outstanding journalists with a passion for telling it like it is. They did so in their brief remarks and during the question-and-answer session.
Each recipient of this prestigious award had made a significant contribution to the interfaith dialogue and in dispelling myths and fears about Muslims in America.
As noted in the Goldziher website and explained by Ali, Joshua Seftel was honored for “The Secret Life of Muslims,” which is a multi-platform series of short non-fiction films that reveal the lives of American Muslims through their careers, talents, and accomplishments. According to his bio, “Seftel is a filmmaker and director whose award-winning productions have covered issues such as Romanian orphans (Lost and Found, 1991), the rights of senior citizens (Old Warrior, 1994), political intrigue (Taking on the Kennedys, 1996), air quality issues (Breaking the Mold, 2003), and commercial interests that drive war (War, Inc., 2008). His work has appeared on HBO, NPR, and Showtime.”
Samuel Freedman, an award-winning journalist, was recognized for a selection of columns in The New York Times during 2010-2016 that “chronicle American Muslims, emphasizing the normal, productive lives of these citizens, and pushing back against Islamophobia.” One of his revealing articles in May 2016, presented the story of a North Dakota Mosque as a symbol of Muslims’ long ties in America. He wrote that the “original mosque, erected by pioneers from what are now Syria and Lebanon, had been built in 1929”. According to his bio, Freedman worked as a staff reporter for The New York Times from 1981 through 1987 and wrote the column “On Religion” from 2006 through 2016. From 2004 through 2008, he wrote the column “On Education” which won first prize in the Education Writers Association’s annual competition.
Robin Wright was recognized for “Muslim Heroes, Writers, Artists and an Athlete in America,” a series of five articles in The New Yorker that reflects the rich and many-sided contributions of Muslims to the American experience. Tears rolled down her eyes while speaking about her work one of which is the “Orlando Shootings and American Muslims.” Wright needs no introduction, as she is invited to many talk shows. According to her bio, Wright has been a contributor to The New Yorker since 1988. A former correspondent for The Washington Post, CBS News, the Los Angeles Times, and The Sunday Times of London, she has reported from more than 140 countries. She is currently a joint fellow at the US Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
With respect for all faiths, Chef Susan Delbert and the National Press Club catering staff prepared delicious bit size sandwiches and delicacies as the speakers presented some valuable food for thought for the delicate issues of faith and balanced discourse in American politics. Merrimack College staff was at hand answering questions with copies of printed articles of the distinguished journalist being honored.
By happenstance, the national flags of Pakistan and Turkey were on prominent display as guests walked into the National Press Club lobby.
Through remarks tinged with playful humor Ali was able to convey the idea - also in his New York Times opinion piece on May 14, 2017 - that a “positive thing emerging from this political moment is that our respective communities are forced to confront issues like racism, sexism and anti-Muslim bigotry that have always existed but have been hidden under toothless slogans promoting progress. Now we have to actually do the hard work to achieve it.”
Jan Du Plain needs to be credited for her leadership role in educating the public about this important event which drew a standing room only crowd.