An FBI agent, Dane County sheriff, the mayor and hundreds of Muslims gathered on Jan. 23 at Monona Terrace Convention Center.
Local government and both Muslim and non-Muslim community members far surpassed the 300 person capacity of the convention hall to discuss equity, equality, and compassion towards Muslims in the West amidst the growing antisentiment perpetuated in mainstream media.
The panel was titled: “Islam, Muslims, and the West: ISIL Our Common Enemy”, and panelists included U.S. Congressman Mark Pocan, Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.
Hosted by one of the three mosques in Madison, the Madinah Community Center, the first panelist was Sheikh Alhagie Jallow, who began by sharing the story of when Madinah was under attack back in the times of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet called for people of all faiths to unite and work together to bring peace back to the city, explaining that co-existence and deeper understandings of what it means to be Muslim, “someone who voluntarily commits to obey the rules and regulations of his Creator by his own free will,” are what is necessary for battling the xenophobia witnessed in Western societies today, like the example of a Muslim woman being pushed in front of a subway in London or a mosque being set on fire in California.
Adding to the topic of xenophobia, the debate surrounding refugees and immigration was also brought up.
Mayor Paul Soglin addressed the history of the U.S. in regards to immigration, and said the current political debate regarding the Syrian refugees is “disgracing the Statue of Liberty and the words of Emma Lazarus.”
He went on to say, “…virtually every immigrant to this community served this country before they got here, by gaining skills in professions and trade, or serving in wars.”
MCC Advisor Masood Akhtar shared a compelling point against the same politicians who planned on banning Muslims from entering the U.S.: “Your interpretation of the U.S. constitution is as false as ISIS’s interpretation of Islam.”
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne dispelled the idea that Americans are the most threatened group from fundamental groups like ISIL. “Muslims are the most at risk. Since 2014, 24,000 plus Iraqi citizens have been killed by IS.”
Mark Pocan, U.S. Congressman, began his speech by publicly announcing his homosexuality, emphasizing how he takes discrimination very seriously. “Politicians use fear to gain agenda,” he said. “This ‘new normal’ rhetoric is a loss for community… When an abortion clinic is attacked in the name of Christianity, we don’t condemn Christianity,” he said. So why are Muslims continuously condemned for the actions of extreme fundamentalists?
Pocan also addressed the fact that fundamental groups like ISIL rely on the “us vs. them” hateful rhetoric to “succeed in recruitment” and noted that some recruiters play videos of Donald Trump as motivation and to further antiAmerican sentiment.
“We are allies against these enemies,” said Russ Feingold, former U.S. Senator. Yet it seems presidential candidates would rather “float disastrous ideas rather than coming up with a solution against ISIS…invading another country is not a comprehensive and sustainable action.”