The Boston branch of the American Islamic Congress is co-sponsoring a series of events during the current holy month of Ramadan -- including a traditional Iftar meal that Muslims celebrate to break the daily fast.
The Iftar event and others are listed on the Boston-AIC website. They are open to the public but several require RSVPs.
In the spirit of charity toward others in need, the Iftar dinner on the evening of Sept. 10 is also raising donations for the Pine Street Inn for the homeless. It's free, but there's a catch -- you have to bring at least two cans of beans. Space is limited. There are several sponsors, including Project Nur, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, World Boston, Barakat, and Helmand Restaurant.
On Tuesday, Sept. 15, the same groups are co-sponsoring an event at 3:30 p.m. at the Massachusetts Statehouse marking Ramadan. Legislators will join state officials for the civic ceremony.
And to conclude Ramadan on Sept. 26, local Muslims are hosting a multicultural Eid al-Fitr ceremony at the Armory Hall in in Everett at 7 p.m. where several hundred families are expected to attend. The event is co-sponsored by the Bosnian Community Center for Resource Development. The AIC notes that the event is open to the public and people of all backgrounds are welcome and encouraged to attend.
UMass Boston professor Padraig O'Malley laid a wreath today at the site of a bombing in Iraq that killed at least 72 people last month which appeared to be aimed at fomenting ethnic tensions in the volatile Kirkuk region.
Kirkuk is one of five “divided” cities participating in a peace forum established in Boston by O'Malley this past April. Elected representatives from Kirkuk visited Massachusetts this past April to learn about how Boston had overcome violence and division during the busing crisis of the 1970s.
The group toured Boston neighborhoods that had been impacted by violence, led by Robert Lewis Jr., the Boston Foundation’s vice president, whose home was fire-bombed in 1976, presumably because his family were the first blacks to move into a white housing project in Maverick.
Other participants included representatives from Mitrovica, a city divided between Kosovo and Serbia; Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, claimed by both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities; and Derry/Londonderry and Belfast, in Northern Ireland.
After the meeting in Boston, the group pledged to meet annually and share experiences.
O’Malley traveled to Kirkuk after a series of deadly bombings to read a letter of condolence to Kirkuk’s Provincial Council from the group.
“When one of you dies, all of us die a little, too,” he said. “We stand with you in resolute solidarity.”
When the US Senate grills Boston EMS Chief Richard A. Serino for the number two position at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he'll have a good answer if he's asked whether he knows much about the world beyond his native Dorchester.
FEMA is the agency that famously flubbed the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, despite President Bush's compliment to then-FEMA director Michael Brown -- "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." President Obama appointed Florida's long-time emergency chief, hurricane-tested Craig Fugate, as administrator of FEMA, and he was confirmed in May. Yesterday Obama picked Serino to be the deputy administrator.
Serino, who climbed the ranks from an EMS technician to run the Boston emergency system with hands-on expertise, will also be able to demonstrate that he has extended his reach nationally and even globally.
The DelValle Institute for Emergency Preparedness, which Serino created in 2003, hosted an international conference just last month that looked at emergency responses to recent terror attacks in major world cities.
|Emergency responders practiced for disaster in protective suits at the DelValle Institute in Mattapan. (Joanne Rathe/ Globe Staff)|
In a packed hall at the Kennedy Library, experts from Madrid, Mumbai, New Delhi, Islamabad and Jerusalem talked in brutal detail about the impact on the human body of different kinds of explosive devices. See my blog post about the event, and my article in the Globe on Boston's training institute.
In the room were disaster- and terror-response experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, who then worked with Serino's team the next day to use the new information to revise and update the main national blueprint for responding to terror attacks in the United States, called "In a Moment's Notice: Surge Capacity for Terrorist Bombings."
Serino had already been a consultant to the CDC in drafting the original version of that report, published in 2007. Serino, who got his degree studying part-time at Boston State College while working as as emergency medical technician, has since taken part in programs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and at the CDC. He consulted to the Pentagon about its emergency response to the 9/11 attack there.
His studies included looking at how cities in the United States and elsewhere in the world responded to terror attacks and natural disasters, and helped persuade him that the DelValle Institute would be useful to knit together the many agencies that have to respond to any major urban emergency. The Insitute has trained nearly 13,000 personnel from Greater Boston, including police and hospital staff.
The Globe's account today of the positive responses to Serino from around the city as word spread of his FEMA nomination focused on his hands-on leadership at the scenes of emergencies. But he'll also be able to point to a worldly perspective as well.
Not bad for a kid from Dorchester.
Medical students and other health professionals plan to gather in numbers tomorrow on the Boston Common to appeal to Congress to live up to the US commitment to fight AIDS in the United States and around the world.
The Senate is expected to take up legislation on global health funding levels on Friday, and many AIDS activists say the expected allocation falls drastically short of what's needed. So in advance of that vote, the Cambridge-based organization Physicians for Human Rights is organizing the "Rally for Domestic and Global AIDS Funding."
The event, on the steps below the Massachusetts Statehouse starting at 12:30 p.m., will feature a giant counter ticking off the the new HIV and AIDS infections worldwide. PHR says there's one new infection in the United States -- and 45 new infections in the world -- every nine and a half minutes. And in that time span there are 36 AIDS deaths worldwide.
The Obama Administration has proposed spending $63 billion over six years for global health programs, most of it for fighting AIDS. In an analysis of the funding needs, PHR estimates that AIDS funding alone should be $60 billion over six years, and a total of $95 billion for AIDS and the many other global health needs.
Most discussions about genocide take place after the fact, lamenting that the latest atrocity wasn't anticipated and avoided. An unusual initiative that seeks to look forward to prevent future genocides will be up for public discussion on Tuesday evening at the Boston Public Library.
Last December, an American group called the Genocide Prevention Task Force issued its final report, offering a range of proposals on how to stop further genocides. On Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the BPL, two members of the task force will present the findings and ask for input on taking the process forward.
Here's a link to the complete task force report, starting with the executive summary.
Swanee Hunt, the Cambridge human rights campaigner and former US ambassador, will also deliver remarks, and the program will be moderated by Meghan O’Sullivan of the Kennedy School of Government.
The Task Force was co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, the former Maine senator and former defense secretary. The report was convened by the Museum, the USIP and the American Academy of Diplomacy.
The Task Force team is holding holding public programs like this one nationwide to build awareness and offer ways for the public to get involved.
The recommendations include creating alert systems that enable governments to spot and respond quickly to emerging potential genocides, and preparing the right military responses as well as diplomatic initiatives.
Heffernan says in announcing Tuesday's forum: “The Task Force report is a blueprint for how the U.S. government can improve its capacity to prevent mass atrocities and genocide. We believe the public cares about this issue and hope to engage them in our efforts to make these recommendations a reality.”
It's appropriate that the global anti-slavery campaign has generated renewed energy in Massachusetts, in the form of a movement of college students engaging in protests including "freeze-ins."
The Bay State, after all, was home to William Lloyd Garrison, the famed abolitionist from Newburyport who published The Liberator in Boston starting in 1831, and two years later founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. More recently, the American Anti-Slavery Group was founded in Newton in 1993 by human rights activist and modern-day abolitionist Charles Jacobs, with support from African anti-slavery campaigners from Sudan and Mauritania, to remind Americans that slavery persists in many parts of the world -- including the United States.
Now, students at Harvard and other universities are again mobilizing -- and they are offering a public symposium on Tuesday night to discuss modern slavery and human trafficking in more detail. The symposium is titled, "Destination Freedom: A learning approach to human slavery/human trafficking."
The symposium, being held from 4-9 p.m. at the Arts for Humanities Epicenter at Harvard, is sponsored by the Harvard branch of Free the Slaves; PANGEA of Tufts, a human rights group; Minga Groups, which fights sex-trafficking of teen-agers, and Human Trafficking Students of Boston alongside national organizations Free the Slaves, Love146, and The Not For Sale Campaign.
Kelli Okuji, a Harvard undergrad who is head coordinator of Harvard's Free the Slaves branch, says the purpose of the symposium "is to continue to promote community awareness and education about modern-day slavery, while also exploring avenues of student activism and ways to bridge the communities of knowledge and practice within the Boston-area and abroad."
She helped organize the "freeze-in" on Thursday in Cambridge, in which students freeze in position in public places for three minutes to call attention to the cause.
Okuji said the Harvard action was part of a national chain of freeze-ins at nearly two dozen college campuses nationwide, with more than 200 partipants. It was the first such national freeze-in by anti-slavery campaigners -- with the Harvard students taking a leading role.
Okuji wrote: "Many people today, especially within Western societies, are unaware that slavery still exists today. At the mention of slavery, people often conjure images of black bodies in chains or stooped over cotton plants during 1860s America. What we fail to realize, however, is that slavery is within our midst wherever we go, and may even be as close as our own backyard. "
One form of modern slavery, that of women trapped into lives of forced prostitution, is known to have Boston ties. The Globe's Ric Kahn wrote a detailed piece in 2007 about the long tentacles of sex-trafficking.
The American Anti-Slavery Group's website, Abolish!, offers details about the many forms modern slavery takes, including debt bondage and chattel labor as well as sex-slavery and forced labor.
The American Islamic Congress, a civic group that promotes interfaith understanding and awareness of Muslim culture, is sponsoring a series of five lectures in Boston this month, starting Monday evening at Boston University, to explore the diversity of Muslim culture from Africa to Europe to Asia.
There will be music and dance as well as talk. And the series will culminate in a cultural fair on Sunday, March 29, with poetry and other performances. Click here for the full program of the five conferences.
The AIC, which has offices in Boston and Washington as well as abroad, is avowedly moderate and non-religious. Born in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, it embraces women's equality, free expression, and nonviolence, and also confronts the stereotyping of Muslims -- noting that terrorism claims mainly Muslim lives.
The organization received a grant from the Boston Foundation to put on the five-part series on Muslim diversity, being staged at five different university venues at 6:30 p.m. every couple of days. The first, on Monday, March 16, focuses on Muslim mysticism. Then on Wednesday, March 18, at the Harvard Faculty Club, panelists will discuss the Subcontinent. And on Thursday March 19, the series moves to MIT for a session on Muslims in Europe.
Each event includes poetry and music.
The following week the series moves to the Mideast and Asia. On Monday, March 23, the discussion at the New England Conservatory will deal with Muslims in the Near East. And the final panel on Wednesday, March 25, focuses on the Far East, with with panelists including MIT Professor Alan Lightman, who recently helped build a mosque in Cambodia.
Nasser Weddady, who was born in Mauritania and came to the United States as a refugee in 2000, is civil rights outreach director for the AIC and works in the Boston office. He moved to Boston in 2007 from Kentucky. He says the lectures are part of a process of carving a civic space for Muslims in Boston, and moving the discussion beyond the usual simplistic focus on terrorism and religious extremism.
|Nasser Weddady (Globe file photo by Justine Hunt)|
"The conversation around Muslims is either conducted around counterterrorism -- a valid and real concern -- or else people think about theology and religion. But the reality is Islam stretches from Europe to the Far East, and in each area, it has taken on a local flavor. That’s what we’re showing through the series," Weddady said.
He added that looking at Islam through a religious lens, based on the premise "that the central foundation for the Muslim community is the mosque, is patently false.... Muslims don't look at themselves in terms of theology."
Thus the focus not only on discussion, but also on celebration that highlights the rich diversity of Islamic cultures.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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