After the Sept. 11 attacks, cries from the public against Americans of Middle East descent harped back to similar public outcry against Japanese Americans during World War II. Addressing the role of western governments, media and private organizations in creating and fostering these sentiments was the purpose of a daylong conference on Saturday, titled “Perspectives on the Muslim World: Unveiling the Truth.”

Paul Wong
LSA sophomore Lena Masri attends a candlelight vigil commemorating Palestinian “Land Day” outside of the Union Saturday night, following speeches by Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Ann Arbor) and Judy Bonior.

“It is really European anti-Semitism that gave birth to the situation we have today (in Israel),” University of California at Berkeley Islamic studies Prof. Hatem Bazian said. He added that the problems between Israelis and Palestinians are fueled by “the perception that Europe and America are divorced from what is taking place … distancing themselves from the reality.”

Bazian was the last in a list of speakers who discussed the media’s involvement in blaming Palestinians for the current conflict – specifically addressing the “manufactured perceptions” that American citizens adopt as fact. As an example, he said the visit of Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni to the Middle East was not to develop a peace plan but a mission to garner support for an invasion of Iraq.

Bazian also accused American journalists of developing ideas based on false facts and research.

“Thomas Friedman needs to check his research in Journalism 101 before writing the propaganda,” Benzian said. Friedman is The New York Times foreign affairs columnist.

The keynote speaker of the conference, Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Ann Arbor) addressed the falsity in the idea that “curtailment of … liberties would make us safer.”

Rivers examined the fear of the House of Representatives to vote against security and terror legislation – the Patriot Act and the recent anti-terrorism acts – which allow secret evidence and secret charges, wire tapping and suspension of the client-attorney privilege.

“We are turning our back on our constitution,” Rivers said. “When we put too much power in the hands of the government, we are all at risk.” She added that such laws, including those allowing people to be detained indefinitely, contradict the “crystal clear” 14th Amendment.

This year’s conference focused on dispelling notions that Muslims are terrorists, fanatics or extremists and misconceptions of Islam as a militant, backwards and intolerant religion.

The theme is “unveiling the truth, getting the truth and facts out. … Students felt that after (September 11) a lot of facts were distorted,” Gameel Zindani, the conference organizer, said. He added that the attendance and quality of the speakers had improved from the previous year.

The conference ended with speeches from Rep. Rivers and Judy Bonior, the wife of Rep. David Bonior (D-Mt. Clemens).

The Muslim Students Association sponsored the conference, held at the Michigan League and the Union.

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