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ViewFinder: Songs of Hope Transcipt
Arts Alive is funded in part by the Sacramento Cultural Arts Program of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission with support from the city and county of Sacramento
On a day in April three musicians from the Middle East, each from a different religious faith arrived in America to perform with the Sacramento Philharmonic.
In the Middle East, a person of Muslim, Jewish and Christian faith performing as a statement of unity, is not only controversial...it's potentially life-threatening.
Faith issues, often the root of violence in the Middle East, are found in cities throughout the world...
Sacramento, California is no different.
Imam Muhammad Azeez, SALAM: Muslims are just like any other group of human beings; they have the good and the bad.
Joe Kaufman, Americans Against Hate: The use the religion of Islam to commit acts of terror.
Basim Elkarra, CAIR: This is modern day lynching.
Cinnamon Stillwell, Campus-Watch.org: Not just misinforming the children, but in some ways indoctrinating them to a kind of supremacist view of Islam
Prof. Ayad Al-Qazazz, Sacramento State: There are people who have interests to intentionally mislead people about Islam about the Arab and about the people of the Middle East.
Can a concert make a difference?
Marc Feldman, Sacramento Philharmonic: The significance of bringing these three musicians here again is to show that yes there are people in the world, despite everything that everybody is talking about today; there are people in the world who are working together.
Taiseer Elias: I think even what the politicians are not able to do, musicians are, artists are able to do, and music can tear down walls of course.
Marc Feldman: Nader Abbassi who is the conductor of the Cairo National Orchestra, Sonia Rubinsky, is a...pianist...and Taiseer Elias who is one of the world's foremost musicians on the oud, which is an Arab classical instrument…One Muslim, one Jewish, one Christian all from the Middle East, all musicians, working together.
Kais Menoufy, Show Sponsor: One night could be much stronger message than years of discussions, just having people going and enjoying this beautiful music.
Marc Feldman: The opening piece on the concert by the composer Erwin Schulhoff is called Joyous Overture. Very symbolic on this concert, Schulhoff was killed in a concentration camp in WWII because he was Jewish and because he was communist.
On the night of June 18, 1999 three synagogues in Sacramento were burned by arsonists.
Prof. Sam Edelman, Chico State: After the synagogues were fire bombed the response of the community was phenomenal. It was a community that came together and said, this is wrong and no we will not accept this.
Sam Edelman: America has become a place with a great deal of knowledge about Jewish customs and Jewish culture and Jewish religion. It's the place where Jewish people and Jewish religion thrives because of its acceptance. It's not looked at as kind of an other.
But what if the arsonists in 1999 struck three Muslim mosques instead of Jewish synagogues; would the community have responded in the same way?
CB radio: We just had a plane crash into the upper floor of the World Trade Center. Woman on phone: I'm on the 83rd floor, the floor is completely engulfed, we're on the floor and we can't breath, and it's very, very, very hot. Dispatcher: Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm. You're doing a good job; you're doing a good job. Woman: It's so hot, I'm burning up, can I stay on the line with you please, I'm going to die. Dispatcher: Melissa, can you hear me? Can anyone hear me? Melissa, can you hear me. Melissa, oh my God, Melissa.
Cinnamon Stillwell: After 9/11 there was obviously an increased public interest in Islam and the Islamic world.
How did 9/11 alter the perception of Muslims in America; and is the general perception a fair one?
Basim Elkarra, CAIR: After 9/11, you know it woke us all up, it woke up the Muslim community and the American community, of you know what, wow there's 1.4 billion Muslims, what do they believe in?
Basim Elkarra: No one is going to deny that there are problems in the Muslim world, you know but these are problems that, instead of dividing each other we have to work with one another to fix these problems.
Imam Muhammad Azeez, SALAM: Think of the Muslims as you would your own community, or your own people.
Basim Elkarra: You have the best and the brightest of the Muslim world right here in our country. You know who fled tyranny, who are some of the top doctors, engineers, physicians.
Imam Muhammad Azzez: Thatkind of person has very little time to get involved in activism and to issue you know dramatic statements about how we all denounce terrorism. I ask the Catholic, when was the last time you felt you have to stand up and say I'm a Catholic and I don't stand for violence in Ireland? But when it comes to the Muslims there's always that assumption that the entire community needs to stand up and need to do this and that.
Basim Elkarra: So that is the challenge of the American Muslim community, is just to let our neighbors our co workers know who we really are.
Piano Concerto in A minor
Marc Feldman: As somebody of Jewish faith, we came through our versions of prejudice.
Marc Feldman: It took a long time to acknowledge that there were Jewish thinkers,there's very little knowledge of Arab intellectuals here in the United States, and I do think there are people who want to reject the fact that it even exists.
Kais Menoufy: I believe that we as Americans are missing a lot by not being exposed to that part of the world culture and values and art and philosophy. Just think about Egypt as an example, you talk about 7000 years of civilization. You can't ignore that and say that there isn't something beautiful from there that I need to learn about.
Marc Feldman: I think it's wonderful to bring Nader Abbassi, to bring someone of his stature to Sacramento, to the United States and say here you have an Arab intellectual, I hope we can change some of that perception, so we can talk about Arab intellectuals and say where do they fit in our picture in this United States, which prides itself in its openness.
Prof. Ayad Al-Qazzaz, Sacramento State: Religion is a very emotional subject, extremely emotional, and you have to treat it gingerly and carefully.
How does the general public gain an understanding about Islam? It's reasonable to believe universities would be a place to turn for accurate information.
Prof. Ayad Al-Qazzaz: In order to make an objective decision and a sound decision, you have to have at your disposal all sorts of information. The pro and the con, the good and the bad, what people say about it from different perspectives…I mean I'm going to give you what I consider to be relevant information, but it is up to you to accept it, to evaluate it and choose whatever you want to choose.
But some question what's being taught about Islam, and the motives of those teaching it.
Cinnamon Stillwell, Campus-Watch.org: The main danger is students not getting an accurate and well-rounded education, and to take it a step further is students being indoctrinated by somebody who has a very specific agenda.
Cinnamon Stillwell writes for Campus-Watch.org, a website devoted to monitoring Middle East studies programs, and professors, across the country.
Cinnamon Stillwell: You have public schools you know some cases where they're actually receiving taxpayer dollars and not just teaching kids about Islam as a religion, but actually imbuing classes with religious practices.
Prof. Ayad Al-Qazzaz: If you talk about Campus Watch, I mean this is a very, very prejudiced organization. And this organization in one fashion or another connected with the Arab/Israeli conflict, and connected with the Middle East politics and they have their own version and their own interpretation which does not fit with what I consider to be a balanced interpretation of the history and the people of the Middle East.
Prof. Ayad Al-Qazzaz: They don't want people to have balanced information, they don't want people to have fair information because if people have balanced or fair information then you cannot influence them, you cannot manipulate them.
Cinnamon Stillwell: People have turned to our universities and Middle East studies in particular has, there's been a real spotlight on it since 9/11
Cinnamon Stillwell: I wrote a piece for Campus Watch a couple months ago on the promotion of Islam in our schools. And there had been quite a controversy surrounding the textbook, it's called History Alive, the Medieval World and Beyond.
Prof. Ayad Al-Qazzaz: This is the book, which had created all the problems. And my role in that book, I was a consultant, which mean all what I basically did, they sent me the draft I read it and made some comment and made some suggestions, and that's basically all what I did.
Prof. Ayad Al-Qazzaz: They confuse the idea of teaching about Islam with proselytizing about Islam. They think by teaching about Islam you are encouraging the student to convert to Islam. We teach about other religion as part of the cultural heritage of world civilization. Because religion is part of culture, part of the history of many many nations, we are teaching about world civilization, and Islam is part of that heritage and the students should know about that.
Cinnamon Stillwell: The parents are afraid of their children getting an inaccurate education. Not being treated as pupils but as little automatons to be indoctrinated with some, with an agenda. And it happens to be an agenda that avoids any kind of critical analysis of Islam of the Muslim world, and thereby again putting off that sort of progress and examination that is necessary, and that soft peddles the violent aspects and the fanatical aspects.
Cinnamon Stillwell: Like Jihad, which there continues to be a lot of confusion around that. And it's true that the word has multiple meanings, but what he has done repeatedly, and what many of these uh professors and people do is sort of downplay the violent the violent definition of usage of Jihad, which is Holy War.
Prof. Ayad Al-Qazzaz: Any group who has their own agenda to promote they are going to do whatever they can in order to achieve their goal.
Marc Feldman: The next piece is another American premiere by Nader Abbassi, Dusk to Dawn. It's an interesting piece in that it is kind of an Arabian Stravinsky. I was just fascinated by the use of Middle Eastern Idiom on top of Stravinsky and Stostakovich and Debucee, it's all in there... it's just really amazing.
Along with university professors, the organization CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) has been criticized by many.
Basim Elkarra, CAIR: CAIR's mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialog, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
CAIR is America's largest Islamic advocacy group.
Basim Elkarra: I want people to look at CAIR for what it's doing, actions speak louder than words. I always tell our detractors, just look at our actions, you have have to judge our intentions or look at our hearts, you know. Just look at our actions. Looking at the bridges we're building with many communities in the Sacramento Valley area.
Joe Kaufman, Americans Against Hate: What I would like to see in regards to CAIR is for that organization to be shut down.
Joe Kaufman is the chairman Americans Against Hate; his website CAIRWatch.com highlights his concerns about the group.
Joe Kaufman: We could say that any, any extremist organization has something positive to provide to the community, but when the organization comes and defends those that wish to do violent acts against Americans or our friends overseas, I would say that that organization has stepped over the line, and should not exist.
Joe Kaufman: They can't deny the fact that their organization was created for and as being part of Hamas. At the time of their founding in 1994 they were led by the head of Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzook, and his American Palestine Committee with the goal of raising finances from American shores to Hamas.
Basim Elkarra: These are facts in his imagination. If any CAIR leader had ties to terrorism he would be in jail right now, and I'd have never joined this organization. But you know he will come up with all these different fantasies and, if you look at the 60s, the same extremists use the same tactics against our civil rights leaders.
But in winter of 2006 Kaufman made national headlines when he convinced Senator Barbara Boxer to rescind an award she gave to CAIR's Basim Elkarra.
Basim Elkarra: So I get an award for building bridges with the interfaith community and with law enforcement, and so you know I was a little excited to get an award from our Senator.
Basim Elkarra: So two days after he sends out this press release, she rescinds the award.
Joe Kaufman: He had defended an individual that was calling on attacks against Americans. He had defended an Imam trying to create a school inside of the United States that specifically was going to teach children how to commit violent acts against Americans.
Basim Elkarra: This big school in the middle of Lodi next to a church and they were going to train people to carry out Jihad? It was the biggest joke; this has been the biggest joke. And this leader, if he was so bad, why isn't he sitting in jail? But instead what we saw was a man who built bridges with other communities. And its that the government went after him because he knows someone that knows someone that knows someone that knows someone that knows this guy. And if we're going to do that with our own presidents, it's going to be he knows this guy who knows this guy who knows Osama Bin Laden, I mean come on I mean you know. You can't use, you can't use guilt by association.
Andy Noguchi, Florin Japanese American Citizens League: If anyone wanted to know what kind of individual Basim was, all they had to do was ask anyone in Sacramento. It would've been simple.
Surprisingly, one of the largest groups to come to Elkarra's defense was Sacramento's Japanese American community.
Andy Noguchi: And he's the one whose gone out and done outreach to different church groups, different community organizations, has met with a lot of law enforcement agencies here to provide sensitivity training.
Andy Noguchi, along with the Florin Japanese American Citizens League, wrote a letter to Senator Boxer in defense of Elkarra.
Andy Noguchi: I think there's been that cloud of suspicion over people's heads, questions of loyalty, questions about just who are Muslims. And those are the same questions that people asked about Japanese Americans back during WWII.
Andy Noguchi: When the evacuation orders happened, and people were ordered to be interned, people lost virtually everything they had. You know the farmers here couldn't harvest their crops, they couldn't pay their mortgages, they lost their businesses, they lost their farms. So I think that caused some sensitivity in our community about being caught up in that kind of hysteria, that kind of backlash.
Basim Elkarra: Many people fear what they don't know, and just, they don't understand. Maybe they've never met Muslims and all of what they see is on TV. You come for yourself and see what they're about. You come to our Mosques, come to our Islamic school, and then you'll see what the American Muslim community is about.
Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims (SALAM): Friday prayer services
Imam Muhammad Azeez, SALAM: Well this is SALAM Islamic Center; it is one of the many mosques in the area. You can expect at SALAM what you would expect at a church or a synagogue in terms of services and in terms of the things that we do.
Imam Muhammad Azeez: The Friday service is the equivalent of the Saturday service Judaism, and the Sunday service in Christianity.
Imam Muhammad Azeez: I'm the Imam and the SALAM Islamic Center. And the Imam is kind of like the pastor or the rabbi, I'm the religious and spiritual leader of this place.
Imam Muhammad Azeez: Muslim prayers are different than you know, a prayer in a Christian sense for instance because it involves physical movements.
Imam Muhammad Azeez: I think in most human culture, you know your head and your forehead is one of the most honorable parts of who you are as a human being. So in the process of understanding the true relationship between one and his or her God, you have to submit yourself and surrender yourself in absolute humility, to the almighty. And a symbol of doing that is to bring your most honorable thing, and put it, lay it down on the floor.
Imam Muhammad Azeez: There is always an open invitation for people to just stop by; they don't even have to let us know.
Imam Muhammad Azeez: What I really hope for is that they will leave with a positive impression. And that they will question their prior beliefs and their prior perceptions.
Concertino for Oud, Piano and Orchestra
Marc Feldman: The Concertino for Oud, Piano and String Orchestra by the Israeli composer Menachem Wiesenberg is an American premiere; it's never been played here.
Marc Feldman: The piece itself is a wonderful juxtaposition of East and West, and how we can have a dialog between an oud, and the epidemy of Western music, the piano.
Andy Noguchi, Japanese American Citizens League: Well Manzanar is one of the 10 major internment camps that Japanese Americans were sent to from the West Coast.
On the same day as the concert, an event in the same spirit of unity, was taking place.
Each year Sacramento's Japanese community invites members of all faiths on their trip to the WWII internment center, Manzanar.
Andy Noguchi: People in the Japanese American community get together with the people from the Muslim community, other religious faiths, Christian, Jew, different generations, all traveling together over three days to kind of learn from each other and also learn a little bit about the conditions that were faced before and what that might mean for today.
Andy Noguchi: If you go to the Manzanar, or some of the other internment camps, they were like in the worst places in our country, scorching summers, freezing winters. You know just realizing that people were living there for two, three years, you know being denied their freedoms, having their possessions taken away from them. Not knowing what their future would hold. And, just being there and being in this desert surrounding and talking to some of the former internees I think really makes you appreciate what kind of sacrifices they went through, and what kind of valuable lessons this has for our country too.
Each year the journey starts at the same symbolic place.
Andy Noguchi: The Buddhist Church of Florin, where we're at right now, was the center of the Japanese American community here before WWII.
Andy Noguchi: When the evacuation orders happened, and people were ordered to be interned, people lost virtually everything they had.
Andy Noguchi: After the war and evacuation when people started coming back in 1945 that time, a lot of the families from this community actually lived in that gymnasium.
Andy Noguchi: We can live in ignorance, live in fear as people might have before, or we can reach out to understand others and to develop friendships. And I think Americans are making that choice, and that's one of the reasons we have this pilgrimage.
Marc Feldman: Bernstein's Chichester Psalms is the last piece on the program. It's a piece that is written, it is taken from texts in Hebrew, from the Psalms of David and it is a call for unification, it is a call to be brothers. And that's what this whole concert is about.
Marc Feldman: There are many things that have to be done if peace is to happen. But through music we're just taking a small tiny peace and seeing what we can, if we can put a brick in the edifice of a future dialog we're happy with that.
Nader Abbassi: Our families say this is the enemy, except when you put them together, really, and they play together on the same stands and we do music together, we are really good friends, like brothers, we are family and we love each other. And so maybe these people when they go back home, it's only our hope, when I go back home, my family say the enemy, you've been with the enemy, and I said no. The people you told me all my life that this is bad, they are not that bad, I feel very good I have very good friends.
Marc Feldman: I think we've gotten to a point in our collective history around the world that we've forgotten about the time periods when we did all get along. I like to think about a time period about 500 years ago in Spain that was a golden age for a whole community. And it was a golden age of Spain and intellectualism that mixed Christians, Jews and Muslims. We've forgotten that we actually can come together. So I think this concert is a small, small drop in the bucket to remind people that we again share common goals, and in this case the common goal of the music is beauty.
Taiseer Elias: The very fact that I can produce and create music with Jewish, with Egyptian, with Americans, that makes it so nice experience and this tells us that co-existence is not only possible, but it is a wonderful experience.
Marc Feldman: There's something enriching when the barriers that we have are broken down and we can really learn from each other, rather than just tolerate each other. Tolerance is a wonderful word, but tolerance is a beginning, tolerance is not an end all. Working together and breaking down barriers and finding out where each person, or each community can borrow something from another community, is really living together and working together.
Taiseer Elias: I think it's very important because all over we are all human beings, we are all equal, and we need each other to exist and of course, to enrich each other culturally and musically.
Marc Feldman: So if there's something that can come out of this, it's the idea that, we are greater than the sum or our parts if we work together. That's what I hope will happen.