Islamic leader gives students different view of the world | AspenTimes.com

Islamic leader gives students different view of the world

About 40 Basalt High School students were challenged Tuesday to avoid branding all Muslims as violent zealots due to the actions of a few on Sept. 11, 2001.

Ibrahim Kazerooni, the imam, or director, of the Islamic Center of Denver, told the students that Christianity will never be judged solely on the violent acts of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in past years.

It would be equally wrong to form an opinion about the Islamic religion based on the actions of extremists, he said.

The essence of all religion, Kazerooni stressed, is peace. Radicals in any religion can “twist” words of the Bible or Koran to try to justify their violent actions.

“There are those in the world that misinterpret faith to suit their own agenda,” he said.

Kazerooni was peppered with questions about Islam from students in the comparative religion class of teacher Ben Bohmfalk. They wanted to know about everything from the perceived repression of women in Muslim countries to his thoughts about the afterlife.

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Students in the international relations class of teacher Tanis Pettit also attended and probed Kazerooni on his views of current events in Iraq.

Kazerooni said he fled Iraq in 1974 after being imprisoned numerous times. He moved to Great Britain and eventually immigrated to the United States.

He made it clear that he is no fan of Saddam Hussein, but also took the United States to task for its foreign policy in the Middle East.

He said the United States determined a decade ago that evidence was inconclusive on whether Saddam used chemical weapons against dissident Kurds in Iraq. Yet now the United States is using that same claim as justification for trying to remove Saddam from power.

He said America punished Iraq in the early 1990s for invading Kuwait yet takes no action against Israel when it attacks its neighbors.

He said the United States feels responsible to act as a global cop to check if Iraq has weapons of mass destruction yet doesn’t act despite the certainty that Israel possesses those same weapons.

Iraq is under fire for violating United Nations resolutions yet Israel makes a habit of it with no consequences, he said.

Kazerooni said he suspects that President Bush got tough with Iraq this year for political and economic gains, not because America suddenly became concerned about the dictator’s actions.

Bush, he charged, wanted to divert attention from the poor health of the U.S. economy and the corporate corruption scandals so the Republican party wouldn’t be hurt in the November election.

“He had to create a diversion,” Kazerooni said.

In the long term, Bush doesn’t care about liberating the Iraqi people by rebuilding schools and hospitals and infrastructure, he charged. Bush cares about liberating Iraqi oil.

The United States insists on sticking to sanctions, approved by the United Nations, that, according to some, deprive the Iraqi people of food and medicine. The sanctions were implemented with the intention of putting pressure on Saddam.

Instead, Kazerooni said, they have only resulted in suffering. Credible sources estimate that 1.6 million people have died, including 900,000 children, Kazerooni said. Yet Saddam and “the cronies are still in power.”

The United States’ insistence on sticking with the sanctions instead of abandoning them can’t be considered anything less than “immoral,” he concluded.

Kazerooni wore a button that had the word “war” covered with the universal symbol for “no.” But he conceded that peace won’t be easy.

Peace can ultimately be achieved in the volatile Middle East, he said, only if America alters its position on Israel. Arabs believe there is a double standard that applies not only in the case of Iraq and Israel, but of any Arab country and Israel.

He estimated that 90 percent of the problems in the Middle East could be eliminated if the United States and the rest of the West would treat Palestinians equally with Jews.

Until America supports returning the Palestinians’ historical lands, which were taken when Israel was created, or supports compensating the Palestinians for their losses, it will continue to be the target of ill will in the Arab world, Kazerooni said.

He urged the students to study the complicated issues in depth from as many sources as possible. That’s the only way to promote global understanding.

“I have higher hopes for the younger generation than the older ones,” Kazerooni said.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]