Memo to Osama bin Laden, now dead

Published in Turkey's Today's Zaman, May 3, 2011. Also on Huffington Post. An edited version appears in the Florida Times Union.

Parvez Ahmed

Although rejoicing death is not part of the religious traditions of Muslims, Christians or Jews, I cannot help but feel a sense of joyful relief now that you are no longer capable of plotting your evil. Your elimination as a terrorist threat is a victory for peace and justice. Thousands of people from different nationalities, ethnicities and religions around the world have reacted with understandable emotions. Capital markets have reacted by bidding oil prices down and stock prices up, indicating that they are hopeful of greater stability in the Middle East.

You have caused untold misery to people who had no enmity with you. You have dragged the good name of Islam through the mud by wrapping your heinous actions with the banner of Islam. Your views and your methods have long been discredited by credible and mainstream Muslim scholars. But that did not persuade you from ceasing to poison the minds of gullible and vulnerable youths. You took our children brainwashed them into being maniacs and then used them as weapons against us. And in the end you did not even prove your self-proclaimed warrior mantle. You hid behind a woman and used her as a human shield. You are not a martyr. You are a criminal who deserves to be punished by death, under American, international and Sharia laws.

The cancer that you have left behind will still be with us. We will still have to deal with terrorists like you. But we hope that your death will inject rationality in the discourse about terrorism. It will allow our policy makers and leaders to see terrorism less as a political football and more as a criminal activity undertaken by mafia figures like you. Instead of criminalizing a faith, our leaders will use sensible method to go after the criminals without stigmatizing the faith group they belong to.

We are hopeful that your demise will bring some measure of comfort to all the families who have to contend daily with the loss of their loved ones. We are also hopeful that your departure provides renewed opportunities for building stronger bridges of understanding across faiths and cultures.

As peace loving Muslims, we unequivocally reject terrorism and reiterate that no grievances can ever justify the taking of innocent human lives. Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. Any group that imitates your methods is just as guilty as you are of crimes against their faith and all of humanity.

We are heartened by the fact that no Muslim country took the responsibility of your burial. It is permissible, in fact recommended in Islam to not afford terrorists full burial rites. Terrorists are considered deviants and thus denying them the opportunity for burial rites that seek mercy and forgiveness for the deceased are religiously accepted.

President Barack Obama has eloquently reminded the world that you were not a Muslim leader. He went on to say, "Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity."

In your death you have united us as Americans once more, the same way we were in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Today, like that ill-fated day, people of conscience are once again ready to rediscover the value of peaceful coexistence, so jaded by your rhetoric of war. Even when lamenting or protesting unfair and unjust conditions, we do not want to forget our Prophet's teachings of seeking peace and forgiveness even in the midst of our harshest hardships. Your fellow Arabs are increasingly rejecting your messianic worldview. In Egypt and Tunisia they have peacefully overthrown dictators. What your violence never achieved, their peace did.

It is my hope that your life and death serve as a lesson to all who ever contemplated using the shortcut of violence to satisfy their desires and needs. In your death as in your life, you have failed. You have dishonored your family and the over one billion Muslims from whom you hijacked the good name of Islam.

Editorial in Florida Times Union

April 25, 2011

There is nothing especially unusual about awards or appreciating the good works of outstanding individuals.

But it is unique to have the sponsoring organization celebrating the audience. That is what happened last Tuesday night during "An Evening of Gratitude" by the Muslim community.

The sentiments were so touching, the positive energy in the Hyatt Regency ballroom so powerful, that it left participants grasping for words.

The Islamic Center of Northeast Florida gave a series of awards at the benefit that in a broad sense were aimed at all the people of good will in the community.
And the sponsors made it clear that this good will did not start recently, but from those days about 30 years ago when there was just a handful of Muslims here.

Speakers from the Islamic Center said thanks for the support they have received from Christians, Jews, Hindus and many others. For instance, help was provided to purchase land for a mosque, for architectural work, for legal work.

And during the unfortunate opposition in the community to the appointment of Parvez Ahmed to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, many people of good will stood up and spoke out.

As Imam Joe Bradford said, Jacksonville's "gracious nature" turned negative energy into a positive.

John Delaney, president of the University of North Florida where Ahmed serves as a professor, said that his support was easy compared to the incredible patience and grace shown by Ahmed.

Mayor John Peyton said that Ahmed was "amazingly unflappable," that his grace was an inspiration during a grueling confirmation process.

"A lot of good came from this," Peyton said, by mobilizing the right-thinking people in the community.

But shouldn't the right-thinking people speak out? What a tragedy if they had not. Times-Union Editor Frank Denton described the coverage as the "journalism of hope."
To quote the Quran: "By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you give of that which you love" (3:92).

It was a beautiful night that made us proud to be living in Jacksonville.


Person of the Year

Professor, father, author, activist, citizen, Muslim. The man who made 2010 a turning point for Northeast Florida.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Parvez Ahmed slept in. After teaching a late-night investment class at the University of Pennsylvania, and working in his home office until after midnight, he took the rare luxury of sleeping past 8 a.m. His
parents, visiting from Calcutta, milled about downstairs with his wife Savana, fixing breakfast and watching the morning news. When the first jetliner crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m., Savana called up to her husband. Ahmed was just coming down the stairs when the second plane
crashed at 9:03 a.m.

Like everyone in the United States, Ahmed’s family spent the day in shock. By 10:30 a.m., both the south and north towers had collapsed, killing more than 3,000 people. By 4 p.m., CNN was reporting that radical Muslim extremist Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist organization was responsible.

Click here to read more of this week's cover story.

Is Islam Compatible with American Values?

On Oct 9, 2010, the Clay County chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State organized a lecture on "Is Islam Compatible with American Values?" I was invited to speak at the Fleming Island Public Library. What happened at the event is well summarized in a letter to the editor by Rev. Harry Parrott, President of the local chapter of AU. Click here to read Rev. Parrott's letter.

Listen to a radio interview on WJCT's First Coast Connect. Listen to the Dec 6, 2010 show.

A group called the ACT! For America, which by most accounts is a hate group, organized a smear campaign to oust me from the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, to which I was confirmed just a few months ago. You may remember the contrived controversy my nomination generated at that time. If you need a refresher, visit my blog. Most of April 2010 entries on my blog are about that controversy.

Unfortunately, once again the media played into ACT's ploy and gave legs to the unfounded allegations made by ACT. The local NPR station, on their show First Coast Connect analyzed the situation. Click on Fri show of First Coast Connect.

On Sunday Dec 5, 2101 the Florida Times Union today, published a summarized version of my speech stating, "We are running excerpts from the speech on this page so readers can judge for themselves. The entire speech can be read on our Opinion Page Blog:"

Guest column: Is Islam compatible with American democratic values?
Source URL:

In 2005, a Danish newspaper printed a cartoon depicting Muhammad, who Muslims believe to be the last Messenger and Prophet of God, with a bomb in his turban. This set off an international row as protests erupted from Europe to Asia.
In some Muslim countries, newspapers that reprinted the cartoon were closed. European countries evacuated staffs of embassies and Muslim countries withdrew ambassadors. The fallout also had economic repercussions. According to the Gulf News, Danish exports began to fall as consumers in Muslim countries shunned Danish products in protest.

This provoked the question: Is Islam incompatible with Western values? Are Islam and the West destined to have a clash of civilization?

Those who answer yes point to events like 9/11 or the cartoon controversy as proof positive of the inherent incompatibility of Islam and with the West.

Others who are more knowledgeable about Islam and Muslim societies say that neither 9/11, nor the cartoon controversy, are indicative of any inherent clash of values. The antecedents of such events are socio-political. Religion may at best be a contributing factor.

While people debate the place of Islam in American society, another reality is taking shape right before our very eyes.

According to The New York Times, a record number of Muslim workers are complaining of workplace discrimination ranging from being called "terrorist" to being barred from wearing headscarves or taking prayer breaks.

According to federal data, discrimination complaints by Muslims are up 20 percent from last year and up 60 percent since 2005. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found enough credibility in these complaints that they have filed several lawsuits on behalf of Muslim workers.

This summer we have seen tensions boil over as a pastor attempted to burn the Quran and many opposed to building of an Islamic community center in New York descended to embarrassing levels of incivility.

Unlike you, who are attempting to dialogue and learn, most Americans choose to remain ill-informed. As a result, today more people have a negative view of Islam than in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

Our media outlets, mostly cable news shows and radio talk shows, are major contributors to this trend that bodes ill for the long-term sustainability of our national interests.

A few politicians and religious leaders have only exasperated the situation by trying to ride the coattails of fear of Islam to electoral victories.

The situation has gotten so out of hand, that Time magazine ran a cover story, "Is America Islamophobic?" with the following comment: "In France and Britain, politicians from fringe parties say appalling things about Muslims, but there's no one in Europe of the stature of a former House speaker who would, as Newt Gingrich did, equate Islam with Nazism."

So how do we go past this rancor? By doing exactly what you are doing today. Trying to learn and attempting to dialogue.

President John Kennedy summed it best, "Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others."

To the question: Is Islam compatible with American values? The answer is yes.
Why? Because in a normative sense (Excerpted from Michael Wolfe's The Next American Religion):

Islam is democratic in spirit. The Quran, on which Islamic law is based, enjoins Muslims to govern themselves by discussion and consensus.

Islam is tolerant of other faiths. Like America, Islam has a history of respecting other religions. In Prophet Muhammad's day, Christians and Jews in Muslim lands retained their own courts and enjoyed considerable autonomy. It was the Muslims who made it possible for Jews to return to and live in Jerusalem after centuries of being outcasts.

Islam encourages the pursuit of religious freedom. The Quran clearly states that there is no compulsion in matters related to faith and religion.

Islam emphasizes individual responsibility. Every person is responsible for the condition of her or his own soul. Everyone stands equal before God. America is wedded to an ethic of individual liberty based on righteous actions. For a Muslim, spiritual salvation depends not just on faith, but also righteous actions.

Islam is egalitarian. The Pledge of Allegiance (one nation, "under God") and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (all people are "created equal") express themes that are also basic to Islam. If you visit mosques in America, you will find them among the most racially integrated congregations of faith.

Democracy and Islam

I would like to spend a little bit more time on the issue of democracy and Islam with particular emphasis on Sharia.

The former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim wrote:
"It is true that the founding principles of constitutional democracy, as we know it today, have their antecedents in the political philosophy of John Locke, which entered France through the writings of Voltaire and then deeply influenced the framers of the U.S. constitution.

"But the fact that these principles of political freedom and democracy were first articulated in the West does not preclude them from universal application, nor can it be asserted that they have not been expressed in other contexts."

A majority of the world's 1.4 billion Muslims live in democracies, ample proof that there is no inherent discord between Islam and democracy.

But what about those Muslim majority countries, most of them in the Middle East, which are not democracies?

Is Islam the reason for them being held back?

The Council of Foreign Relations concludes that "a mix of historical, cultural, economic and political factors - and not Islam as a religion - explain why democracy has failed to take root in many Muslim countries."

In fact, surveys by Gallup and Pew show that clear majorities in the Arab world would favor democracy as a form of government. The people most animated about this are the so-called Islamists.

Outside of the Middle East (which accounts for fewer than 20 percent of the global Muslim population), Alfred Stepan in the Journal of Democracy argues that Muslim nations are on par with - or outpace - comparable non-Muslim developing nations in terms of civil liberties and free and fair elections.

The democracy deficiency in the Arab world is more a function of oil than religion.
State ownership of oil has stifled the development of market economies and government transparency. Oil has allowed the monarchies in the Middle East to make a Faustian bargain with their citizens.

That bargain: Governments will not tax its citizens (oil revenues pay for government budgets) and in exchange the citizens will not demand voting or representation.
Let me quote Anwar Ibrahim, the erstwhile deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia: "If democracy is about giving dignity to the human spirit, then freedom is the sine qua non."

Within Islam, the great Andalusia jurist Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi in the 14th century, articulated a perspective on the Maqasid al-Shari'a (the higher objectives of the shari'a), demonstrating the central role of freedom as a higher objective of the divine law. The very same elements in a constitutional democracy are moral imperatives in Islam - freedom of conscience, freedom to speak out against tyranny, a call for reform and the right to property."

Morning Show Interviews

Click on links below to view:

Video: Interview on The Morning Show, WJXT, Channel 4.

Video: Interview on Good Morning Jacksonville, First Coast News.

Some Jacksonville council members embarrassed themselves

Florida Times Union

Submitted by Ron Littlepage on April 29, 2010

Opponents of Parvez Ahmed's nomination to the Human Rights Commission are demanding retribution at the polls after City Council approved his appointment.

I agree. There should be retribution - against those council members who voted no on Ahmed's nomination and shamed the city in the process.
Start with Don Redman.

I've been covering the City Council as a columnist for more than two decades, and I've never seen a more embarrassing moment than when Redman called Ahmed, a Muslim, to the podium Tuesday night and asked him "to say a prayer to your God."

Whatever point Redman was trying to make in his bumbling, disjointed inquisition of Ahmed was inappropriate.

When Redman's name appears on the ballot next spring, surely the voters in District 4 can find a better candidate to represent them.

Clay Yarborough in District 1 also needs to go.

His previous questions of Ahmed about "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, gay marriage and whether he would support and defend the U.S. Constitution - with the underlying hint being that Ahmed would replace it with Islamic law - kicked off this ugly mess.

Glorious Johnson joined Redman and Yarborough in voting against Ahmed. Using incredibly twisted logic, she confused all of those listening.

"Look at us," she said of the polarization surrounding Ahmed's nomination. "Just look at us. We have separated ourselves from one another."

Then she said she would vote no because Ahmed would be a distraction on the commission, a bizarre conclusion for a politician who promotes herself as wanting to shake things up.

Fortunately, Johnson's mayoral campaign will fail, and we will be rid of her.
Ray Holt in District 11 and Jack Webb in District 6 hopefully will draw strong opposition.

Holt's reasoning for voting against Ahmed showed he clearly doesn't understand the difference between analysis and advocacy.

Webb complains he had "legitimate questions" about allegations Ahmed had ties to terrorist groups and he is being criticized for asking them.

The problem is not Webb's questions, but the fact that he refused to listen to the answers.

Considering Webb's well chronicled stumbles of late in the Trail Ridge Landfill debate, the dispute over the JTA allowing advertising on bus shelters and now this, his fellow council member should reconsider Webb's elevation to the council presidency this summer.

The sixth vote against Ahmed by Daniel Davis was disappointing. I've always considered Davis a straight-shooter and fair.

He told Times-Union reporter Tia Mitchell his vote was based on concerns he and his constituents had about Ahmed.

Davis can't run for re-election because of term limits, but he is eyeing a legislative race.

Coincidentally, Adam Hasner, the current Florida House majority leader, helped stir the opposition to Ahmed. Hasner is someone Davis would look to for support.

If Hasner influenced Davis' vote, I would be even more disappointed.

The best thing about Tuesday? The 13 council members who ignored the intolerance and voted to approve Ahmed's nomination, and offered apologies for what he had been put through., (904) 359-4284

Ahmed nomination sails rockily to Jacksonville council approval

Florida Times Union, April 28, 2010
Ahmed nomination sails rockily to Jacksonville council approval
By Tia Mitchell

Ending three weeks of controversial back-and-forth, University of North Florida finance professor Parvez Ahmed was confirmed to the city’s Human Rights Commission Tuesday night.

The City Council vote was 13-6, but it came after a half-hour of debate that included a line of questioning from Councilman Don Redman that produced gasps from the audience, concern from one of the city’s top attorneys and sharp rebukes from his fellow council members.

After the vote, Ahmed said he was grateful Mayor John Peyton continued to support him through all the accusations and that a majority of council members voted to confirm him.

“That bodes very well for the future of the city that the city could handle controversy and at the end the day, as messy as the process was, the outcome was exactly what the city needed,” he said.

As discussion on the nomination began, Redman called Ahmed, who is Muslim, to the podium and asked him to “say a prayer to your God.”

The comment elicited an audible, negative reaction from the audience and Ahmed refused to comply, saying it had no relevance to his nomination to the commission. At the same time, Chief Deputy General Counsel Cindy Laquidara rushed to the podium to reign in Redman, asking to speak with him privately before he continued.

Instead, Redman changed his approach, asking Ahmed if he was offended by Redman’s opening prayer, in which he referenced Jesus. Ahmed again questioned the relevance of the question, but he said Christian prayers did not bother him.

“People do have the right to pray according to their faith and according to their beliefs,” he said.
Redman wasn’t convinced. He insisted that Ahmed, despite his answer, would be offended by prayers to Jesus and that is why he shouldn’t serve on Human Rights Commission.

Later, he joined Daniel Davis, Ray Holt, Glorious Johnson, Jack Webb and Clay Yarborough in voting “no.”
Voting in the majority were council members Bill Bishop, Reggie Brown, Richard Clark, Michael Corrigan, John Crescimbeni, Ronnie Fussell, Johnny Gaffney, Art Graham, Kevin Hyde, Warren Jones, Stephen Joost, Denise Lee and Art Shad.

Joost was among those who sharply rebuked Redman.

“This is not the Muslim commission; this is not the Jewish commission, or the Christian commission. This is the Human Rights Commission,” Joost said. “I’m offended by this line of questioning.”
Member Glorious Johnson chastised her fellow council members — at first.

“Look at us. Just look at us. We have separated ourselves from one another. This makes no sense,” she said.
Moments later, though, Johnson said that because Ahmed’s nomination was so controversial and would distract from the commission’s work, she couldn’t support it.

“If he is on the commission it will polarize what we are trying to do on the commission,” she said. “For that reason I will be voting against Mr. Ahmed’s nomination to the commission.”

But others spoke passionately about the need to confirm Ahmed, a Fulbright Scholar, saying the vocal opposition to his nomination was not reason enough to deny him.

“That’s probably the worst excuse I’ve heard,” John Crescimbeni said in response to Johnson’s statement.
Several other council members spoke on behalf of the nomination, including Art Shad and Kevin Hyde, each of whom apologized to Ahmed and said they hoped the city wouldn’t be tainted by the vote of the vocal minority.

Fussell said he was undecided on how he would vote until after he met one-on-one with Ahmed an hour before the meeting. Fussell said he asked the nominee about his background, personal views and the allegations that he had ties to terrorists.

“I was comfortable that the man that I met wasn’t the man being portrayed,” Fussell said.

Councilman Clay Yarborough, who at first voted in favor of Ahmed’s nomination in the Rules Committee but reversed himself when the committee voted again last week, read a long statement about why he changed his mind.

He said he was given reason to pause because four U.S. representatives asked the attorney general to look into relationship between the Council on American-Islamic Relations, of which Ahmed was once a board member and national chairman, and terrorism.

Reggie Brown wondered if the council in general, and presumably Redman’s questioning in particular, had gone too far.

“Have we overstepped our boundaries legally?” he asked. “I really need someone to answer that question.”

The campaign against Ahmed was led by the anti-radical Muslim group ACT! for America. Randy McDaniels, leader of the Jacksonville chapter, expressed his disappointment after the vote.

“This is a bad move,” McDaniels said during the public comment period. “It’s an embarrassment to our community, and the country is watching.”


More Letters of Support

Florida Times Union, April 27, 2010

Support from UNF

Representing faculty and the senior administration of the University of North Florida, we want to go on record as supporting the nomination of Professor Parvez Ahmed to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

Ironically, much of the controversy around Ahmed's nomination proves just how urgently we need to appoint men and women like him to this commission.
Regrettably, to be "different from" too often is regarded as being "less than" or "more dangerous or threatening than."

When that is the case, an occasion for learning is supplanted by fear, prejudice and stagnation.

Since first moving to Jacksonville and the University of North Florida, Ahmed has worked tirelessly to help open dialogue about such differences.

He has met with numbers of community and church organizations, helping many of us understand the similarities between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and the differences between Islam and Muslim extremists.

When we have looked behind the quotes taken out of context that have been offered in opposition to Ahmed's nomination, we found a message of respect and a belief in honest dialogue among all parties.

These are the characteristics that would make him an incredible and much needed asset to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

University of North Florida,
UNF Faculty Association

Florida Times Union April 23, 2010

An excellent choice

Having concluded eight years as a member of the Human Rights Commission, I speak with some experience in writing that Jacksonville needs commissioners like Parvez Ahmed to serve this city.

The commission is concerned about the human rights of the entire community - blacks and whites, women and men, young and old, Asian and Latinos, Arabs and Jews, gays and straights, religious and non-religious.

Ahmed is uniquely qualified. He is a man of Indian birth, Muslim faith and American citizenship.

He will join with other commissioners of diverse backgrounds to support freedom and justice for all.

Like many Jacksonville residents, I regret the narrow-minded views of a few council members who fail to appreciate the larger patriotism that Ahmed expresses.
As a student of Jacksonville history, I am hopeful that these views increasingly are outside the mainstream in this city.

My 38 years here have seen a growth of tolerance, greater acceptance of diversity and a realization that there are no real alternatives.

Our city remains an imperfect expression of human rights and social justice, but in Mayor John Peyton's appointment and City Council's confirmation of Ahmed, Jacksonville will have taken a small step toward becoming a world class city.


Intolerant statement

The comments by Jacksonville City Council member Clay Yarborough in The Times-Union are not only troubling because they reflect an intolerance for individuals of a different religion, but because they reflect an increasing trend that endangers a core strength of our nation.

Yarborough indicated that he would consider opposing an individual, not based on qualifications, experience and philosophy, but whether that individual was a member of a particular religion.

Yarborough and other members of the City Council should set an example of the importance of the Constitution in every day American life.

They should approve the appointment of Parvez Ahmed to the Human Rights Commission rather than give credence to groups that advocate intolerance.


Minister supports Ahmed

I have been a resident of Jacksonville for the past 12 years, serving as both a minister and a community volunteer.

I know many teachers, community volunteers, religious leaders, police officers, parents, students and individuals in our city who work hard to create an environment of peace, progress, and prosperity for Jacksonville.

I am a fan of Jacksonville and have consciously chosen to raise my family in this fine town.

Yet, I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the overt, blatant, intentional and unapologetic religious discrimination by some on the Jacksonville City Council toward Parvez Ahmed and his appointment to the Human Rights Commission.

Councilman Clay Yarborough's "moral vetting" of Ahmed represents an attitude of discrimination, profiling, stereotyping and extreme narrow-mindedness.

Although I do not know Ahmed well, I do know him to be a person who is deeply committed to both education and human rights.

In my opinion, he is a much-needed asset to the Human Rights Commission, and would bring a great deal of experience, wisdom, and compassion to the commission.

For our city to continue to be a place of peace, progress and prosperity, we've got to acknowledge, accept and appreciate religious and racial diversity and call out those who fight against it.

Baptist minister,

Florida Times Union Editorial - Rhetoric tops reality

Human rights board: Rhetoric tops reality
Source: Florida Times Union, Editorial, April 25, 2010.

The biggest contract in city history awaits a City Council vote Tuesday. Hard choices on budget cuts and city fee hikes of all kinds loom because of next year's $58 million budget gap.

But the hottest issue facing council right now is whether members should put University of North Florida finance professor Parvez Ahmed on an unpaid board that most city residents probably don't know exists: The Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

Ahmed is many things: A Ph.D., a recent Fulbright Scholar and a Muslim from India who speaks to groups locally, nationally and overseas about resolving ethnic and religious conflicts through dialogue and mutual respect. He is a husband and father of two children.

He's also a former national board chairman of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights group that's a lightning rod for controversy.

He left that group in 2008 after a fallout over its direction and leadership. Nevertheless, his ties with CAIR have prompted detractors to depict Ahmed as an extremist and terrorist sympathizer.

For those who know him as a soft-spoken, professorial type, the characterization as an extremist simply does not compute.

Same man, different views

The state chapter of the Anti-Defamation League says Ahmed's views are divisive and he has defended anti-Israeli terrorist groups. ACT! for America, a group concerned about threats from radical Islamic terrorists, says Ahmed's past associations, views and positions make him an unacceptable choice for the commission.

Even Adam Hasner, Florida House majority leader from Delray Beach, has called local Jacksonville officials regarding concerns about Ahmed's appointment.

Meanwhile, an all-star cast of local supporters - including OneJax, the Community Foundation Inc., the NAACP and UNF President John Delaney - touts him as a highly respected voice of reason who promotes understanding, unity and tolerance among people of different religions, cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

Ahmed denies he has supported terrorism or advocated violence in any way, either before, during or after his involvement with CAIR. He was its volunteer board chairman from 2005-2008 and the state CAIR's board chairman from 2002 to 2005.

He said he condemns all violence, that his positions have been taken out of context and distorted.

Talking about terrorism or seeking to understand its dynamics does not make Ahmed a bad guy, nor is that the same as endorsing or advocating it.

In the same sense, the mere questioning of Ahmed's past associations and positions do not necessarily make critics into bigots or haters.

This issue's spiraling emotional rhetoric overshadows reality.

Consider the position

Ahmed isn't being pitched for secretary of state or ambassador to the United Nations.
Mayor John Peyton nominated him to be one of up to 20 volunteer board members of a commission that typically meets once a month.

Its job isn't to tackle Middle East conflicts. Its main business is to promote fair treatment and equal opportunity for all local residents regardless of their race, religion, national origin, sex, age or disability.

It investigates and helps settle discrimination complaints about jobs, housing and businesses.

Actions of the board require a majority vote of board members.Its power is mostly advisory.

Background checks

Anyone who serves on any public board should be of good character and, preferably, have relevant experience.

We have seen no evidence that Ahmed has condoned violence or terrorism. There is plenty of evidence he has been involved in many positive community activities, from helping local charities to speaking at local places of worship about mutual understanding.

Delaney said UNF has not received any subpoenas, requests for documents or other inquiries from any investigating authorities about Ahmed during his years there.

Deputy Chief General Counsel Cindy Laquidara said she found no criminal complaints against Ahmed and just a few "garden variety" civil complaints involving national CAIR during Ahmed's leadership. Those involved services the group provided and were not directed at Ahmed.

She said she did not do a complete background check on him, but that the city doesn't do one for any nominee to a city board.

City Council member John Crescimbeni said he called a former veteran FBI agent who headed the Jacksonville office, who was "astounded" at some of the allegations against Ahmed and had seen no evidence to support them.

Crescimbeni said a call to the U.S. Attorney's Office "provided comfort to me as well."

It should be noted that the FBI has severed its ties with CAIR. But Ahmed did, as well. And he has worked with the FBI and law enforcement on diversity issues.

The council has haggled over Ahmed's appointment for weeks, with Councilman Clay Yarborough going far as asking him whether he would support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, if he were appointed.

"Absolutely, yes," said Ahmed, a U.S. citizen.

CAIR is a controversial group. Middle East conflicts are the world's thorniest. Ahmed's opinions about them won't appeal to everyone.

But those aren't relevant in regard to serving on this commission.

One appointment is not going to make or break this board and its mission.

And the noise surrounding Ahmed's appointment should not keep City Council from confirming him.