Source URL: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2010-04-25/story/city-looks-stance-human-rights
The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee recommended on Monday that UNF professor Parvez Ahmed be confirmed to the city Human Rights Commission despite opposition from the anti-Islamist group ACT! for America. The full council will take up the issue Tuesday. Ahmed participated in a live discussion on Jacksonville.com's Talk of the Town on Thursday, answering questions about the Human Rights Commission as well as his association with the American Muslim advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Here are excerpts from that live online chat.
[Comment From David West]: The JHRC serves the same purpose as the Florida Commission on Human Relations. Why do we need such commissions at both the state and the local levels? Does Jacksonville really need the JHRC?
Ahmed: There are issues at the city level that are best resolved locally. It also allows us local mediation before either federal or state agencies can review any complaint.
Jeff Reece-moderator: Could you give us an example of an issue better resolved at the local level?
Ahmed: Issues related to city employees for example. Or issues related to reasonable accommodation of religious practices can be best resolved locally because they will take into account local customs and practices.
[Comment From Bill Graham]: Dr. Ahmed, I want to say first of all that I appreciate your willingness to serve. I feel, as you do, that the JHRC is necessary if only to serve issues that are of local importance to us. What do you feel are the most important issues to Jacksonville?
Ahmed: Right now, I do not know all of the issues that are in front of the commission. Once I'm confirmed by the City Council, I intend to find out.
Jeff Reece-moderator: What do you think are some of the issues in Jacksonville that the commission should be dealing with?
Ahmed: Some of the conversations surrounding my nomination suggests that there is an opportunity to do more dialogues and conversations on issues related to racial or religious stereotyping. I view my current situation as a teachable moment. I hope the commission will enhance its outreach efforts related to education and inter-group harmony.
JeffReece-moderator: Much has been made of your association with CAIR. Some want to know what led you to join CAIR and what you hoped to accomplish through that organization. Can you speak to this?
Ahmed: CAIR was at that time and is now perhaps the only Muslim civil rights organization in America. After the tragic events of 9/11 there was an unfortunate backlash against American Muslims. An organization that was dedicated to defending the rights of American Muslims was necessary, not only for the sake of American Muslims, but also for the greater good of America itself. It is in this spirit I joined CAIR.
[Comment From S.P.]: Dr. Ahmed, Once nominated, how will you educate the Jax community on issues related to Human Rights?
Ahmed: I have been speaking at churches, synagogues, temples, schools and civic organizations around the city. I will continue doing that. I will also try to find new partners who can enhance the cause of human rights for all.
[Comment From Claire]: Currently, the only thing the commission does that is not a duplication of services is outreach. Why shouldn't we cut most of the commission, and only leave the outreach department? (Taking care of the city's employee's issues is currently under the JHRC umbrella, but sectioned off).
Ahmed: It is difficult for me to comment on this without knowing the full scope and impact of the commission. But I do know from experience that the commission has been an effective mediator in many human rights-related conflict situations.
[Comment From Claire]: Within the community, but that is outreach. Most of the taxpayer money goes toward paying the JHRC to do the same thing as the EEOC and Florida Commission
Ahmed: The JHRC is a first line of defense before matters escalate to federal or state levels. So it does not duplicate resources, it actually streamlines the process.
Jeff Reece-moderator: There is great fear in the U.S. about the radicalization of Muslims. Is this a legitimate concern?
Ahmed: It is a concern, but we should not be hysterical. There is a report that was put out by Duke University that expresses some concern, but also commends the American Muslim community for taking positive steps toward mitigating this problem. More can be done. It requires cooperation and understanding across all religious communities and also our civic and political leaders.
Jeff Reece-moderator: When T-U columnist Mark Woods asked Councilman Clay Yarborough, "Do you believe Muslims should be able to hold any public office in Florida?" his response was "I don't know." When asked "Do you think homosexuals should be able to hold a public office in Florida?" his response was "I would prefer they did not." What is your reaction to his answers?
Ahmed: It is disappointing to see an elected official so fundamentally misinformed about our constitution and the Bill of Rights.
[Comment From Bill Graham]: What would you like to leave as your legacy for Jacksonville?
Ahmed: A bridge-builder and a peacemaker.
Jeff Reece-moderator: Some Americans believe that Islam teaches that women don't have as many rights as men. As a Muslim, do you see this as a human rights issue and what is your personal stance on the issue?
Ahmed: Women have the same rights in Islam as men. Some cultures do have institutional discrimination against women. This is more cultural than religious. The rights of all human beings is a human rights issue. I have advocated for greater expansion of women's rights within Muslim communities, both here and abroad.
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- ▼ April 2010 (11)