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Presented by: Department of Public Information of the United Nations - Non Governmental Organizations
UN DPINGO Briefings - Dated: December 9, 2010 - Conference Room #2, NLB

“Speak Up, Stop Discrimination:
Exploring Human Rights in the Relationship between the Muslim World and the West”

(Screening - In Observance of Human Rights Day – 10 December)
- More on the UN/DPI-NGO Briefings on the Lightmillennium.Org

Highlights & Photos by:
Sirin CENGIZALP, Lightmillennium.Org
Youth Representative to the UN DPI/NGO

Background: Human Rights Day is observed each year on 10 December by the international community. This year, under the slogan of “Speak Up, Stop Discrimination,” the Day recognized the work of human rights defenders worldwide who act to end all forms of discrimination. Acting alone or in groups within their communities, these unsung heroes – some internationally renowned, others anonymous – work to end discrimination often at great personal risk to themselves and their families by campaigning for equitable and effective laws, reporting and investigating human rights violations and supporting victims. As we recognise the work of Human Rights defenders around the world, we look at some of the work being done by civil society organizations such as the Unity Productions Foundation – whose film on the relationship between the Muslim World and the West explores the theme of discrimination.

Unity Productions Foundation whose mission is to create peace through media has produced a film entitled "Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think". This film explores the opinions of Muslims around the globe as revealed through the world’s first major opinion poll, conducted by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, a pre-eminent polling organization. As part of a groundbreaking six-year project, Gallup conducted tens of thousands of interviews with residents in 35 predominantly Muslim nations, as well as smaller populations in Europe and the USA. The broad extent of the polling has generated findings for the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims with a plus or minus accuracy of 3%. Focused on the issues of Gender Justice, Terrorism, and Democracy, the film reports on the surprising findings and implications of the poll and challenges the popular notion that Muslims and the West are on a collision course. It also highlights a shared relationship that is based on facts, not fear. The film screening followed by a discussion with a panel of experts, including those who contributed to the making of the film.

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The Briefing moderated by María Luisa Chávez; Chief, NGO Relations, Department of Public Information (DPI)

The moderator of the briefing, Maria-Luisa Chavez, Chief, UN DPI/NGO Relations, opened the briefing by stating that, human rights defenders are active in every part of the world, working alone or in groups with local communities, national and international politics. They are from all ages and have diverse backgrounds and occupations. Many work with personal risks to themselves and to their families. But what they have in common is fundamental conviction that human rights must be protected and promoted and the discrimination must be eliminated. Ms. Chavez’s example for ongoing discrimination around the world was about albinos in Tanzania. According to Ms. Chavez’s statement, persecution of people with albinism is very common in Africa, particularly in Tanzania because of a belief that certain body parts on albinistic people transmit magical powers. Since, Tanzania is thought to have the largest population of albinos in Africa, estimated over 150,000 albinos, witch doctors in Tanzania use certain body parts as ingredients in rituals and so on with the claim that their magic will bring prosperity to the user.

alexander_kronemer gallup_audience
Alexander Kronemer is co-founder of Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) and Executive Producer for UPF Films.

10 years ago before Alexander Kronemer started to filmmaking he was at Office of Human Rights State Department and he spent time in United Nations Headquarter in both New York and in Geneva. Even though last 10 years of his life Mr. Kronemer working in filmmaking, still the subjects he focuses on his films directly parallel to his previous work experiences at the United Nations. He explained that documentary films have ability to focus on the issues to bring consciousness, problems and sometimes also provide background information that can insert sometimes in arguments, discussions and issues to generate certain limit of light so that we can make better decisions and have better understanding the way of progressive forward in a peaceful matter. One of the most important points Mr. Kronemer made during the briefing that; most of the time experts talk about what Muslims really thought, and what their point of view about democracy, peace and war. But it seemed that the only group that was not represented in this argument that Muslims itself. Later, Mr. Kronemer learned that GALLUP was doing a survey of Muslim public opinion and came up with an idea to make a film about the poll and try to bring to a large audience. That’s how the documentary called Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think by Alexander Kronemer accomplished.

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Magali Rheault is a Senior Analyst with the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Washington D.C.

Magali Rheault emphasized that Muslims wherever they live are represented in debates, in the media, as people can’t be trusted, people who are violent, people who reject Western freedom and Western values. However, the missing piece is the voices of ordinary Muslims themselves. Ms. Rheault pointed out a very important fact that, the diversity that exists throughout the Muslim countries is often overlooked to present basically Muslims and Muslim societies as violent people. Therefore, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies is dedicated to sharing what Gallup had learned by listening to the voices of Muslims. And Gallup’s research helps shift away from anecdotes and stereotypes to actual facts.

Haroon Moghul is Executive Director of The Maydan Institute.

Haroon Moghul opened his speech by stating that the documentary called Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think was an incredible resource for him especially the conclusion it presents at the end. One of the points he focused on was it is hard for the Westerners to appreciate about Islam and its values. It would probably hard to imagine any people in Western societies admiring Islam whether its Islamic history, culture, architecture and so on. Something that the documentary calls for attention is the climate of mutual suspicion. Very recently we saw that war on Afghanistan has now become the longest war in the American history. When these types of conflicts drive off for years and years without clear ending points, it is very easy for mindsets to be hardened. In a climate of suspicion of intolerance it is very hard to get the dialogue of the ground. So what Mr. Moghul proposes is to start thinking about what Muslims want, what Westerners want, and start thinking about what we anticipate might be in the future positive and negative because most of the time we focus on the contemporary as an immediate issues that we stop thinking about issues that are really going to affect us in the future. In conclusion, Mr. Moghul asked from his audience to try to understand Islam, as it is practice and understood in that field, as it affects your area of interests. The second is to make a greater effort to understand how self-definitions emerge and understand that they are not immune to change; in order to change however we have to be able to communicate with people in a language they understand.

Questions & Answers

Q: Why are there not more female voices discussing the issue with the exception of the one Gallup woman who was quite remarkable but the imbalance seems to be questionable?
A: (Alexander Kronemer) It is very disappointing that when we interview we usually about 15 people of every 5-6 people appear in the ultimate film; and sometimes the people we interview whether they are just not good on camera suddenly or they just don’t seem to have that dynamism that we need to have in order to carry out the film. We do try to balance this aspect in our film as much as we can, but may be we didn’t do quite a good job on this one.

Q: When you conduct surveys in countries like Iran, where the government has such a close eye on people, on foreign journalists, how do you guarantee people to give you their honest opinions?
A: (Magali Rheault) What we do and the data you saw from Iran dates to June 2008, that’s when we were able to be in the field, we conduct these interviews in Muslim majority countries face to face setting. So we go in, we use local people, local vendors who speak the local languages, and we have technical procedure to develop interviewing roots so that household would be selected at random. But before we can all of these we need to have the approval of the most of those governments. So in many cases lots of the questions obviously very sensitive, some governments would cross out several questions, but for the most part because we have the establishes relationship with the interviewers and with local people we developed that trust factor which is so important in doing these surveys.

Q: The film is the most informative one, particularly because it is difficult for us to know how authoritative, how informed many great speakers are about Islam. We see things in the press that are way different than the reality, and how can this problem be solved?
A: (Haroon Moghul) If they are on TV they are probably wrong. Unfortunately, in the United States the mainstream media is not placing a premium on nuance. I recommend people to balance both through the news source as well as the types of media. Also as Magali and Alexander pointed out, there is really an absence of actual Muslim voices. So many times people who come on the television to talk about Islam are themselves not Muslim and don’t have any clear academic credentials and they don’t work with Muslim communities.

Alexander Kronemer is co-founder of Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) and Executive Producer for UPF Films. He is a writer, lecturer, and documentary producer focusing on religious diversity, Islam, and cross-cultural understanding. He holds a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Harvard University. Mr. Kronemer has published essays in the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times,, and the Washington Post. His articles have been included in the September 11th memorial book, Up From the Ashes; he is also the Wilber Prize winner for the book, Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith. Mr. Kronemer’s work has been supported by grants from the World Economic Forum, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Packard Foundation, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He has appeared as a CNN commentator during live coverage of the Hajj in 1998, which was broadcast to 400 million viewers. In 2000, Mr. Kronemer served a one-year appointment at the Bureau of Human Rights in the U.S. Department of State and as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Magali Rheault is a Senior Analyst with the both the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies based in Washington D.C. as well as with the newly established Abu Dhabi Gallup Center. In this role, she analyzes complex survey data and incorporates historical, political, and cultural knowledge to provide context to research findings. She is one of the main authors of reports, articles, and white papers published by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center. Ms. Rheault is a regular speaker at international conferences, symposiums, and other events on issues of Muslim-West relations, governance, peace and security, and public diplomacy. She briefs opinion leaders and policy-makers on Gallup research and has lectured at a wide variety of institutions in the United States and Europe. In addition, Ms. Rheault is a Senior Consultant with the Gallup Social & Economic Analysis division, where she focuses on the intersection of governance, job creation, entrepreneurship, and development in sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb. Prior to joining Gallup, Ms. Rheault worked as a researcher in the financial services industry.
Haroon Moghul is Executive Director of The Maydan Institute, a consultancy that has as its mission empowering corporate, media and non-profit sectors with the knowledge of Islam and Muslims. Mr. Moghul is a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, focusing on Islamic political thought in colonial India. He holds an M.A. from Columbia University in Middle East, South Asian and African Studies. Mr. Moghul served as Director of Public Relations for the Islamic Center at New York University (NYU), and has been selected one of 500 global Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow. He has spoken across the United States and internationally on Islamic history and culture, contemporary politics in the Muslim world, and radicalism and religious identity. He is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Religion Dispatches. Mr. Moghul served as contributing editor and end page columnist for Islamica Magazine, and has worked as an analyst for the Tabah Foundation of Abu Dhabi. Through the Islamic Center at NYU’s new media services, his sermons reach approximately 30,000 listeners per month in 125 countries.
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