Thursday, October 05, 2006

Walid comments on diversity seminars to be held at MSU
MSA spurs diversity training
Professor's Feb. statement draws MSU response

The State News

MSU officials plan on providing diversity training on Islam-related subjects to interested members of the university in response to an e-mail an MSU professor sent to the Muslim Students' Association, or MSA, in February.The initial request for the training came from the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, after Indrek Wichman, a mechanical engineering professor, wrote an e-mail to the group in response to controversial cartoons that portrayed Muhammad, the prophet and founder of the Islamic religion, as a terrorist.In the e-mail, Wichman insisted that Muslims should return to their ancestral homeland if they don't "like the values of the West." He also generalized them as "dissatisfied, aggressive, brutal, and uncivilized slave-trading Moslems.""As a tenured professor who literally can influence the academic future of Muslims, we felt that the statements were inappropriate and can intimidate Muslim students of the engineering school," said CAIR Executive Director Dawud Walid.

Wichman was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but he defended himself in a letter to the editor published in The State News in May."My letter addressed the attempts of the MSA to suppress free speech regarding publishing the Muhammed cartoons," he wrote then. "It was not intended to impugn the integrity and decency of all Muslims in the United States."

The MSA and MSU administrators worked together to organize diversity training for MSU faculty, staff and students. The meetings won't be mandatory for anyone, but both organizing parties are hoping the topics discussed will attract a wide range of people, said Paulette Granberry Russell, senior adviser to the president for diversity and director of the Office for Affirmative Action Compliance and Monitoring for MSU."We're working with the MSA to identify the things that they want to discuss," Granberry Russell said. "

Then we're going to use those ideas as a basis for developing educational programs.""Hatred like this can't be coming from our professors," said Farhan Abdul Azeez, former MSA president and current MSA liaison to the university. "We're trying to get more to the root of the problem, which is a misunderstanding of Islam and Muslims. This isn't just for the Muslim community, but it's for all minorities."The MSA wants to educate people on things like the history of Islam, demographics, general understandings of faith and related practices, and the problems that occur when people fail to understand those things, Granberry Russell said. Some of these classes will be taught by professionals, while others will be taught by members of the MSA."

The MSA calls it diversity training, but that's not a good name for it," Granberry Russell said. "They are educational opportunities. Some of their concerns extend beyond a one- or two-day training seminar."Both MSU and the MSA hope these programs will create a better understanding of Muslims by providing those who attend the classes with a better education of Islam, Walid said."We have a saying in our religion that people are the enemy of that which they don't know," Walid said. "So we're hoping that some professors who may have uneasy feelings about Muslims and carry those feelings into the classroom can have some of those feelings abated."

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