Around a large conference table at Perkins Coie in Seattle, twelve young attorneys of the Washington Leadership Institute listened attentively as a local Muslim-American lawyer spoke about media portrayal of Islam. The lawyer, Aneelah Afzali, issued a call to action, urging her audience to know Muslim people and challenge the media’s portrayal of Islam.
The Washington Leadership Institute is a joint program of the University of Washington School of Law and the Washington State Bar Association. The program is designed to develop a diverse wave of future bar leaders.
The stories Afzali told during her March 2017 presentation included one of Ted Hakey Jr., a former Marine who had been convicted of attacking a Connecticut mosque in November 2016. Fortunately no one was injured, but the act shook that community. It happened the day after the Paris terrorist attacks that left 130 dead. After his attack, Hakey had an opportunity to meet the people of the mosque he targeted. He left the mosque saying if he had taken five minutes to get to know the people who worshiped there, he never would have done what he did.
We were inspired by this story; Afzali was a phenomenal speaker. On the way home that evening, one of the fellows recalled Hakey’s story and proposed we start a community service project. The suggestion struck a chord with all the fellows.
Touched by Hakey’s change of heart and Afzali’s call to action, we decided to launch a social media campaign aimed at encouraging people to spend five minutes engaging with their local Muslim community and to spread facts and positive images of Muslims in their community. We planned to produce a series of videos, fact sheets, and articles in the hopes delivering our message far and wide. And we named it the “Five Minutes” campain, #fiveminutes.
Our first task was to build better relationships with the Muslim community. We attended several community events at local mosques, interviewed community members including an interfaith Iftar during Ramadan and Eid-Fest, celebrating the end of Ramadan. We established a Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram account, and YouTube channel through which to share our message. Our Facebook page engaged more than 25,000, and our series of videos was viewed more than 12,000 times. We even reached out to Hakey through someone from the mosque he attacked, someone he now considers a friend. Both were gracious enough to share their stories in our final video.
Along with our successes came struggles. Initially, we struggled to engage friends, colleagues, family members, and media outlets. With a zero-dollar budget and amateur technical skills, we quickly found our goals of producing videos and launching a social media campaign was ambitious. We spent numerous hours toiling over how best to approach the project and interviewing subjects and editing videos late into the night. Still, we learned an important lesson working together. Perseverance and creative outreach allowed us to expand our community and our understanding of Muslims in this country. The project demanded that we push beyond our echo chambers of social media and traditional news sources to truly engage.
You can find our Five Minute campaign videos on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our YouTube channel . We encourage you to check out our efforts, spend five minutes engaging a new community, and support the Washington Leadership Institute.
13 thoughts on “12 Attorneys, a Call to Action, and 5 Minutes”
Well, Richard Nielsen, here’s my fourth post because you are so off point in your comments. I will repeat: It should not be the WSBA’s function to support a series of 5 minute videos about the Muslim religion. That should be for properly registered organizations outside the WSBA.
And here is an example news story, which might provide focus for your comments. Does WLI denounce “Islamic groups which consider gay relationships sinful”, as mentioned in the story?
CAIRO — Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are living in fear in Egypt after a spike of arrests aimed at repressing LGBT people.
In the latest of a series of moves to harass gay people, armed officers swept into a popular cafe in downtown Cairo last week and detained at least a dozen gay men at a nearby police station.
The raid came as an Egyptian lawmaker introduced a bill this month to lengthen prison sentences for gay people from a maximum of three years to 25 years, alleging that there has been a recent increase in lesbian relationships.
The crackdown on homosexuality is being driven in part by denunciations by Islamic groups that consider gay relationships sinful.
“Homosexuality is a sickness and disgrace that would be better hidden from view and not promoted for dissemination until it is treated and its disgrace removed,” said Mahram Mohammed Ahmed, chief of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, a government body.
Your argument that I am not “forced” , etc., is inconsistent with case law that does place First Amendment limits upon bar association activities. See Keller v. California. If your argument was correct, the First Amendment would never apply to any bar association.
Whether the 5 minute video crosses the line might be a closer call. In itself, the video is pure promotion of Islam. Whether it is saved from the First Amendment because it is part of some larger larger context is an interesting question, which I shall research.
I would like to understand your views about how Islam is consistent with respect for groups which are sometimes disfavored in Islamic countries, with particular reference to Gays, Jews, and women. Can any particular Muslims be faulted for viewpoints which might be considered intolerant toward these groups? If so, would criticism of such Muslims make the critic liable to a charge of Islamophobia? Does the WSBA program define Islamophobia in a way that acknowledges this kind of distinction?
Richard Nielsen (@RANielsenJr)
I think one point to consider is that the practice of law is, or should be, more than billing time, closing files and griping about Bar dues. We have an obligation to work for a more just system and society; as protectors of the rule of law, we must speak out about movements or tweet-storms or injustices that do not comport with our Constitution or our cultural civility and openness. This Project was and is fully within the nature of the efforts our members to better and to assist society’s interaction with the law; to foster the rights of all, especially in terms of religion, and to debate the social media haters who demonize an entire faith. It sickens me that this Project and this blog post brings a member of this Bar to comment about “terrorists.” Enough already.
My point here: this Project is within the realm of appropriate Bar activity, and it is ironic that with all the efforts such as these I’ve seen over the years, the one that prompted this kind of response from a couple of smart, educated people, is the outreach exercise pertaining to Islam and Muslims. What a coincidence!
Finally, I don’t see how you are being “forced” to be a member of the WSBA. You are free to give up your card, or perhaps, practice in a state with a greater percentage of “conservative” citizens. I’m sure there is a lot less outreach to and for “the others” in a number of the other state Bars, probably a place away from the coasts – I know of several that spend not one dime on such public service. But they aren’t in our wonderful state of Washington, and they are not our WSBA. Thank goodness.
If the issue Inez is addressing is “political”, then so is the video which created the issue. Why is the name of the Washington State Bar Association being used one way or another in a political debate about the merits of Islam or immigration? Why do people running WLI have the right to hijack the name of the WSBA for this purpose? If “twelve attorneys” do not like some policy of the federal government, they are free to protest it. However, they should not be free to drag everyone else, people who are forced to be members of the WSBA, along with them.
Thank you for your thoughtful response.
I got involved in tutoring a Muslim college student who was taking an 18-month total-immersion course in molecular biology and genetic engineering at a local community college. As a patent attorney, I needed to understand this technology anyway, so I started tutoring the student for about three hours a day, five days a week, at the family home. I read all the textbooks a day in advance, and then went over each paragraph with the student, eating dinner there every night, and staying until every school topic was exhausted. I calculate that I was with the family about 1100 hours total during this time. I was also present for other occasions such as holiday celebrations, and I helped the family with legal issues and other things. We became so familiar and at ease that the family started to become very candid about their feelings. They started counseling me about proper behavior for a good Muslim, in preparation for my conversion to Islam.
Based upon my experience, I can tell you that it takes a lot more than 5 Minutes for anyone to come to an understanding about Muslims and what they think about non-Muslims. It hurts me to say things that are critical about their beliefs, because I still feel very close to them. However, I will say that the premise of your program, that people who fear Islam are uneducated bigots, is itself uneducated and naive. Islam is an aggressive ideology which seeks to transform the world around it. It may tolerate the existence of non-believers for a time, but it does not acknowledge the legitimacy of any non-Islamic system of thought or life-style, and it confidently expects to conquer all of these in due course. I would be most interested to see you put out some videos which interview Muslims concerning their beliefs with respect to other groups of people, such as Jews and Gays, not to mention women who do not cover themselves. Islam may have a place in American society, but the accommodations made and efforts toward acceptance of others will need to be mutual.
Richard Nielsen (@RANielsenJr)
Inez, really. Your politics are showing. You’re going to be very disappointed as the country continues to evolve, and you find yourself and your peers becoming smaller and eventually irrelevant noises in the dark. Save your breath – or your ink. You’ve posted your views – 3 times, in fact. We get it – you think the Muslim ban will save us from terrorists. I think we’ve heard enough out of you for now. Please?
Richard Nielsen, Esq.
Inez P Petersen
This is what I’m talking about– the emperor is wearing no clothes. You say, “The project also came at a critical time when our legal community was fully engaged with the executive order to ban entry from seven majority-Muslim countries.” You think “the entire legal community is fully engaged with that executive order? Well, it isn’t. Some of us believe this is a conservative and necessary step toward stopping terrorist attacks in our country. Your “feel good” project is appropriate for private funding, not WSBA funding.
I would like to respectfully respond to both of your responses to this article. The purpose of this WLI project was not to promote Islam or to promote one religion over the other. The purpose of the project was to encourage people across the state, including those in the legal profession, to spend five minutes of their time getting to know a Muslim and what impacts the lives of Muslims in Washington and across America. The project stemmed from a conversation with Aneelah Afzali, an attorney who is part of our legal community and identifies as being Muslim. The project also came at a critical time when our legal community was fully engaged with the executive order to ban entry from seven majority-Muslim countries. This project was more than a “feel good” project. I encourage and invite you to engage in open and honest dialogue on the project page, https://www.facebook.com/WLI2017FiveMInutes/?view_public_for=333324047084930. I believe Inez’s comment about the WSBA producing diverse future bar leaders is a separate topic that I am happy to discuss as well if you would like.
Each time I read this article, my echo chambers say: Tell the WSBA to shut down this blog. It is being used wrongly as it pertains to how the WSBA should be serving its members. It is not the WSBA’s job to “challenge the media’s portrayal of Islam.” I don’t even think it is the WSBA’s job “to produce a diverse wave of future bar leaders.”
About the media’s portrayal of Islam, are those frequent media reports of Muslim terrorist attacks false? Did the media overlook reporting on Muslim leaders in our country and locally who publicly protested the terrorist attacks? How about a 5 minute video on that aspect?
And here is another aspect. I would suggest that these 12 young lawyers study RCW 24.03 and then check the status of the Washington Leadership Institute at the Secretary of State’s Office. It is an inactive non profit and has been inactive since 1998.
The emperor is wearing no clothes. The 12 attorneys are wearing rose colored glasses. And common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.
In the spirit of fairness and balanced commentary, I pass along these items.
My wife Mary is Ghanian, and she worked in various regions of Ghana as a government nurse. She says that in villages where muslims live, every so often, at dawn, there would be the sound of a young woman screaming. Female relatives would drag the young woman out of bed, take her outside, hold her down, and then scrape her with shards of glass from a broken coke bottle.
On the other hand, if you own property in Ghana and need someone to guard it while you are away, it is best to hire a muslim for the job. They are considered to be scrupulously honest, in contrast to one’s own relatives.
In fact, extreme devotion to honesty seems to be a defining characteristic of Islam. Islamic terrorists kill others not for reasons of greed or even hatred, but rather from a belief that those being killed are evil. The genital mutilation arises from a similar impuse: a desire to remove from the young woman a source of temptation.
This is why members of the WSBA should be allowed to vote on this huge dues increase. I’d like to see no dollars of my dues spent on this “feel good” nonsense–nonsense in terms of what the WSBA mission is or should be. Promotion of Islam should be 100% privately funded or funded by CAIR-Washington. Using our dues to fund such activities makes a mockery of the Keller Deduction because the Bar is apparently spending far more money on non-value added activities than it admits. And again, non-value added in terms of what the WSBA mission is or should be.
Alva Long, if you have the ear of God, please have Him send down some common sense. Well, of course, Alva Long has the ear of God; but just in case he is still in the grave, he’s rolling over for sure.
Wow, I checked out the video on YouTube. It is a straightforward promotion of Islam, in the nature of a television commercial. No explanations, no qualifications, no pretense of being a documentary. Has the WSBA never heard of the First Amendment Establishment of Religion clause? We are now spending license fee money to promote a religion? Did these young lawyers actually pass a constitutional law course?
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