As part of its outreach efforts into the Oklahoma City media community, the Oklahoma branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK) held a very informative “Lunch & Learn” session today at their office on United Founders Boulevard.
Led by CAIR-OK’s executive director Adam Soltani, with assistance from Thomaira Babbit, and attended by staff not only from Red Dirt Report, but the Oklahoma Observer and Oklahoma Gazette as well, the group learned about the issues pursued and addressed by the key Muslim civil-rights organization in the Sooner State.
With everyone introducing themselves, Soltani, explained that he was a Kansas native who chose to be Muslim when he was in 11th grade and got involved in the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City as well as being a founding member of CAIR-OK.
Explaining that the media tends to be more reactive than proactive, Soltani said the organization was looking to make themselves as transparent and available as possible. This includes their efforts to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties and empower American Muslims.
This empowerment was notable when Soltani, during his PowerPoint presentation, over a delicious lunch from Cous Cous Café, and stated that they were offering everyone a “Know Your Rights: Defending Rights, Defeating Intolerance” brochure.
“We show them that they have rights when they are traveling,” for instance, said Soltani.
Soltani also noted that there is “racism and bigotry” out there and he offered a recent example where he witnessed it personally when he, as a Muslim, attended the Oklahoma Legislative Caucus on Counterterrorism, led by noted Islamophobe Republican State Rep. John Bennett of Sallisaw. A lot of misinformation out there connects CAIR to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, we learned.
Recalling his experience at the legislative event, he seemed to shudder as he recalled everyone staring at him with “hatred and contempt” and that “if looks could kill, I would be dead.”
But Soltani said his efforts are educational and informative while countering misinformation and prejudice.
He noted the legal assistance provided by attorneys including Michael Salem of Norman and Bill O’Brien of Oklahoma City, who also is a regular contributor to Red Dirt Report.
“We value the partnerships we have,” Soltani said. “Particularly with the interfaith community.”
And they like to promote the diversity within their own community by highlighting artists within the Oklahoma Muslim community with their annual “Art in Oklahoma” exhibit.
“It’s been a great morale booster for our community,” he added, regarding Art in Oklahoma.
Soltani then offered story suggestions to the assembled reporters and even discussed TV programs that offered a positive portrayal of American Muslims and Muslims in general, including the drama NCIS: Los Angeles and the family-oriented Canadian program Little Mosque on the Prairie.
He concluded by saying that it is the younger generation that is more receptive to the idea of Muslims being a part of the American fabric of society, and that the hateful and hostile comments he receives seem to be primarily from older Americans who resent change.
These media encounters with CAIR-OK will be taking place more often and on April 5th, CAIR-OK will host their annual CAIR Oklahoma Awards Banquet at The Tower Hotel in Oklahoma City. The keynote speaker will be world-renowned author and scholar, Dr. John L. Esposito, author of the book Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century.