Experts discuss radical Islam among protests


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Photo by Devon Judge |

Human rights lawyer Brooke Goldstein (left) and Dr. Qanta Ahmed (right) discussed minority treatment in the Islamic world yesterday at Rutgers Hillel, located at 9 Bartlett St.


Human rights lawyer Brooke Goldstein and Dr. Qanta Ahmed described child soldiers’ harrowing journey from childhood to becoming suicide bombers at the hands of terrorist groups.

Goldstein and Ahmed came to Rutgers Hillel on Bartlett Street yesterday to discuss minority treatment in the Islamic world. 

The speakers presented to a room packed with students, including members of the Rutgers Hillel Center of Israel Engagement. 

Before the event, several protesters objected to the event via Facebook and in a letter to the editor in The Daily Targum. 

Goldstein addressed the controversial nature of the event by arguing that her desire to speak out against human rights abuses was not related to the designation of religion, but to the actions of the terrorist groups. 

She asked Muslim members of audience to stand proudly beside Ahmed and other Muslim voices that risk their lives to speak out against human rights abuses and religious extremism.

“But that version of Islam is not the same as the terrorists’,” she said, noting that they use a version of Islam that allows human rights violations. 

That version is “very real” for the young men who are being forced to join ISIS and the women and children who are subjected to misogyny, she said. 

Whether the actions of a religious extremist are correct in their own eyes does not change the fact that a crime has been committed, she said. 

“I really just want to cut the [politically correct] crap,” she said. 

Nobody is blaming Islam for the murders, but there are people who are using that religion to justify their actions, she said. There is “nothing racist” about discussing the violation of crimes. 

“We’re sending the message that we don’t care about the men and women that are being killed in the name of Islam … that’s the real racism,” she said. 

As a law student, Goldstein was compelled to look into these issues through not only her studies but also current events. As she was doing her homework one day, she caught the story of Hussam, a 15-year-old attempted suicide bomber who turned himself in. 

She said she decided to go to Palestine and conduct interviews with some of the young children who were being taught or coerced into violence by Hamas. Her first stop was Hussam’s home, where his parents were adamant that he would not have done this without being coerced. 

But when she interviewed Hussam’s sister, she realized the sister considered him a martyr, she said. Goldstein realized then a generation gap existed between the parents and their more fundamentalist children. 

She also interviewed the family of the first suicide bomber, Wafa Idris, who is considered a hero in the West Bank. Her mother said Idris was divorced, infertile and was given the choice between being stoned to death and becoming a suicide bomber. 

Idris’ mother said she grieved for her daughter, but her nieces were proud of Idris and how she had been elevated from her previously shameful position. One niece told Goldstein she would like to be a suicide bomber. 

“It’s a truth stranger than fiction,” she said. “One of the reasons I risked my life to make this movie is to collect words from the people themselves.”

Goldstein said Hamas has taught children in school and in the media to perpetuate violence against Jews and Israel. She condemned international organization United Nations Relief Works Agency for allowing Hamas to continue this work. 

UNRWA has admitted to hiring teachers of the Hamas payroll, taking textbooks from them and inviting members of the youth faction to schools, Goldstein said. 

She said another source of child rights abuses is Afghanistan, where the Taliban has recruited children to serve as suicide bombers and soldiers. They have kidnapped and purchased children from their parents to do their bidding. 

In Mali, terrorists groups pay parents between $1,000 and $2,000 to give up their children, she said. 

Ahmed, an associate professor of medicine for the State University of New York, said she was raised in Pakistan as a Muslim, but her parents educated her and gave her financial freedom.

Her first real exposure to sexism in Islam was when she moved to Saudi Arabia, she said. The government forced her to give her passport to her male supervisor, and she lost the right to drive. 

“You don’t really think about the privileges in this country until you lose them,” she said. 

This experience compelled her to look further into oppression and human rights violations in Islam, she said. She told the story of her visit to a de-radicalization school in Pakistan for former child soldiers. 

She met one boy, a cricket-playing 15 year old who reminded her of her brother, who told the story of his work with fundamentalists. 

He was the son of government postal worker and lived in mud home without electricity or running water. Eventually, an older boy started walking with him to school and telling him about all the things the Taliban was doing. 

The partner began to convince the boy, and he decided to abscond from school. He was disconnected from his family and began to fall into the ranks of terrorist groups. 

He was part of several attacks and kidnapped 22 Pakistani ranger officers to hand them to the Taliban, she said. 

“I realized I was sitting across this boy who looked just like my brother … but had been responsible for hundreds of deaths before he turned 15,” she said. 

He was told he would be targeting the Shi’a mosque sect where people were praying. But as he followed the crowd to take off his shoes, an officer noticed his hesitation and apprehended him. 

She said this continuing story of the repression of children showed the complexity of the conflicts within Islam. 

“Try to say that in a sound bite on television,” she said.

Diana Diner, director of Rutgers Hillel Center of Israel Engagement, said a student had approached her about inviting Goldstein, who had in turn invited Ahmed to maintain a balance.

She said protesters of the event should have approached Hillel about their issues rather than trying to hurt the actual event. 

“[Their actions] detract from the dialogue that could happen,” she said.


Erin Petenko

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