Peace Islands Institute

Feb 20th
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9/11 Commemoration Dinner

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Group Photo The Peace Islands Institute (formerly The Interfaith Dialog Center) organized a dinner on Wednesday September 21, 2011 in honor of the victims of 9/11 attacks. Close to 150 guests attended the dinner, including law enforcement officers, elected officers, academics from various fields, clergy and businessmen.

Theme of the dinner was “The role of dialog activities in both healing the repercussions of 9/11 and preventing future 9/11s”

The program started with a reception at 5:30pm followed by dinner between 6pm and 7pm. Then, Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino led the pledge of allegiance.

The Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie sent a letter to congratulate the Peace Islands Institute for its efforts to promote mutual respect and understanding in NJ.

Peace Islands Institute’s New Jersey Executive Director Levent Koc welcomed the guests. Koc emphasized Peace Islands Institute’s Honorary President Fethullah Gulen’s response to 9/11. He said:

“When honorary president of the Peace Islands Institute, Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen, foresaw the importance of interfaith dialog among communities as well as among nations and initiated it in Turkey, it was 1994. It was the same year that he said 'there is no return from democracy’ when Muslims were suspected and questioned regarding their opinions about democracy. He was successful in his efforts to direct people’s attention, time, energy and money into education and dialog.

While Gulen, and those inspired by him worked hard for implementing seeds of dialog, understanding and respect in Turkey; the catastrophic attacks of 9/11 took place in the US.

The tragic events of 9/11 shifted the focus of interfaith dialog efforts from bringing people together in Turkey to repairing, at the community level, the damaged state of interfaith, interethnic, and inter-cultural relations in the US and in the global arena.
Levent Koç

After 9/11, Gulen said in his condemnation on Washington Post, “A true Muslim cannot be a terrorist and a terrorist cannot be a Muslim. A religion that professes, “He who unjustly kills one man kills the whole of humanity,” cannot condone senseless killing of thousands”. For this reason, no one—and certainly no Muslims - can approve of any terrorist activity. This latest terrorist activity, which is a most bloody and condemnable one, is far more than an attack on the United States of America - it is an assault against world peace as well as universal democratic, humanistic, and religious values. The world should be assured that, although there may always be some who exploit any religion for their interests, Islam does not approve of terrorism in any form.

Gulen went further on to declare in an interview in 2004, “Bin Laden is among the persons in this world that I hate most as he has defaced the beautiful face of Islam. He has produced a dirty image. Bin Laden replaced Islamic logic with his own desires and wishes and lives as a monster. The men around him are like that as well. If there are people who think like that, they are also locked into monstrosity. We do condemn their perspective”.

Trish Stewart, Morris County Prosecutor's Office Victim Witness AdvocateKoc further described The Peace Islands Institute’s mission and role in the aftermath of 9/11, in healing the repercussions of the tragic events. He said, “The Peace Islands Institute took upon itself to be a leading force, organizing communities to come together, and getting to know and support each other at a time of fear, distress, and estrangement following the tragic events of 9/11. Communities from diverse religious, cultural, social, and economic backgrounds responded with tremendous enthusiasm, diligence and hard work to the Peace Islands’ mission and call. From the hospitality and ingenuity of New Jersey’s Law Enforcement members, to the selfless and understanding service of religious and educational communities, time and again we have seen our nation and State meet head-on the gravest of challenges. Once again, we have experienced that our ability to bounce back better and stronger from adversity comes down to our communities’ and civil society’s strength, which can only be established through dialog, understanding, and respect for each other. It is this resilience that we wish to honor and celebrate during the 10th anniversary.

As we mark this solemn anniversary, let us once again call upon the spirit of dialog, understanding, and respect – necessary characteristics of resilient and compassionate communities. And let us show that dialog and understanding are enduring virtues – not just for one day, but for every day.”

Trish Stewart, Morris County Prosecutor's Office Victim Witness Advocate, spoke of the aftermath of 9/11 and the atmosphere at the Victims Center in Liberty State Park. Trish was instrumental in coordinating the 9/11 victims assistance effort in the months following the tragic event. Trish, along with a team of victim witness advocates, worked with law enforcement to assist the families of the victims.

Phillip H. Kwon, First Assistant Attorney GeneralPhillip H. Kwon, First Assistant Attorney General, representing the Attorney General Paula Dow made a speech and presented a proclamation to PII. He said: It has been 10 years since all of our lives collectively changed. All Americans have experienced that tragedy and were deeply affected, especially those who lost family members and close friends. The Muslim community like all Americans experienced this as well. At the same time, the Muslim community also faced something else – anger and suspicion, sometimes some worse than the others. Muslims and those who are perceived to be Muslims, unfortunately suffer from the very thing that is the foundation of all prejudice and bias: the actions of a few who came to be representatives of all community. And we’ve been working on that ever since, because it was wrong and unjust.

It is my honor to be here tonight on behalf of Paula Dow, and congratulate Peace Islands Institute on its continued commitment to building bridges, and eliminating distrust and suspicion through a successful dialog across cultural and religious boundaries.

Mr. Kwon, on behalf of Governor Chris Christie, Lt Governor Kim Guadagno and Attorney General Paula Dow, presented to The Peace Islands Institute with a proclamation.

Patrick Brannigan, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Catholic ConferenceThe third speaker was Patrick Brannigan, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference. Patrick Brannigan quoted from the Bible the story of Prophet Ezekiel. God spoke to him, and said that He wanted to take away his heart of stone, and give him a new heart. and breathe into him His spirit. This is one of the things we have to do so that when we see people, we see ourselves, and our families rather than seeing people who are different than us. Brannigan also talked about the trust that was shredded on September 11th. Trust requires openness, honesty and authenticity. It grows slowly and can be destroyed very quickly. In the midst of the loss of lives, sufferings and pain, there was hope, faith and love. This positive lesson of 9/11 points to us a pathway for restoring trust and peace in our families, communities and beyond. Brannigan quoted from Fr. Joseph Bayne.

“Tears rolled down my face mixing with the dust and my eyes hurt, but nothing as heavy as my heart and inner spirit. But, this tragedy, and the humbling opportunity to minister at Ground Zero, made me reflect lots on the gift of life, relationships, on making every day good in some way and using the opportunities and the gifts God pours upon us. Life is so precious and yet so fragile. A hug, a smile, an embrace, a kind word, a strong or gentle handshake, all took on new meaning for me. Some said they saw the face of the devil in the smoke at Ground Zero. Many asked me about that. My answer has not changed in 10 years: NO, I did NOT see the devil's face at Ground Zero. But, I saw the Face of God in the people there working, caring, seating, crying, rescuing, and recovering. I was moved and changed and felt God's hand in the goodness that followed such big tragedy.” Brannigan finished his speech by calling everyone to join Peace Islands Institute’s journey: “Let’s not wait for a catastrophic event to begin to build trust and peace, understanding and dialog. The Peace Islands Institute had begun that journey. Let’s join the journey. I remember being a member of Peace Islands Institute’s advisory board member. I believed that Peace Islands Institute was authentic in its commitment to the mission of dialog, understanding and respect among neighbors from diverse cultural and faith backgrounds. I witness Peace Islands Institute is working to encourage tolerance and peace not just in the aftermath of the catastrophic event but day by day, week by week.

SAC Michael Ward, FBI Newark Division

FBI’s Newark Division SAC Michael Ward came to stage at the end of the program to make his remarks along with Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi, Mayor of North Arlington Peter Massa and Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker.

SAC Mr. Ward said he wanted to say something else tonight from his heart. He mentioned about a self-professed expert who was working as an instructor for training at FBI. This instructor said that Islam was a greater threat than the individuals who brand them as terrorists, and that Islam is really supported by violence, and it was born out of violence, and that the Prophet Muhammad supported violence. Mr. Ward said “That is not the message FBI believes in, it is not the message that we support. It was the ideas of a single individual. That individual no longer does any training for the FBI”.

He added that they are taking great steps to try to address this matter and totally remapping their training program.

Mr. Ward mentioned that he wanted to come up to express his sorrow personally for what happened, even though this happened down in Washington DC. He takes the relationship that FBI has with the community very seriously and one of his favorite quotes is “Reputations are built upon many deeds, and ruined by one” and he thinks that their reputation took a hit based on this.

He concluded “If there are any community groups that have any questions about this topic, if you please let me know, I would be happy to either send someone out, or possibly come out myself and sit down with those groups. I will be more than happy to sit there and take all your questions, and try to address any questions and every concern they may have.”

Asw. Cleopatra Tucker came up to the stage to congratulate PII for what it has been doing to accomplish reconciliation and mutual understanding in the society.

Mayor Peter Massa, North Arlington, reflected upon the program and told his memories on the day when 9/11 occured.