The Senior Journalists Seminar is an annual 21-day professional dialogue, study and travel program for journalists from the U.S. and Asian countries with substantial Muslim populations, specifically Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor Leste. The seminar offers an opportunity for senior writers, reporters, editors, columnists, bloggers and producers to engage their peers, experts and the public on issues relevant to U.S.-Muslim relations including religious diversity in Asia and the United States; the cultural, political and economic force religion plays in societies; interfaith dialogue; and the role of media in educating and informing the public.
The purposes of this seminar are to:
The 2011 Senior Journalists Seminar began with a dialogue at the East-West Center, where participants presented key challenges and opportunities resulting from the interplay of religion and politics from the viewpoint of their own country. After the initial dialogue in Honolulu, the Asian journalists traveled to the U.S. mainland and the Americans traveled to Asia. The 2011 program, which took place from August 6 – 27, 2011, took five American journalists to Manila, Philippines; Mindanao, Philippines; and Dhaka, Bangladesh. Meanwhile, six Asian journalists, together with one Iranian journalist, visited Washington, D.C.; New York City, New York; and Denver/Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Theme: Bridging Gaps Between the United States and the Muslim World
Highlights of the 2011 U.S. program in Washington, DC included a session with Ernesto Uribe, East Asia & Pacific regional director of U.S. foreign assistance at the State Department, who explained how U.S. foreign assistance is prioritized, distributed and evaluated in the region as well as the usefulness of foreign assistance in preventing conflict and promoting democratic states. In addition, a roundtable session with active duty military personnel at the U.S. Pentagon humanized the U.S. military and provided the journalists with the opportunity to discuss ethics training and religious accommodation in the U.S. military. The group also benefited from a meeting with Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, to analyze American voter perceptions of U.S. foreign policy and the Obama administration. Finally, the journalists deeply appreciated the opportunity to attend Sabbath service in Maryland followed by an informal discussion with Cantor Rachel Anne Hersh and to interact informally with members of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Temple.
In New York City, the Asian journalists examined efforts of interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance through several sessions with religious and community leaders. For instance, the group met with Prepare New York, a coalition of New York based interfaith organizations that aim to promote healing and reconciliation in anticipation of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The coalition was formed in part as a response to the national and international headlines surrounding last summer’s proposed Muslim Community Center in lower Manhattan. A session with Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, helped to provide the journalists with greater detail and understanding regarding the controversy. The journalists also explored how contemporary arts and media inform audiences about religion in a session with Just Vision, Inc., which seeks to inform local and international audiences through filmmaking about under-documented Palestinian and Israeli civilian efforts to resolve conflict.
The Denver/Colorado Springs program further emphasized the religious and cultural diversity of the United States. For example, the group visited the U.S. Air Force Academy Chapel and the newly completed Cadat Chapel Falcon Circle. Additional highlights of the Colorado program included an opportunity to attend Sunday service at New Life Church, an Evangelical Christian church with over 7,000 parishioners, followed by a discussion with Paster Brady Boyd as well as a session with Gary Schneeberger, director of communications at Focus on the Family, regarding the role of religion in the public sphere. The journalists also benefited from a meeting with the FBI office in Denver where they examined U.S. efforts to combat extremism within our borders, specifically examining the Najibullah Zazi case. Finally, the journalists discussed the role of the media in informing and educating the public during a visit to the Denver Post.
The 2011 Asia program took the Americans to the Philippines during Bangsamoro peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Americans met with the Philippine government’s chief negotiator, Marvic M.V.F Leonen, to discuss the history of the Mindanao region and the complex divisions between religious and ethnic groups within the region. Mr. Leonen also discussed the Philippine government’s desire to see “convergence” of demands from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the MILF and the newly broken away group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). In Mindanao, the journalists met with the vice chair of political affairs, Ghadzali Jaafar, and the chairman of the MILF peace panel, Mohagher Iqbal, to explore rebel demands for a “substate” and the MILF’s ability and readiness to provide the government structures necessary to administer a “substate.” The journalists also met with Lt. General Raymundo Ferrer, commander of the Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to discuss military efforts aimed at combating terrorism and insurgency in Mindanao.
In addition to examining the on-going peace negotiations between the Philippine government and various Islamic groups in Mindanao, the Philippine program also provided ample opportunity for the journalists to examine linkages between religion and policymaking. For instance, in a session with the Auxiliary Bishop of Manila, Broderick S. Pabillo, on the role of the Catholic Church in the Philippines the journalists were told that the church promotes “social transformation” and is active in policy issues such as reproduction, land reform and education. A session with the founder of Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine-based poverty alleviation and nation-building movement driven by people of faith, highlighted community efforts to be inclusive and bring prosperity to the poorest poor. The journalists also benefited from an opportunity to tour a Gawad Kalinga housing community and meet with residents. Finally, the journalists visited a school built and operated by the Philippine Christian Foundation, which provides education, food, health care and skills training to families living on dumb sites in the poorest slums of Manila, including Smokey Mountain, which the journalists toured.
The Dhaka, Bangladesh program took the American journalists to a Muslim majority country during the holy month of Ramadan and featured several sessions with high-level political leaders, including: Dupi Moni, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh; Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, Acting General Secretary of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party; and Abdur Razzaq, Assistant Secretary General of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh party. The journalists also met with the deputy director of the Islamic Foundation of Bangladesh and toured the national mosque, which has a capacity of 30,000, making it the 10th largest mosque in the world. In addition, the journalists toured a government-run madrassa and spoke with school administrators regarding the ciriculumn, class size and the education background of the teachers themselves. Finally, the journalists had a rare opportunity to experience and participate in Iftar following a session on Islamic banking and finance at the Islami Bank Bangladesh.
The 2011 Senior Journalists Seminar program finished by continuing the dialogue initiated at the East-West Center at Shangri-La in Honolulu. The journalists described their experiences, discussed the role of media in bridging gaps between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds, and shared the new perspectives they will take home with them. It is during this second dialogue as well as in participants’ evaluations that we most see evidence of how the program has changed minds and attitudes.
The 2011 Asian Senior Journalists:
The 2011 US Senior Journalists: