Launched in 2003, the Senior Journalists Seminar is a 21-day professional dialogue, study and travel program intended to enhance media coverage and elevate the public debate regarding religion and its role in the public sphere, specifically as it regards U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Designed for senior print, radio, broadcast and online journalists from the U.S. and countries with substantial Muslim populations, the seminar offers an opportunity for participating journalists to engage their peers, experts and the public on issues relevant to U.S. relations with the Muslim world including religiosity and religious diversity in the United States and Asia; the political, economic and cultural role religion plays in societies; initiatives to reduce religious tensions and domestic extremism; and the impact of the media’s coverage of religion on diplomacy and U.S.-Muslim relations.
As the Senior Journalists Seminar seeks to enhance media coverage and elevate the public debate regarding religion, specifically as it involves U.S. relations with the Muslim world, the seminar emphasizes long-term knowledge acquisition regarding the political context, structures and policy influencers within the study tour countries as well as the religiosity, religious diversity and religious freedom/rights of those countries. These background sessions provide the foundational knowledge from which journalists can better understand the political, economic and cultural role religion plays in society and provide the tools necessary to analyze U.S. relations with the Muslim world. In order to dispel negative stereotypes and increase understanding, the Senior Journalists Seminar also maximizes interaction among participants and the local American and Asian communities to which they travel. The Senior Journalists Seminar strives to offer participating journalists an opportunity to engage government officials, academics and their peers on the impact of religion on government policy, finance, education and emphasizes people-to-people interactions with religious leaders, educators, artists, students and community activists. Journalists also examine efforts to reduce religious tensions and combat violent domestic extremism as well as how interfaith dialogue brings many different types of believers to the table. Journalists attend dinner in a local family’s home, participate in various community receptions and public forums, and visit civic groups actively involved in innovative grassroots initiatives. Finally, the role and responsibility of the media to accurately report on issues relevant to U.S.-Muslim relations is also explored. It is a signature journalism program at the EWC due to its demonstrated outcomes:
- A deeper understanding of US-Muslim relations gained by participating journalists through discussions at the EWC and during study-tour meetings with government, military and business officials; religious leaders; academics; journalists; authors; artists; filmmakers; educators and students; and community activists.
- Increased public awareness of religion and the political, economic and cultural force religion plays in societies as a result of interactive dialogue with and outreach to local communities via panel discussions, student forums, observance of religious services and interaction with diverse religious communities, host family dinners, and receptions.
- Development of reliable professional and personal information networks upon which participants can draw for future coverage and analysis of US-Muslim relations.
- Sustained depth and balance to future media coverage of religion, specifically involving US-Muslim relations.
Tentative dates for the 2015 Senior Journalists Seminar are August 19-September 10, 2015. Announcement of study tour destinations and applications will likely occur in Spring 2015.
2014 Senior Journalists Seminar
Theme: Bridging Gaps between the United States and the Muslim World
Study Destinations: Washington, DC; Boston, Massachusetts; Honolulu, Hawaii; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Dates: August 20 - September 11, 2014
Highlights of the 2014 Senior Journalists Seminar (2014SJS) in the United States included religious observance and community discussions at Masjid Muhammad (Nation of Islam), the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Temple (Reconstructionist Jews), Park Street Church (Evangelical Christian) and Wat Dhammavihara Temple (Buddhists). The journalists also benefited from an overview of the American political system that covered the impact of federalism; the separation of powers; and congressional influencers on foreign policymaking. A meeting with Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, and Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, both of Harvard University, explored the consequences of America’s multicultural and multi-religious society; the clash between exclusivist and pluralist visions of being American; the experiences of Muslim communities in the U.S; and examples of networks and initiatives bridging faith divides in the U.S. A visit to the Knowledge Academy, the first and only Islamic school in Massachusetts to offer an integrated Hifz program in their curriculum, further highlighted the religious and cultural diversity of the United States. Finally, the journalists also explored what it means to be an American Muslim and how pop culture informs audiences about religion in a panel session with Sahar Ullah, Founder of the Hijabi Monologues, and Habib Yazdi, Co-Founder of Sheikh and Bake Productions.
The 2014SJS also took the participating journalists to Indonesia immediately following the historic election of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and featured several sessions on the 2005 Helsinki MoU ending armed hostilities between the Indonesian central government and Acehnese insurgents; the implementation of the MoU’s “self-government” provisions; and the MoU’s impact on the people of Aceh. The Indonesia program also provided an opportunity for the journalists to consider the implementation of Sharia law in Aceh, to whom it applies, the enforcement mechanisms, and how those laws may or may not impinge on individual rights. As Aceh is the only province in Indonesia explicitly authorized by national law to adopt laws derived from Islam, the journalists found panel discussions with representatives of the Islamic Sharia Agency and with women’s rights activists to be useful both as a means of deciphering sharia law itself as well as in understanding the politicization of Islam’s moral code. A session with LGBT activists was also highlighted as useful in providing an overview of LGBT rights in Indonesia and the role of religion in defining and limiting those rights. The journalists also met with the Grand Imam of Indonesia’s national mosque, Masjid Istiqal, which has a capacity of 120,000, making it the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. In addition, the journalists toured a privately-run pesantren and spoke with school administrators regarding the curriculum, class size and the education background of the teachers themselves. Finally, the journalists had a rare opportunity to meet with female fashion designer, Jenahara Nasution, to explore Indonesia’s fashion industry and whether Islamic fashion is, or is not, integrated into the mainstream fashion industry. Together these on-the-ground experiences in Indonesia provided the 2014 Senior Journalists with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Islam as it is practiced in the world’s largest Muslim country.
The 2014SJS provided participating journalists with deeper understanding, knowledge and insight into issues relevant to U.S. relations with the Muslim world. For some, the 2014SJS added needed context, accurate information and first-hand perspectives that will stay with them throughout their careers and will improve their reporting. One participating 2014 Senior Journalist wrote of her experience:
I have been able to engage in a meaningful and robust exchange with important figures and leaders representing the community and government in the U.S. I have become aware of the issues that American Muslims face and how they reconcile their American and Muslim identities. Related to this, I have better insight into how government policies may shape the identity of American Muslims and how this is expressed in the public space.
For others, particularly the American journalists, it was a revelatory and life-changing experience. One American journalist wrote, “I believe the program opened my understanding of the Muslim world as a place much bigger than just the Middle East…[it] got me thinking about why the voice of extremism in the Middle East is the voice projected most by the Western media.” Another American journalist wrote:
One of the biggest take-aways for me is how this program shifted my impressions of the ‘Muslim world’ away from the Middle East toward a more realistic understanding of Asia’s role in the Muslim world. I’ve seen a new, different face of Islam than I had before…The program has caused me to reevaluate my knowledge of Islam.
The 2014 Senior Journalists were:
- Mr. Khaldoun ABUKHATTAB, International News Editor, Alhayat Aljadida Newspaper, Albireh, Palestine
- Mr. Zeyad Nihad AL ZUBAIDI, Senior Correspondent, Al Hurra Television, Baghdad, Iraq
- Ms. Emillia AMIN, Senior Broadcast Journalist, Media Corp. Pte. Ltd., Singapore:
- Ms. Emily BOBROW, U.S. Online Editor, The Economist, Washington, D.C., USA:
- Mr. Saeed Kamali DEHGHAN, Foreign Reporter, The Guardian, London, England/Iran
- Mr. Kevin ECKSTROM, Editor-in-Chief, Religion News Service, Washington, D.C., USA
- Mr. Heru HENDRATMOKO, Editor-in-Chief, PortalKBR, Jakarta Timur, Indonesia
- Mr. Vijay JOSHI, Assistant Asia Pacific Editor, Associated Press, Bangkok, Thailand/India
- Mr. Jaweed KALEEM, Religion Reporter, The Huffington Post, New York City, NY, USA
- Ms. Darshini KANDASAMY, Assistant News Editor, Malaysiakini, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Mr. Muhammad Yasir PIRZADA, Columnist/News Analyst, Daily Jang, Lahore, Pakistan
- Ms. Ferdous SYEDA, Editor and Blog Facilitator, Somewhere In Blog, Dhaka, Bangladesh
- Mr. Guy TAYLOR, National Security Reporter, The Washington Times, Washington, DC, USA
Slideshow from the 2014 Senior Journalists Seminar
For more information on East-West Center journalism fellowships and exchanges, see http://www.eastwestcenter.org/journalismfellowships
Program Coordinator, Seminars
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