NPR’s Deborah Amos to Open Two-Month “Justice and Civil Society in the Muslim World” Series

“We want to show that there are ways of bringing people together peacefully,” says Marina Cunningham, Executive Director of Montclair State University’s Global Education Center, which will present “Justice and Civil Society in the Muslim World” – a series of lectures, films, and readings -- during March and April.

Recent grassroots protest movements and uprisings have shaken the Muslim world and challenged conventional thinking about this world. Far from being resistant to change and democracy, the region is struggling to attain a new sense of justice. Nineteen festival events promote cross-cultural understanding by exploring the complex culture, history, and politics of a world in flux.  

“Planning for the two-month-long series began more than a year and a half ago – well before the Arab Spring,” Cunningham notes. “This is truly an exciting, university-wide event that was organized by different faculty across different disciplines to present a mix of different points of view.” All events are open to the public and are free of charge.

The festival opens on Monday, March 5, with “Reporting on the Arab Spring: One Year Later,” a lecture given by award-winning journalist Deborah Amos in Dickson Hall's Cohen Lounge at 6:00 p.m. Her reports are heard on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition broadcasts.

“We are excited that Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent nuclear scientist and social activist who supports nuclear disarmament in Pakistan, will be coming from Pakistan to deliver the festival’s keynote address on March 21,” Cunningham says. His talk, “Afghanistan-Pakistan After the American Exit,” will explore the current volatile situation in the Middle East.

The entire world was stunned by the uprisings of the Arab Spring, which permanently shattered preconceived notions about the Muslim world. Panels of internationally renowned scholars and experts will provide fresh perspective on such topics as the role of the free press and social media in recent revolutions in the Middle East, human rights in Afghanistan, and creating a civil society through education.

“In the arts, music brings people together,” Cunningham remarks. Panelists Henrik Melius, director of Spiritus Mundi, Muhamed Sacirbey, the producer of the famous U2 concert for peace in Bosnia, and musician Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, will discuss music as an agent of positive social change.

Film screenings, poetry, and dramatic readings will showcase the multi-faceted world of Muslim culture. Parvez Sharma will screen and discuss A Jihad for Love, his award-winning documentary about gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims. Comedian and filmmaker Ahmed Ahmed will present Just Like Us, which comments on social issues with comedy.

Poet Kazim Ali will read his poems and discuss the importance of poetry in the Muslim world. A production of Yussef El Guindi’s play 10 Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith is also scheduled.

Lecture topics range from racial profiling in America to the lives of women in the Middle East. Montclair State visiting scholar Neda Soltani, who fled Iran in 2009, will share memories of growing up in Iran.

The series will reach a wider audience through an interactive website with blogs, audio and video clips, and links to additional information. Montclair State’s cable television show, Carpe Diem will also air festival highlights.

The festival paints a powerful picture of a changing Muslim world. “We are looking at the idea that the lure of justice and the establishment of civil society could finally bring an end to discord and violence,” Cunningham says. “This program is interesting, exciting, and couldn’t be more timely.”

See the full schedule of events at "Justice and Civil Society in the Muslim World."

“Justice and Civil Society in the Muslim World” is made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and by additional support from the Violet Jabara Charitable Trust, the Rouha Foundation, and the Islamic Center of Passaic County.