Against a backdrop of escalating violence in Iraq and televised hearings on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the University of Louisville has brought a group of high-profile Asian Muslims to visit the United States this month.
And so far, tip-toeing around controversy - including some opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq - has not been on the agenda.
For example: Bangladeshi professor Kazi Nurul Islam has said he has "tremendous differences with the foreign policy" of the United States, although he has "love and respect" for its people.
S. Zafar Mahmood, president of an Islamic charity in India, challenged a group of Christians about atrocities against Muslims, referring to a Bosnian Serb general and Orthodox Christian who was indicted by a United Nations war-crimes tribunal for allegedly ordering a 1995 massacre. "Should we be concerned about what prayer Ratko Mladic made before he slaughtered 7,500 Muslims?" Mahmood asked.
In response to the visitors' repeated assertions that Islam is a religion of peace and that a crime committed by a Muslim is "not a crime committed by Islam," an American-born Muslim meeting with them last week retorted: "Without Muslims, there is no Islam." Danya Karram of Cincinnati said during a session at Xavier University in Cincinnati that "to say Islam is perfect and Muslims are the problem is a cop-out in my opinion."
The Muslims' visit is being coordinated by UofL under a $343,785 grant from the U.S. State Department. The department implemented the program after the Sept. 11 attacks to help foreign Muslims to better understand the United States and to study the compatibility of Islam and democracy, according to program coordinator Riffat Hassan.
"Dialogue is not all about being nice," said Hassan, professor of humanities and religious studies at UofL. "It's about being authentic. It's about discussing real issues with candor, with honesty."
The university and various cooperating organizations have arranged a monthlong tour for the 14 scholars and activists, who come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. They are going to sites in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, California and Washington, D.C...