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Thursday, April 21, 2016 12:07 am

From a different perspective

Springfield hosts international visitors

Members of the Rotary Club of Midtown Springfield and international delegates mingle prior to Dr. Nizamuddin’s presentation.


Dr. Ali Nizamuddin says you may someday face a Muslim with a mask and a blade, but it’s much more likely to be your doctor than a terrorist.

On April 12, Nizamuddin, a political science professor at University of Illinois Springfield, addressed common misconceptions about Muslims at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Midtown Springfield. The meeting hosted seven international delegates, who listened to the discussion as a part of their journey in the United States to learn about advancing minority rights for their individual countries.

The delegates were guests of the Springfield Commission on International Visitors. The commission works with local community professionals and volunteers to host international visitor leadership programs through Congress and the State Department.

Nizamuddin, the keynote speaker, explained that misconceptions can be attributed to the use of powerful imagery and language to depict groups we don’t understand. His presentation used humor to draw a distinction between ISIS sympathizers and Muslims in general.

Nizamuddin said that he doesn’t know why people have a tendency to cluster the actions of all those who are perceived to follow Islam, the faith observed by Muslims. The core followers of ISIS number around 30,000, which is a fraction of the 1.57 billion Muslim people in the world.

The international delegates at the meeting hold roles in various areas of local and state government in Iraq, Uganda, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Czech Republic, Thailand and Pakistan. This was their opportunity to see firsthand how transparency and efficiency works in the state and local political system.

Khawlah Mousa, head of the relations department for the Mayoralty of Baghdad, told the audience that she was adamant about strengthening relations with American communities, which is one of the reasons the group was visiting the U.S.

“One of the reasons for our visit to the USA is to strengthen our relations with American communities,” said Mousa. “Nobody that is reasonable or considers themselves a human being will accept being killed or to kill his brother or equal.”

The delegates revealed that segregation, development and transparency were some of their number one concerns with government in their own countries.

Prior to lunch at the Rotary Club, the delegates visited the Illinois comptroller’s office, Springfield Urban League, Mayor Jim Langfelder’s office, and Lincoln Magnet School.

Asma Ejaz, manager of gender and training at Devolution Trust for Community Empowerment in Pakistan, said the most influential visit for her was to the comptroller’s office.

“The amount of information that is published on the comptroller’s website was inspiring,” Ejaz said.

“During the comptroller’s presentation, I learned that there are opportunities to become more transparent in my own local government,” she continued. “They (Illinois) have uploaded all of the department’s functions on the website, and this has inspired me to replicate this model of transparency in my country.”

Martin Mata, deputy mayor in the municipality of Usti nad Labem in the Czech Republic, feels that his visit was a great experience.

“I was very happy to learn about how local government functions here,” Mata said. “I believe that we will all be able to take home some of the best practices that we have observed. The most valuable of all have been the connections with the delegates, as well as the people here.”

Contact Brittany Hilderbrand at intern@illinoistimes.com


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