On February 4, 2012 the Illinois Coalition on Immigrant and Refugee Rights held a summit at Malcolm X College in Chicago. The aim of this summit was to assist legal permanent residents in filling out their U.S. citizenship forms, launch a civic engagement program, hold policy workshops, as well as plan for the immigrant voter mobilization program for 2012.
Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director of CAIR-Chicago and ICIRR board member, spoke on a panel at the summit titled, “Framing the debate: Preaching beyond the choir.” This panel was aimed at providing talking points and references for activists who are engaged in conversations or debates with those who disagree with one’s own views on topics concerning immigrants and refugees.
The panelists were as diverse as they come- Representative Greg Harris, the most highly ranked gay representative in the U.S., Alejandro Escalona, Latino writer for the Chicago Sun Times, and lastly, Ahmed Rehab, who not only heads CAIR-Chicago, but is a leading rights activist in Chicago. All three speakers are either a part of organizations that support and are a part of the ICIRR or personally support the ICIRR. The three panelists also represent three communities which face many struggles either religious-based, ethnic, or sexual orientation.
These issues: Islamophobia, homophobia, and anti-Latino sentiments, are all one and the same. Each of the speakers made connections between all forms of bigotry facing their communities and the communities of others. Perhaps the most powerful quote of the panel was from Representative Harris who said, “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” When Ahmed Rehab spoke, he focused on the idea of multiple identities. “Whenever someone would ask me, ‘what are you first, a Muslim or an American?’ I would respond with, ‘are you wearing a shirt or pants?’” We are all human beings, and have the right to have multiple identities and be complex. According to Rehab, “humans were not created to serve laws; laws were created to serve humanity.”
In the end, the overall theme of Rehab’s talk was about hatred, which according to the executive director of CAIR comes from misinformation and miseducation, not ignorance. That is where organizations like CAIR-Chicago come in, to help re-educate and inform the media and various communities in Chicago about Islam, and Muslims in Chicago.