All religions culpable on human rights, area clergy say

Al-Amin, along with the Rev. Roger Ridgway of St. John's United Church of Christ and Rabbi Pamela Frydman Baugh of Or Shalom Jewish Community, a Renewal congregation, spoke Feb. 6 at a forum on diversity at San Francisco's Gateway High School, a charter school. At the forum and in an interview, the three members of San Francisco's Interfaith Council tackled topics ranging from existential questions about God to the conflict in the Middle East.

Many of the questions inevitably dealt with stereotypes and religious differences in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Saying that every religious faith — including Christianity — has persecuted people in the name of faith, Ridgway light-heartedly quipped, "I don't care what a person's religious affiliation is as long as they're ashamed of it."

Al-Amin took a more serious tack during the interview, saying that he could annoy people to the "point of being an irritant" if he focused on the various facets of his identity, rather than on focusing on inclusiveness.

During his talk with both the Bulletin and Gateway's students, also addressed what he saw as media bias in the portrayal of Muslims. Saying that Muslims worldwide had received a "bad rap" because of the Taliban regime, especially on women's rights, Al-Amin said that Western society also has a lot to answer for.

"The abuse of women in the Western world, particularly in America, is at epic proportions," said Al-Amin. "Women's shelters here in America are full of individuals who have been the victims of sexual assaults and domestics disputes."

Baugh concurred, saying that domestic abuse of women was an issue that knew no cultural or religious boundaries, adding that the problem has existed "under the radar" in the Jewish community as well.

She also talked to the students at length about the conflict in the Middle East. Responding to one student's question about whether the United States should continue financial aid to Israel, Baugh gave an emphatic response.

Baugh said that the U.S. financial contribution to Israel remains crucial and imperative, explaining that many Arab countries are also recipients of significant U.S. aid — specifically Egypt and Saudi Arabia. She also emphasized that both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict share blame for the current cycle of violence, but added that the conditions for most Palestinians would be better if Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority weren't corrupt.

All three participants said the response to their talk was overwhelmingly positive, and that they hoped to engage in a series of "diversity dialogues."

When Al-Amin pointed out the disparity between the coverage in the Middle Eastern conflict and coverage of violence in San Francisco's own backyard, he seemed to strike a chord with the teen audience.

"CNN and the local newspapers give us constant updates on the war toll in Afghanistan," said Al-Amin. "I'd like to see a story about the 30 African-American youths that were killed in one neighborhood alone last year," he noted, singling out the Western Addition-Fillmore area.

"It hardly received any local coverage at all," said Al-Amin. "But if those deaths had happened in Pacific Heights, I think we'd have a national emergency on our hands."