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Muslim scholar offers peace, fights stereotypes in fall transplant to Storm Lake

Thursday, August 7, 2008

For a Muslim scholar from volatile Israel, a suddwn transplant to the relative rural serenity of multicultural Storm Lake, Iowa, is likely to be cross-cultural eye-opener.

But he is a man on a mission. Dr. Ahmad Ghabin hopes to gain as much awarness from his visit as he gives.

The Israeli Muslim Arab educator will arrive at Buena Vista University on August 20, and for the next 40 days will work on a hectic schedule to share an understanding of today's Muslim world and a deep desire for peace with local educators, students and the Storm Lake community.

He will be the first International Fulbright Visiting Scholar ever to join Buena Vista.

Professor of Religion Peter Steinfeld says that a busy schedule has been set up for Dr. Ghabin - he will be settled into an apartment on Grand Avenue on the evening of his arrival, and the next morning will begin faculty workshops at BVU.

The days that follow will be filled with public presentations at the Storm Lake Public Library and civic clubs, visits to the Storm Lake schools and Iowa Central Community College classes, a forum with local ministers, a CommUnity Education event. He will take part in a schools-sponsored event on the seventh anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, visit a school board meeting, take in local church services and get a taste of life on a working area farm.

"He is only here for about five weeks - so we've got to pack a lot into a short time!" says Steinfeld, who led the Fulbright application process for BVU.

Steinfeld recently met Dr. Ghabin while traveling in the Middle East on a university trip. "He is absolutely delightful -I am so looking forward to his visit to Storm Lake," he said.

Dr. Ghabin is equally primed for the journey.

"As a member of the Muslim minority in Israel, I will be able to spread out something of its reality in Israel and to learn about the different minorities in the U.S.," he said.

From the Galilee village of Tur'an, he teaches undergraduates and prospective educators through al-Qasemi Collage in Baqa al-Gharbiyya and the Arab Academy for Education in Haifa.

The former institution "raises the flag of peace, tolerance, equality, advancement and excellence," he said.

His visit to Storm Lake will be a chance to topple some stereotypes for both cultures, he hopes.

With expertise in art and the history of civilization in the Middle East, he will have a keen eye for how Israel is presented in American classrooms, museums and art galleries. His experience includes organizing of an international conference on the holy places in Israel in 2005, and establishment of a permanent archeological exhibition. In September 2006, he participated in a delegation of al-Qasemi Collage to the U.S. within an interfaith project initiated by the American Jewish Committee.

He also hopes to try to build academic relations with American academies during his visit, he says.

Dr. Michael Whitlatch, interim vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, says, "He will provide our campus and the Storm Lake community the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue on a whole host of issues confronting the Middle East and the world today. We view this as one of the most enriching programs we've been able to provide our students in some time and we hope this becomes a springboard for us to be a part of similar programs in the future."

"In the spirit of the Fulbright visiting scholar program, it is my hope and expectation that we will share Dr. Ghabin fully with the Storm Lake community," Steinfeld added. "He is truly excited to join us and to learn about the heartland of America. We have a remarkable opportunity before us."

Ghabin sees academics as the natural place to begin in furthering international understanding.

"It becomes clear to me that direct contact with the American style of life, especially with the its cultural mosaic will help much in changing stereotypes of both sides towards each other."

* Dr. Ghabin will begin working with History of the Middle East and Nonviolence, Peace and Justice classes at BVU in the week of August 25. His first public appearance will be Tuesday, August 26 for a presentation "Islam and the Modern World" at 7 p.m. at the Storm Lake Public Library. He will join Middle School art classes September 5. On Thursday, Sept. 11 he will join in the Storm Lake Community School presentation "9/11 - Seven Years Later", at 7 p.m. at South School. On September 23, he will present a public Academic and Cultural Events Series lecture "Palestinian Issue in Israel" at BVU Science Center at 7 p.m.

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