Nearly 150 community leaders joined the program, including law enforcement officers, elected officials, academics, and religious and business leaders.
Peace Islands Institute’s New Jersey Executive Director Levent Koç marked the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 by advocating tolerance and dialogue, saying: “As we mark this solemn anniversary, let us once again call upon the spirit of dialogue, understanding and respect -- necessary characteristics of resilient and compassionate communities. And let us show that dialogue and understanding are enduring virtues -- not just for one day, but for every day.”
Koç underlined the response of the organization’s honorary president, Fethullah Gülen, in the wake of the terrorist attacks. “When Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen foresaw the importance of interfaith dialogue among communities as well as among nations and initiated it in Turkey, it was 1994. It was the same year that he said ‘There is no return from democracy’ when Muslims were questioned regarding their opinions on democracy,” he said.
While Gülen and other Muslim leaders worked to promote tolerance and respect among communities of different faiths in Turkey, Koç said the horrific terrorist attacks had the opposite effect. Koç drew upon Gülen’s well-known condemnation of the Sept. 11 attacks published in The Washington Post: “A true Muslim cannot be a terrorist and a terrorist cannot be a Muslim.”
Koç, explaining the work of the organization following the terrorist attacks, said: “The Peace Islands Institute took upon itself to be a leading force, organizing communities to come together and getting to know and support each other at a time of fear, distress and estrangement following the tragic events of Sept. 11.”
Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Victim Witness Advocate Trish Stewart discussed the atmosphere at the Victim Center in Liberty State Park in the wake of Sept. 11. Stewart was actively involved in coordinating the assistance efforts for victims of the tragedy in the following months.
First Assistant Attorney General Phillip H. Kwon, representing Attorney-General Paula Dow, spoke about the discrimination Muslims faced after Sept. 11. “It has been 10 years since all of our lives collectively changed. All Americans experienced that tragedy and were deeply affected. The Muslim community, like all Americans, experienced this as well.” The Muslim community, Kwon said, also faced suspicion, anger and discrimination. Kwon’s office has been advocating against such discrimination and unjust behavior since Sept. 11.
New Jersey Catholic Conference Executive Director Patrick Brannigan quoted from the Bible to demonstrate that “when we see people, we should see ourselves, our families rather than seeing people who are different than us.”
FBI’s Newark Division Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Michael Ward, addressing the crowd at the end of the program, chastised one of his former colleagues for saying that Islam was rooted in violence. “That is not the message the FBI believes in. It is not the message that we support. That individual no longer does any training for the FBI,” he said.
The governor of New Jersey could not attend the dinner but sent a letter to congratulate the Peace Islands Institute for its work in fostering and maintaining meaningful dialogue between communities in the state.