BIRMINGHAM —?The Institute for Social Policy & Understanding (ISPU) hosted its annual event on April 25, 2008, at The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, MI, focusing on the many political and social issues faced by Arab Americans and American Muslims today.
ISPU is a nonprofit research organization dedicated to studying national and foreign policy. The research conducted through ISPU is intended to increase the knowledge of policy issues and how they impact our communities.
“ISPU is a think tank that influences policy,” said Iltefat Hamzavi, executive director.
ISPU’s research has impacted many media products, such as the Newsweek cover story titled, “Islam In America,” published on July 30, 2007. Other networks such as CNN compile studies and data from ISPU. “Each one of our members has been on CNN or had some other national exposure,” said Hamzavi.
The theme of this year’s event was “The Courage to Change: Shaping the Debate,” addressed by the guest speaker, Farooq Kathwari, chairman, president and CEO of Ethan Allen since 1985. Ethan Allen is a leading home furnishings company which sells throughout the United States.
“You have to take your vision and put it into action in order to be successful and open to change,” Kathwari told the attendees. Kathwari explained the reason he is successful is that he is open to different ideas and welcomes moving forward.
Ethan Allan is now a 75 year old company that began as a furniture manufacturing company with classic, traditional styles. Kathwari took a brand that was known and kept its attributes while moving it forward.
“Change means creativity and speed. Along with that you must equate justice,” said Kathwari.
Kathwari built his company on what he had and changed the perception of leadership. When he first took over the company, women made up only 2% of the higher end decisions. Today, 85% of the women at Ethan Allen are in management positions.
Kathwari touched upon social issues such as education, advising the audience not to blame the student’s lack of motivation, but to question the educators. He also spoke of various political issues. “We are in a dangerous position today. We have to change the perception of the media that associates all Muslims together,” said Kathwari, who had the opportunity to talk to Republican presidential candidate, John McCain.
Kathwari called Senator McCain in response to his statements about Islamic radicalism. He told McCain that he was “endangering our children in the world by demonizing Islam. You are alienating about a billion Muslims.” Kathwari explained that McCain and other political leaders can address issues of terrorism but should not correlate it with Islam.
He told the Muslim community to reach out to their political leaders. “Whenever you speak, speak with a passion. Whatever you do, do it with a passion. Then you will be able to move forward.” He also advised southeast Michigan Muslims to engage with the Jewish community and African Americans by building partnerships in order to welcome change and progress.
Kathwari encouraged the attendees to be involved in public service and volunteerism. “When you contribute to society, then you will be heard.” Kathwari is known for his work with the World Conference of Religions for Peace, Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence Advisory Board. He has received several recognitions, including the “Outstanding American by Choice Award,” granted by the United States government.
About 150 guests were selected and invited to the dinner and speech.
ISPU tackles social challenges with the support of donations. To learn more about ISPU and its upcoming events, please visit www.ispu.org.