Portland hopes to bridge cultural divides

Open-door policy
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  April 2, 2008

"Beyond the Clash of Civilizations" | 7-9 pm April 7 | USM Hannaford Lecture Hall, Bedford St, Portland | Free | 207.780.5331

NoMoreVictims.org | Local chapter 207.985.0234
This February marked the six-year anniversary of journalist Daniel Pearl’s horrifying death at the hands of Islamist extremists. Unfortunately, not much about the world has changed: such a tragedy would be just as sad, but not especially surprising, today.

For five years, Pearl’s father Judea, a renowned computer scientist, and Akbar Ahmed, who teaches and writes about Islam, have traveled the world, trying through public conversations to ease Muslim-Jewish tensions and increase cross-cultural understanding between Muslim and Western civilizations. In their own way, these grandfathers are working to effect that elusive change.

“The conversations, which are never the same twice, cover issues from theology, history and ideology to politics and current news, and encourage audience participation,” according to the project description at the Daniel Pearl Foundation Web site. ”Two organizing principles guide the conversation; first, no issue is taboo and, second, respect at all times.”

On Monday, April 7, Pearl and Ahmed will speak at the University of Southern Maine, in a conversation called, “Beyond the Clash of Civilizations: A Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding.” Elizabeth Hoffman, founder and president of the Portland-based organization Catalyst for Peace, will moderate the discussion.

From the oldest generation to the youngest, Portland is playing host to representatives of intercultural exchange. This spring, 6-year-old Nora will arrive in Portland for a several-month stay. Her visit isn’t a vacation from her home in Iraq, though. The little girl’s skullbones were shattered in 2006, when US sniper fire hit the car in which she was traveling.

“Nora lost bone in her skull and needs a prosthetic replacement,” her father told No More Victims, a national organization that’s arranging similar medical treatments in cities across the country. “She also needs plastic surgery. These operations cannot be done in Iraq due to the terrible state of Iraq’s medical care system.”

At Maine Medical Center, where neurosurgeon James Wilson is offering his services for free, Nora will receive cranial surgery and a prosthetic skull. While she’s here, she and her father will have free room and board at the Ronald McDonald house on Brackett Street. Arundel resident Susi Eggenberger, a local coordinator for No More Victims, is helping to raise the $12,000 necessary for Nora and her father’s travel arrangements.

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