Student organization joins community group for discussion of peace

A USF student organization and a Tampa community organization are teaming up to raise awareness of the situation between Palestine and Israel.

Peace @ Large, a non-religious organization at USF whose mission is to raise awareness and develop solutions for peace, and Women of Faith Building Community, a local interfaith group, will host next week’s Peace in the Middle East Conference, which runs Monday through Wednesday.

Women of Faith Building Community is a group of Muslim and Christian women that formed about two years ago in response to an event called “Islamaphobia,” said the group’s co-founder Pilar Saad. Concerned about the prevailing negative attitude toward Muslims and Islam, Saad, a Muslim, and Pamela Brown, a Christian, formed the group to enhance awareness about Islam and Christianity.

Both organizations hope to address the struggles of the Middle East at their conference, but for different reasons.

James Hudson, co-founder and president of Peace @ Large, said he hopes students will gain a greater religious understanding by attending the conference.

“We want to give students views they don’t normally hear about the Palestine and Israeli situation and to give the back story of the multi-cultural attitude,” he said.

Saad, who is a social studies teacher at the Universal Academy of Florida, said she hopes the conference will educate Americans about the struggle between Palestine and Israel.

“American citizens are supporting this kind of oppression and occupation,” she said. “Exposure will help Americans to pursue a just and fair resolution for the Jewish and Palestinian people.”

An alumna of USF, Saad said universities play an instrumental role in working toward building community awareness of global issues and provide a space in which people can discuss the topic freely.

“(There needs) to be a place where people can feel safe to have a discussion and debate about these issues,” she said.

Hudson said he is optimistic about the turnout for the event and expects more than 200 students within the first two days. He also said he hopes that this event will pave the way for Peace Week, an event hosted by Peace @ Large that runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 4 and addresses topics such as nuclear proliferation and torture.

On Monday, Sept. 29, Reverend Stephen Sizer will speak about Christian Zionism. Journalist Alison Weir will discuss the media’s role in the Israel-Palestine conflict Tuesday and on Wednesday the conference will present a documentary about the siege of Bethlehem.

In conjunction with Peace @ Large and Women of Faith Building Community, the conference is presented by the USF Coalition for Global Justice, the Florida Palestine Solidarity Network, the Muslim Student Association, Project Downtown, the Muslim American Society at USF, Sisters United Muslim Association and TrueTalk on WMNF 88.5 FM.