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The Annual Friendship & Dialogue Dinner – 2016

     The Annual Dialogue & Friendship Dinner brought together more than 200 people from diverse backgrounds to promote an inclusive atmosphere in the Austin community for people of all religions and cultures. Participants included academics, policymakers, faith and community leaders. The Annual Dinner, sponsored by generous organizations and individuals, was held on Thursday evening, May 12, at the Asian American Resource Center.  You can see names of the sponsoring organizations and individuals on webpage of the event by clicking on the following link: http://dinner.dialogueatx.org

   In his welcome speech,  Dr. Guner Arslan, founding board member of Dialogue Institute of the Southwest, gave an overview of  Dialogue Institute’s activities and its cooperation with various local organizations to create more peaceful and harmonious environment around us.

Dennis Moninger, one of Bastrop fire victims, delivered a moving speech about devastating experiences of  the victims during and following the fire, which was deemed the most destructive wildfire in Texas history. He expressed his profound and sincere gratitude to Dialogue Institute that had fundraised over 50.000$ to help the victims rebuild their homes and lives after the disaster.

The theme of this year’s dinner was “Dialogue Now”, and featured keynote speaker Edina Lekovic who was named as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world by Georgetown University and the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in 2009.  She is a communication strategist, who currently serves as a consultant with Muslim Public Affairs Council, where she has served since 2004. Edina has served as a leading voice on the American Muslim community for 15 years.

In the face of intolerance towards people of different religious backgrounds, Edina asserted, it is the time for all of us to stay more connected with our friends, colleagues and neighbors. The approaching month of Ramadan is a golden opportunity to  engage in dialogue with our friends and immediate neighbors irrespective of their religions and cultures.

Edina defined the problem of Islamophobia as an American problem that does not target only Muslims, but also other minorities in the country. According to her, Islamophobia is the result of growing intolerance towards minorities with different religious, ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds. In order to eliminate Islamophobia and other intolerant trends, we need to create safe zones for  social and cultural engagements through which people can get to know each other, and they can overcome prejudices they may have. It is the duty of all Americans who are committed to the ideal that everyone has an equal opportunity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The event ended with an award ceremony honoring Elliott Naishtat, Texas State Representative, and Jim Harrington, Former Director of Texas Civil Rights Project, due to their exemplary services in the support and promotion of peace and dialogue. The outstanding individuals received their awards from the hands of Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, a former Democratic member of the Texas Senate,  and Jan Soifer, a respected Austin lawyer.

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