Letters to the Ledger Opinion

Letter: Stephen Schwartz responds

Heidi Hadsell, president of Hartford Seminary, has published a letter responding to my article on the involvement of Hartford Seminary with the Syrian dictatorship and an Islamic school, the “Al-Fatih Institute,” with which the government of Bashar Al-Assad is closely aligned.  My article appeared in The Jewish Ledger of April 27.
In her letter, Ms. Hadsell claims that “numerous false statements” appear in my article, but she does not challenge any of the facts about which I wrote.  I object to my statements being described in print as “false.”   Ms. Hadsell admits Hartford Seminary is involved with a program in Syria and with the Al-Fatih Institute.  Her argument that its aim is “to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding” does not ameliorate the nature of the Syrian regime’s bloody repression at the present time or the questionable character of involvement with the regime under these circumstances.  The entire world can see what is happening in Syria.  In the name of “interfaith dialogue,” which appears irrelevant in the Syrian context, Ms. Hadsell chooses to ignore the truth about the Syrian massacres.
Ms. Hadsell also does not address the wider effect of the links between the Al-Fatih Institute and Hartford.  To say that exchanging students with Al-Fatih allows Syrian students to experience American pluralism is not very impressive.  Syrians learn a lot about the U.S. from international media as well as their relatives living in the U.S.  Numerous Islamist terrorists – aside from Ramadan Shallah and Sami Al-Arian, whom I mentioned – benefited from education in the U.S.; visiting America is no inoculation against radicalism.
Sending American students to Syria may broaden the students’ experience but at the present time may now also put them in great danger.  The phrase “dialogue promotes peace” is not only an empty cliché for which there are many counter-examples, but in the present Syrian situation is rather distasteful.  Dialogue with a mass-murderer who is bent on extirpating his opponents regardless of their large numbers may not promote peace, but may aggravate the crimes of the Syrian regime.
Hartford Seminary may have a high opinion of the late Ibrahim Abu-Rabi but Ms. Hadsell has not denied his radical associations or the extreme nature of his ideological arguments.  Similarly, she does not deny that Ingrid Mattson, regardless of her academic credentials, has accumulated a long inventory of statements understating the nature and problem of radical Islam. Endorsement of Hartford Seminary’s program by the U.S. military is not in itself a guarantee of anything.  My article referred specifically to radical chaplains in U.S. prisons, which Hartford also trains and certifies.  I and my organization, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, are acutely aware of the problem of Wahhabi domination over prison Islamic clergy and we believe it is appropriate to examine Hartford’s role in this phenomenon.
In sum, Ms. Hadsell has not challenged any facts in my article that would justify a correction. My article was protected opinion based on facts she has not denied. She has simply advanced her own interpretation of Hartford’s activities in response to my assessment and analysis of Hartford’s activities.  A disagreement over opinions does not require a correction of any “false” statements.

Stephen Schwartz,
Executive Director
Center for Islamic Pluralism

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