Colorado College's invitation to Palestinian Hanan Ashrawi to speak at a three-day symposium called "September 11: One Year Later, Responding to Global Challenges," brought criticism from several Coloradoans, including Focus on the Family President James Dobson. He issued a press release against the event, which prompted a reply from Bethlehem Bible College President Bishara Awad, one of the leading evangelicals in the Mideast. Awad's open letter, in turn, prompted a reply from Dobson. Below is the full text of all three documents. For more commentary, see Christianity Today's Weblog coverage here and here.


FOF Expresses Concern Over Colorado College Event

Colorado Springs—The Jewish community of Colorado Springs has expressed concern over the timing of a conference to be held at Colorado College and the decision by the college to invite Palestinian sympathizer Dr. Hanan Ashrawi as a keynote speaker. Dr. James Dobson, a member of the National American Alliance of Jews and Christians and the Center for Christian Jewish Dialogue, has said that he is sympathetic to the concerns of the Jewish people in the Colorado Springs area.

"There is certainly a place for academic freedom, but contracting a controversial figure at such a painful time for America is insensitive and lacks appropriate judgment," says Dr. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family. "Have we already forgotten the news footage of Palestinians dancing in the streets on September 11 celebrating bin Laden's attack on the United States? Have we forgotten Israel's response to the catastrophe? Israel lowered its flags to half-staff, and Benjamin Netanyahu said, 'Today, we are all Americans.'"


Open letter from Bishara Awad

Dear Dr. James Dobson.

I pray that you will accept this message from a concerned Palestinian Christian.

On September 11, I was in Bethlehem and I personally asked many Palestinians Muslims and Christian, about the attack and ALL those I asked have said this is terrible and evil. Not one condoned the attack on America. The reason is very simple, the Palestinians themselves have gone through a great deal of suffering and they understand more than anybody else what it means to go through suffering and death. The incident of dancing you referred to is a very isolated incident, and all Palestinians believe it was staged by the media .It was done by very few irresponsible young Palestinians in one location only. It was at the very beginning of the news of the attack and no one knew the magnitude of the attacks yet. It is sad that the Israeli media used this very isolated incident to over tone all Palestinians as rejoicing. For you to use this event to further stereotypical of the Palestinians is not fair. You just do not have all the facts. The Palestinians decried the attack; Mr. Arafat and all his cabinet expressed in strong terms this evil incident. He was even shown donating blood to the victims of 911.

Article continues below

Dr. Dobson: All my life I had a great respect for you and for your writings and how much you have done in restoring family and the value of the family. Not only in American society but also all over the World. Your books are translated to Arabic and are used in our Bible College. We don't only respect, but we feel we know you and love you.

For us it is a shock to learn of your objections for Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, for a very moderate and sound speaker to share in Colorado. Just because she is a Palestinian, this does not make her unclean. You have become an instrument of hate and division. You have said things against your own writings and beliefs. You have considered all Palestinians as the enemy of America and your enemy. Dr. Dobson, you are wrong. You live in a democratic country and you, among all people should defend the right to speak even though you may not be in agreement.

Dr. Dobson, you as my hero, have fallen and had become a part of the hate propaganda and deceitful ways of the enemy of righteousness. We are not to listen to those who are advocating wars among nations. You are not being objective any more.

I promise to pray for you and for America. I pray to God that 911 would not become a tool to spread hate, war and destruction, but a tool where the love of God can be spread among all peoples. Consider the whole world as a family and they need you to bring healing and restoration.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my heart.

With all my love and respect to Dr. Dobson.

In Christian Love
Dr. Bishara Awad
President, Bethlehem Bible College


An Open Letter to Dr. Bishara Awad

Dear Dr. Awad:

It was with great disappointment that I received your "open letter" last week. Naturally, I was especially troubled by your characterization of me as "an instrument of hate and division." I have been criticized a number of times over the years, but rarely has one of my detractors painted me in such harsh terms. You accused me of maligning the character of Dr. Ashrawi, when I said nothing to that effect. You did to me what I didn't do to her. Then you chose to air your unsupported claims publicly, by sending copies to both Christianity Today and MIFTAH, without first giving me a chance to respond personally. What could have been an opportunity for private dialogue between two Christian brothers who disagree on complex Israeli-Palestinian issues has instead become front-page news.

Article continues below

At this point, I can only attempt to clarify the intent of the brief, two-paragraph statement to which you took such offense. The purpose of that statement was simply to question the timing of Dr. Hanan Ashrawi's visit to Colorado College, and nothing more. At no point did my comments make a judgment one way or the other about Dr. Ashrawi or her views, other than to note that she is a "controversial figure," as indeed she is. Long before I released my statement, Colorado media outlets were writing about the rising tide of public concern surrounding her impending visit. That visit is now history, and local papers have reported that Dr. Ashrawi's presentation at Colorado College was decidedly "middle of the road." Nevertheless, considering her association with Yassir Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, I still believe that Colorado College was insensitive in giving her a forum to speak during a week of mourning and reflection for so many Americans.

At the same time, it is no secret that there are a great many political issues on which Dr. Ashrawi and I would strenuously disagree (Mother Jones magazine has described her as "a wealthy, Christian, feminist, ex-Marxist"). In a recent address, Dr. Ashrawi suggested that Palestine is "a tortured nation, guilty only of an unwavering commitment to freedom, dignity, and independence." That is an egregious claim, particularly coming from someone who is on the payroll of the father of modern-day terrorism (Dr. Ashrawi's non-profit organization, MIFTAH, receives $850,000.00 a year directly from Yassir Arafat), and who has gone on record to suggest that Hamas is a legitimate political entity rather than a terrorist group. Dr. Ashrawi has also claimed that the 9/11 attacks were America's comeuppance for supporting Israel, and in 1998, she told Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, an official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, that the Holocaust is "a deceitful myth which the Jews have labeled 'the Holocaust' and have exploited to get sympathy." What could Colorado College have possibly hoped to gain by inviting an individual with such radical views to take part in its 9/11 symposium?

Article continues below

In stark contrast to Dr. Ashrawi, on the few occasions when I have made public statements about the conflict in the Middle East, my remarks have been supportive of the nation of Israel. But does that mean I that have labeled Dr. Ashrawi—a fellow Christian—as "unclean" because of her Palestinian heritage, as you have accused me of doing? Have I "said things against my own writings and beliefs" or "considered all Palestinians as the enemy of America" as you charge? Most certainly not! Those are strong accusations, Dr. Awad, and I believe they are without basis or merit.

One final note concerning my reference to the news footage of Palestinians dancing in the streets during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks: I do not believe that every citizen of Palestine rejoiced over those terrorist acts. I'm aware that there are many in Palestine and throughout the Middle East, including Christian brothers and sisters like yourself, who do not advocate or celebrate violence. Indeed, my good friend, Dr. Michael Youssef, made this very distinction on a recent Focus on the Family broadcast. However, even if the news footage in question depicted only "a very few irresponsible young Palestinians," to use your own words, those images were significant. When innocent civilians are killed in either Israel or Palestine, regardless of which side initiated the attack, I can assure you that Americans—including the "young and irresponsible ones"—do not dance in the streets.

I hope this brief reply clarifies my intentions for you, Dr. Awad. I'm truly sorry that you feel my comments were tantamount to "the hate propaganda and deceitful ways of the enemy of righteousness." Surely you are aware that there are countless opinions about the situation in the Middle East, and that even among those who consider themselves "pro-Palestinian," there is considerable debate about how to best address it. Wildly divergent views can likewise be found on the "pro-Israel" side of the equation. That being the case, my prayer is that our honest differences of opinion will not lead us to hurl accusations and heap condemnation upon those with whom we disagree.

God's blessings to you and your staff at the Bethlehem Bible College.

James C. Dobson, Ph.D.
Focus on the Family