Anti-Islam speakers find willing audience in Grand Forks

“Where is the most dangerous place for free speech in America? It’s not Iran, it’s not North Korea. We’re not going there,” Grand Forks City Council member Terry Bjerke told a crowd this week. “The college campuses and the University of North Dakota are the most dangerous places for free speech.”

Bjerke was the opening salvo in a third appearance to the city from Usama Dakdok, who delivered a presentation on the dangers of Islam in his third visit to the city.

After his second one a few months ago, some city residents considered plans to prevent the native of Egypt from returning, the Grand Forks Herald says.

Despite Bjerke’s stand for free speech, Dakdok’s appearance has drawn criticism from fellow community leaders. City Council member Bret Weber, a UND social work professor, has previously taken a strong stance against Dakdok’s visits. That included leading a discussion on preventing Dakdok from returning to the Empire, a move that drew mixed reactions from the community.

“Mr. Dakdok is welcome to come speak in Grand Forks at any time,” Weber said. “I have no interest in restricting his free speech rights. But I don’t view him as a scholar—I see him as a businessman who has made his money by claiming that (President Barack) Obama is a Muslim and questioning the English interpretation of the Quran.”

Nabil Suleiman, president of the Islamic Center of Grand Forks, said it’s deeply offensive to hear the labels Dakdok applies to Islam. Suleiman added that much of what Dakdok said of the Quran is a misinterpretation, adding he fears the possibility of violence against Muslims in Grand Forks as a result of Dakdok’s message.

“As a community, we are peaceful and inclusive,” he said. “Everybody is invited to come to the Islamic Center and observe what we are doing—how we pray and how we celebrate. We are an open book; we are not hiding.”

In his presentation on Tuesday, Dakdok called the religion “barbaric” and “savage,” a claim, for the record, he couldn’t make at a theater in Iran.