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Eye on Boise: Gatherings give opposite sentiments on Islam

Two different views of Islam were on display on a single day last week in Idaho, more than 400 miles apart.

At one, more than 100 people gathered at the Sandpoint Community Hall to hear anti-Islam speaker Shahram Hadian, who decried Islam as “a culture of death” that, among other things, he said requires submission and teaches its followers that martyrdom is the only way to salvation. He also had plenty of scorn to heap on the news media.

Outside, a group of protesters held signs with slogans including “Stand up for Tolerance and Child Welfare,” “I choose children over fear” and “Idaho’s kids need food, not ideology.”

Meanwhile, in Boise, a much different event occurred: A “peace feast” at a Boise restaurant at which an equal number of Idaho Muslims and non-Muslims shared dinner and a low-key presentation about Islam. Laura Armstrong, a member of the pastoral staff at a local Christian church, Cole Community Church, praised the “building of bridges and understanding.” At this gathering, too, concerns were raised about the news media and its coverage of Islam.

John Landis, a financial executive who converted to Islam three years ago, shared some information about Boise’s Islamic community. “It’s very ethnically diverse; it’s culturally diverse,” he said. “We are the melting pot of the melting pot.” The community includes people from India, Bosnia, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Syria, the United States and elsewhere.

Zawar Qazi, president of the Islamic Center of Boise, said the center is Sunni in practice but welcomes all Muslims to pray together. The area also has a couple of Shiite mosques, he said. An engineer at Micron who’s originally from Pakistan, Qazi said he’s never been harassed over his religion in Idaho. Others at the dinner were business owners, students, IT people, marketers, homemakers. They were Muslim, Christian, Jewish and otherwise.

Landis presented a brief slide show about Islam, stressing its reverence for the sanctity of life, and prohibitions on violence other than in self-defense. A diner in the restaurant, who wasn’t part of the gathering, asked the first question when Landis opened it up for Q-and-A, vociferously citing the Islamic State group and its atrocities. “They are criminals,” responded a member of the group. “They call themselves Muslims.”

Later, as the dinner wrapped up, Nick Armstrong, who had collected everyone’s individual payments for dinner at the start, had an announcement: Three Saudi Arabian students who had been quietly dining in the back of the restaurant during the presentation had pulled him aside as they left and told him how impressed they were that the group, Muslims and non-Muslims, was learning together. One of the young men insisted on paying for everyone’s meal – 20 people. So Armstrong passed back out everyone’s payments.

Fransen to retire

Curt Fransen, director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality since February 2012, will retire May 22; Gov. Butch Otter said he’s in the process of seeking a successor.

Otter appointed Fransen, an attorney, DEQ director after previous Director Toni Hardesty left to become Idaho director of The Nature Conservancy. Fransen started with the state as a deputy attorney general in 1983.

“Curt has been one of those directors whose skill and savvy help make everyone else’s job easier,” Otter said. “His professional demeanor and commitment to public service have been a comfort. During a time of growing federal mandates and as environmental issues are used for legal or political posturing rather than collaborative problem solving, Curt has been a stalwart and faithful executor of responsible public policy.”

‘Instant racing’ moratorium

State Racing Commissioner Jim Hammond said the Racing Commission had “very little discussion” last week when it unanimously approved a moratorium on all new “instant racing” machines and locations in Idaho. “The appointing authority for the board asked that we do this, so we did it,” Hammond said, referring to Otter. “It was just that simple and straightforward.”

When Otter vetoed the bill to outlaw slot machine-like instant racing machines April 3, he also sent a letter to the Racing Commission, directing it to impose the moratorium “as soon as legally possible.” There are now legal questions about the validity of that veto, though no court challenge has been filed.

In his veto message, Otter also called on lawmakers to join with him to appoint a “special outside investigator as soon as possible to assess the legality of machines used at every facility that now conducts historical racing.” Asked late last week where that stands, Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said it’s “still in the works.”

Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state Capitol in Boise and writes at the Eye on Boise blog. She can be reached at