Former U.S. diplomat, Dave Grimland interprets Islam
Newly settled in Montana, Dave Grimland tries to balance negative images of the Muslim world.
By Sam Howe Verhovek, Times Staff Writer
April 1, 2007
PLENTYWOOD, MONT. — Dave Grimland spent nearly 30 years as a foreign service officer — "telling the U.S. side of the story," he says — in Bangladesh, India, Cyprus, Turkey and other nations with large Muslim populations. He wrote ambassadors' speeches, arranged cultural gatherings, and more than once hunkered down as angry mobs gathered outside the embassy to protest American policy.
Now retired and living in rural Montana, Grimland is once again telling a side of the story — only this time, in quiet pockets of the Big Sky State, he's trying to tell the Muslim side to non-Muslim Americans.
"I'm going to ask you, at least for this evening, to try to put on a pair of Muslim glasses and see what the world looks like," Grimland said one recent night to about 40 ranchers, farmers and others in the basement of the county library near the spot where Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan meet.
Outside, it was snowing and 16 degrees. The nearest mosque was about 120 miles away, in Regina. Many in the audience said they had never met a Muslim other than Plentywood High School exchange student Alisher Taylonzoda, from Tajikistan.
For two hours and 40 minutes — including a brief break for cider and baked goods — the Montanans listened intently as Grimland covered a sweeping amount of history and made a case that the vast majority of Muslims are like the great majority of Christians, Jews or Buddhists.
"No worse; no better," he said. "They want peace. They want to live their lives."
A soft-spoken man of 63, Grimland has traveled to dozens of churches, schools, small-town gathering halls and Indian reservations.
He brings along a black roller suitcase crammed with books, magazine articles and photocopies of slightly blurry maps, timelines, and "further study" reading lists for those interested in the history of Islam.
Talking to a dozen people there, 40 here, as many as 75 elsewhere, Grimland hardly expects to change the world. But he does feel a calling.
"I'd been frustrated ever since 9/11 by listening to comments [about] the backwardness of Islam, about the religion's responsibility for the 9/11 tragedy, versus the actions of a small number of Islamic extremists."
And so, Grimland said, "I just thought maybe I could try to help people who haven't traveled, who haven't had the benefit of having to know this stuff because it was part of their job."
He didn't come to Montana to give lectures on Islam. He came here to retire.
After the peripatetic life of an embassy public affairs officer, he and his wife, Kathleen, a former UNICEF officer in India, moved in 1995 to Columbus, about 35 miles west of Billings. They have a 15-year-old son, Michael; Grimland also has a daughter, Debra, 36, in Atlanta.
Grimland and his wife built a house on land they bought in 1990, after friends visiting India from the States showed them photographs of the Montana property.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks, as he watched television news and took in what he describes as irregular coverage of the Muslim world in local newspapers, Grimland felt that Montanans were being given little true sense of that world.
"Islam, for most of us, didn't really even register on our personal radar screens until Sept. 11, 2001," he said.
"And since then, we've been assaulted with generally negative, often very violent images of the religion."
Grimland does not remotely justify terrorism.
He does try to explain what motivates jihadists, and why some Muslims don't condemn the violence.
"Many Muslims do perceive the U.S. as decadent and degenerate," Grimland told the gathering here, referring to Janet Jackson's exposed breast in the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show and TV's "Desperate Housewives."
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PLANNED MUSLIMS RESPONSE TO QUR'AN BURNING BY PASTOR JONES ON 9/11/13 IN MULBERRY, FLORIDA
We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.
Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”
God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.
We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration (www.UnitydayUSA.com) held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.
Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.
As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.
We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.
We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.
We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.
Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.
Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.
We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.