I said when I began this project that it would focus on the small, everyday (even every few day) things a person can do to improve ourselves and our communities—and I believe those two things are intricately linked—to improve yourself is to improve your community, and vice-versa.
Last evening I went to a lecture on often held but generally false stereotypes about American Muslims. Not everyone knows this, but public universities in every state have great—and free—lectures and events with experts in every field you can imagine, and they're always open to the public.
Anyway, this lecture was given by a professor from Kentucky, who looked like a regular white guy but I guess was himself Muslim (see my stereotype there?). Plus, Kentucky—I assumed that place was probably not a Muslim hotspot, but he says he gets speaking requests from groups all the time wanting to learn more. That’s encouraging. I assumed they mostly made bourbon there.
So my small good thing was simply to increase my awareness about an issue which I know little to nothing about—being a Muslim, what their beliefs are, etc.
I don't want to get into too many details, but from his research I learned a few key things, but also I want to say a word about academics—professors and the like. I work at a university, and most of the ones I have met can’t tie their own shoes, because what they generally are is extremely focused on one particular area—and they know everything about it ever—everything. They also have poor social skills.
Rarely do I find one with an agenda of any kind, liberal or otherwise, except that they want to be left alone to do their research in their area of expertise, which is their one true love. They follow data, and go where it takes them. If we all approached our beliefs and how we form them like they do, we’d have an extremely logical, correct society based wholly on truth representable by discernible facts--but also one that was really boring. There are tradeoffs.
One interesting thing in the lecture was that the prof highlighted the “most disliked groups in the U.S.”, aka “Who we hate/fear most,” and in order of most to least disliked, it went like this:
I feel like people shouldn't keep hate lists--it's like grade school--time to grow up. But we kind of all still do.
And like grade school, I bet that who you fear/dislike/mistrust is in direct correlation to whether you know actual people from those groups. Are you white? You probably have mostly just white friends. Are you age 5 and a boy? Girls are gross. So, part of doing good is getting out of your comfort zone and meeting new people.
Some points I took away from the lecture: Muslim Americans, despite a common stereotype, are not that dissimilar from “regular” Americans when it comes to gender equality—women’s role vs. men’s in society. What’s more, Muslim Americans, the longer they live in America, support that role more and more. Second, Muslim Americans are about as accepting of gays and lesbians as the rest of America. Both of these things surprised me, but the real takeaway was this:
Muslim Americans, like other groups, reflect the society that they live in—and the more they live in them, the more they do so. They share American values BECAUSE THEY ARE AMERICANS. So if you want people to share American values even more—let them come to America.
His conclusion was this: Muslims have a responsibility to reach out and “explain themselves (he meant this benignly, as in ‘be active in the community’).” But the rest of us, as Americans, have even more of a responsibility to reach out and understand what we do not. I’m hoping to go to an Islamic Center and/or a mosque in the next couple weeks and get to know some people of that faith and learn more. Let me know if you want to come along or have other ideas.
Here’s some info on the role Christianity plays in American identity and how it’s changing.
OTHER LECTURE NOTES (because every lecture is a note taking assignment!)
His final statement was that “the end of bigotry will first come on our college campuses.” I firmly believe that, working on one as I do. Education is the great equalizer, the great leveler and the great agent of change. The future is not bleak—just go to a college campus and you’ll see. Maybe stop and take in a lecture while you’re there.
The only sad part was that he was applying for a National Science Foundation grant for deeper research under the new administration and then he and everyone laughed at that prospect, because he is doomed.