Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Wellesley Mosque Visit Promoted Understanding

Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard University, and director of the Pluralism Project, whose mission is "to help Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity through research, outreach, and the active dissemination of resources," has a letter in today's Boston Globe about the Wellesley Middle School visit to a mosque (see my post on the topic). Because Diana Eck is such an important academic leader on behalf of cultural understanding and tolerance, I quote her letter here:
The lesson here is to engage in dialogue with Muslims
September 21, 2010

THE FUROR over Wellesley sixth-graders’ visit to a mosque is just one more volley fired at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center by Americans for Peace and Tolerance. In a climate in which Muslims have been constantly misrepresented by other voices than their own, the opportunity to hear Muslims speak about themselves is a priceless part of learning. Bravo to the Wellesley schools for incorporating such experience into their curriculum.

Of course, the line between observing and participating needs to be more carefully explained in an educational setting, but Wellesley students and parents voiced significant appreciation for the mosque visit.

On Friday, I was at the mosque with my class from Harvard. We arrived just as Bilal Kaleem, the programming head of the Islamic Center, was responding to the allegations of the video that was secretly filmed by a parent but produced with manipulated cuts and narration by Americans for Peace and Tolerance. For most of my students, as for the Wellesley middle-schoolers, it was the first experience of Friday prayers and of dialogue with our Muslim hosts.

I think it is way past time for Americans for Peace and Tolerance to take advantage of the hospitality of the mosque and actually engage with the community the group has so insistently defamed. It is the American way, and the only way to peace and tolerance.

Diana L. Eck
One of the most positive "side effects" of a medical career is the opportunity to know such a wide range of our fellow human beings. "Cultural competence" comes from meeting and spending time with people, as we health professionals are privileged to do in our work.

Suspicion and hatred, as fomented by the group that made the hate-laden video about the student visit to the mosque, is bad for individual and societal health. Inclusiveness has the opposite effect. Diana Eck's scholarship and enterprises like the Pluralism Project are a crucial part of health promotion.


Omnivore said...

You seem like a nice guy, genuinely puzzled by Islamophobia. Let me explain.

Britain and Spain have been subject to terrorist attack, and numerous other bomb plots have been foiled by the security services. Salman Rushdie has been threatened with his life, Theo Van Gogh was murdered in the street, and fatwas have been issued against a Danish cartoonist and recently against a Dutch politician, and an American cartoonist.

Hate preachers have been active in British mosques, Jewish students intimidated at university, and a Saudi-funded school in London has caught been teaching anti-semitism.

We in Europe have also witnessed the deliberate mass murder of non-Muslim innocents in the USA, Russia, India and elsewhere, and of Muslim innocents in Pakistan and Iraq. (presumably for not being quite Muslim enough).

Westerners have been beheaded, and the videos broadcast on YouTube to the cries of Allah Akhbar. In Palestine, there was dancing in the streets to celebrate 3,000 people killed on 9/11. Palestinians have not given up their campaign to "re-take" what is now the state of Israel. Have you read the Hamas Charter?

Article Seven states:

"Moreover, if the links have been distant from each other and if obstacles, placed by those who are the lackeys of Zionism in the way of the fighters obstructed the continuation of the struggle, the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah's promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

"The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews." (related by al-Bukhari and Muslim)."

Does any of this help resolve your perplexity?

I myself see no reason to "dialogue" with such people. You might as well "dialogue" with Nazis.

Jim Sabin said...

Dear Omnivore -

I'm sorry for my delay in responding to your important comment - I've been away from the blog for a week.

Unfortunately, all of the matters you cite are true. The question is - what's the proper response. With regard to your conclusion:

"I myself see no reason to "dialogue" with such people. You might as well "dialogue" with Nazis."

If you restrict your comment to killers and hate preachers, I agree. But that has no relevance to schoolchildren visiting a mosque.

Of course we can't have dialogue with Osama bin Laden. But if we regard every Muslim as an Obama clone, there will be a LOT more Osamas very quickly. That's what upset me about the reaction to my hometown's school program.