Shedding stereotypes

If the members of the political salon that organized the panel discussion had wanted to set up Nancy OatesSunday afternoon’s event at Community Church of Chapel Hill Unitarian Universalist as a game-show spoof, they had all the elements. First the title: “Straight Talk With Real Muslims.” Then the cast: two hijab-wearing women, one black and one white; a redneck man raised in Mississippi; a red-headed woman raised a Southern Baptist; two swarthy men, one middle-age, the other college-age. The emcee was a blond woman who looked suspiciously Midwestern.

If we in the audience had to pick out the “real” Muslims, we would have fared poorly. All of the people on stage were Muslim, diligent in the practice of their faith.

The program aimed to raise awareness of our stereotypes and prejudices and to distinguish media archetypes from actual people. As panelist Muad Hrezi, a Carolina alumnus preparing for med school, said: “I turn on Fox News and see Muslims as wild suicide bombers with explosives strapped to their chests, and I’d be afraid, too.”

The discussion took place only hours after we learned of the mass murder of at least 50 people in a gay bar, with more than 50 others critically injured, reportedly by a man who professed allegiance to the Islamic State who was upset after seeing two men kissing. Hrezi said when he heard the news, he braced himself for another period of having to defend the Muslim faith.

Panelist Tanzeel Chohan, a teacher who wears a hijab, recalled how people reacted to her on 9/11. She had to defend her beliefs and all other Muslims, too, she said. “And I still have to, 15 years later.”

Emcee Krista Bremer, author of My Accidental Jihad: A Love Story, urged the audience to lay aside political correctness and ask what was in our hearts. Questions ranged from “What is the Muslim stance on apostasy, blasphemy and secularism?” to “What is the difference between muslim [lowercase], Muslim [uppercase] and Islam?” to “How can you condemn the shootings in the gay bar when Islam preaches against homosexuality?”

The answers varied, because the panelists all had different experiences and viewpoints. In addition to Hrezi and Chohan, the panel was composed of Nsenga Knight, an artist from an Afro-Caribbean family in Brooklyn; Deonna Kelli Sayed, who wrote The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women; Shane Atkinson, a ball cap-wearing hospital chaplain and imam; and Dr. Mohammed Abu-Salha, a psychiatrist whose daughters and son-in-law were killed last year in Chapel Hill because they were Muslim.

I hope all of us in the audience realized by the time we left that Muslim extremists don’t represent all Muslims anymore than Christian extremists represent all the varied sects of Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism. As Dr. Abu-Salha said, “Your faith is how you treat people.”
— Nancy Oates

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1 Comment

  1. Bruce Springsteen

     /  June 17, 2016

    Just to be clear, for practical purposes anybody that thinks God dictated the Qu’ran to the Prophet Muhammad via the angel Gabriel, etc. is a “real” Muslim just like anybody that thinks the Bible is the word of God and that Jesus is the son of God, etc. is a “real” Christian. You can’t define people as not being in your group just because you think they make your group look bad. After all, those same people think it’s YOU that make THEIR group look bad.

    We shouldn’t stereotype people but note that assuming that all people in a group are bad is just an extreme form of stereotyping and that is what causes these events in the first place. The problem with the Orlando shooter wasn’t that he incorrectly assessed which gay people were evil and which weren’t evil, rather it was that he assumed they were all evil solely because they were gay. That is the ultimate stereotype.

    Sometimes I think people in this area don’t truly understand what we’re dealing with. It’s easy to demonize someone from Mississippi that is 10 years behind the times but for some reason the same people think we should bend over backwards to accommodate people that are 100 or 1,000 years behind the times.

    Standards aren’t standards unless you apply them to everyone. You’re not against stereotyping unless you’re against all stereotypes. You’re not against homophobia unless you’re against all forms of homophobia. You’re not against sexism unless you’re against all forms of sexism. You’re not against bigotry unless you’re against all forms of bigotry.

    A Pew poll (Pew is respected) from a few years ago showed that 98% in Muslim countries approved of homosexuality. Well, that’s pretty good, you say. But wait. That was the SUM TOTAL of approval in 36 different Muslim countries. So in other words, the average was under 3%.

    Did you see what the father of the Orlando shooter said afterwards? This guy has been here for over 30 years and his son had just mowed down 100 people solely for being gay, killing half of them. And he said that his son shouldn’t have done it because it is God’s place to punish them. Even after all his son did he couldn’t even bring himself to make the equivocation of saying it’s God’s place to “judge” them and instead said it’s God’s place to “punish” them.

    This is the reality of the attitudes in many parts of the world, folks, and on many issues beyond just being gay. Being gay is an executable crime in 11 countries in the world, 10 of which are predominantly Muslim (the exception being Uganda). Being athiest…not doing anything but just being atheist…is an executable crime in 13 countries, all of which are predominantly Muslim.

    In Saudi Arabia, “atheist thought in any form or calls into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based” is legally defined at terrorism. If you read that carefully you see that it can read to mean just about anyone other than Wahabbi Muslims.

    Someone needs to question these things, and preferably the people questioning them should be Muslim since non-Muslims questioning them has little effect on the people whose attitudes need changed.

    Five hundred years ago Christians were by and large crazy by current moral standards (and anyone that says “Well, they weren’t really Christian” is just being as silly as people that say the Orlando shooter wasn’t really Muslim). How did that change for the better? It wasn’t from non-Christians convincing Christians to change. And it wasn’t from Christians reading and following their holy books more literally to find the true path, which BTW is what ISIS is doing right now.

    It was from Christians using logic and reason to convince other Christians of what is the best way to live. That needs to happen today with Muslims. The event at the UU church the other day and the fundraisers various Muslim groups are doing now to raise money for the families of the Orlando victims are nice but they don’t do anything to decrease the chance of such events happening in the future.

    So yeah, don’t stereotype people but also don’t stop thinking. There is an expression that says “People have rights. Ideas don’t have rights.” I think that’s is a good maxim but if you don’t agree then keep in mind that means that you have to stop criticizing the ideas you don’t like.

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