Saturday, December 15, 2012

Enough is Enough!

I've stared at the blinking cursor trying to decide if I wanted to write about the tragedy that took place in Newtown, Connecticut yesterday. And I am left with emptiness. What can I say? I am devastated and heartbroken over the senseless loss of life that took place early yesterday. 20 children, most of them kindergarteners, lost their lives. and another handful of adults who were tasked with protecting them.

Not to mention the family of the gunman: His mother. His father. His brother.

And the gunman himself.

Yesterday, too many lives were lost. And thinking about the senseless act, it makes me heartsick.

So now, I write. And my readers (if there are even readers in the first place), will probably question what place this post has in a blog about prejudice and discrimination? And at first I didn't see a link, I was just compelled to write. To share my thoughts. And to think through my fingertips.

And then it came to me. This has everything to do with prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice and discrimination begin with the simple act of labeling. We all label things as we see them, it makes it easier for our pattern-oriented brains to understand the world around us. The problem is when we create labels and classify things but fail to see beyond the labels and classifications that we have applied.

In the next few days (and even right now, less than 24 hours since the shooting), we will hear people try to apply all sorts of labels to the gunman who stormed into Shady Brook Elementary School. People will label him as sick. People will label him as a psycho. People will label him as a murderer. People will label him as all sorts of things. In this post I have even contributed to this labeling problem by calling him the "gunman," instead of by using his name. And right now, while all of those labels appear to be true and appropriate, we cannot forget that they are labels that make it convenient to forget to be compassionate toward one another.

I am not suggesting that these labels aren't appropriate. And I am not saying that we are wrong in using them. I want to use all of those words, plus a bunch of foul four letter words that slither off my tongue and maybe even create some new combinations that might make my mother blush. This man committed an atrocious crime, doesn't he deserve all of the horrible names that people would sling toward his memory?

Part of me says yes. And another part of me says no. The emotional part of me screams YES! The rational, academic says hold on a sec...

The gunman, or rather, the "gunboy" (because he wasn't even old enough to legally drink yet and was in those awkward years between teenager and adult when you aren't quite a child and not quite a man), was more than just a combination of labels that describe the acts that he committed in New Jersey and Connecticut. And we would be doing ourselves a great disservice to forget that in our rush to blame and shame. I don't know all of the particulars, but I feel pretty safe in assuming that he was a loved baby, that as an teen someone truly loved him, and he was probably capable of tenderness and love in at least one area of his life. He had hobbies. He had passions. He probably had about a million friends on facebook, and a dozen friends he saw regularly. He was more than just a gunboy. He, too, was someone's child.

In the next few days people are going to come out of the woodwork claiming that he was mentally ill, or that he was psychotic, or a sociopath. And while these labels are all fine and dandy, what do they really accomplish? They don't undo the loss of life. They don't protect lives in the future. They don't keep this kind of crap from happening again in another sleepy, unsuspecting community. These labels serve to placate US. Those who sit on the sidelines with no real stake in the game. The families will be left to grieve and mourn on their own, while the labels only serve to comfort US.

If we don't get past these labels, we cannot get to the root of the problem. OK, so he might have been sick. Short of institutionalizing everyone who is mentally ill (which I would never advocate for as our history has already proven this to be quite problematic), what could we have done to prevent this from happening? This is not just the issue of one gunboy going into a school and killing a bunch of children. This has been an ongoing issue that has been increasing in frequency for decades. Something is wrong in our culture that is allowing it to happen. So what is wrong?

Some are going to say it is guns, actually a lot of people are going to say it is a gun problem. They'll say we need more. They'll say we need less. They'll say a million things. But again, that is the easy label. We look for blame. We want to make it easy to understand. Because if we focus on the guns themselves, we don't have to look in the mirror and consider how we contribute (either knowingly or unknowingly) to the problem ourselves.

Yesterday, we were all members of the Newtown community. Yesterday, we were all part of the problem. Today, lets all be part of the solution. We each have a responsibility. It is time to say enough lives have been lost. It is time to look in the mirror and ask the tough questions.

What can I do to help solve this problem?

Enough is enough.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Presentation at UMass-Boston October 2012

On October 19-20, 2012, I traveled to Boston MA to present at the UMass Conflict Studies Conference.

My presentation specifically discussed a phenomenological research project that I conducted which is titled "Understanding the Experiences of Female American Converts to Islam Post-September 11, 2001."

The purpose of this research was to describe and understand the experience of what it means to be a female American convert to Islam in Post-9/11 America. The American female convert to Islam was defined as a female living in the United States who practiced any religion other than Islam but who has converted to Islam. The term Post-9/11 America refers to not only the physical location of the United States, but also the cultural climate and attitudes that have taken hold since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Female American participants were over the age of 18, were born in the United States, practiced religions other than Islam prior to converting to Islam, and converted after September 11, 2001.

This will be the first time I have ever presented this type of research, and basically, the first time I have been able to gather constructive feedback and criticism of my work in a topic area which will soon become my dissertation.

My dear friend Kacey took video of my presentation which you can see here, and while the video ends shortly before the end of my presentation, and the sound is very low quality, I think it might be valuable to anyone interested in learning more about this topic.

If you watch this video, you will see that part of my research method required that I disclose a number of things about myself that could be indicative of bias, and one of those things I had to disclose was my research for the original Exploring Prejudice Project. While I am always ready, willing and able to discuss the project that led to my book, and everything that happened to me in that awesome journey, I have to admit that I was a little frustrated that the dialogue that began during the Q & A session appeared to be more focused on my own experiences doing the Exploring Prejudice Project, and less focused of the specific research that I was presenting.

Presenting was bittersweet. I was presenting something I worked hard on, and something that I believe in, yet something was off. I was forced into the spotlight, when really I should have been waiting in the wings.

The young women that I worked with for my research had incredible experiences and stories to tell. I told these stories and focused on them during my presentation, yet something was off. What could I have said or done differently? How could I have ensured that people focused on the stars in the show, not just the supporting actor? Yes, it was my paper, but I shouldn't have been the star. It wasn't my story, I was just the medium for relaying it.

I feel deep in my core that there is a value to bringing forth these stories, and worked hard to ensure that their voices were both being spoken in the narrative of the research, as well as being heard during the presentation... yet it didn't go as planned.

Certainly, I recognize that I have an interesting story to tell. But so do these women. And I want to help them in any way that I can. My story should never overshadow theirs. I wore a scarf to see what it felt like. These women chose a faith based on convictions, and they wore a scarf to represent those convictions. THEIR story trumps mine, any day.

Monday, October 1, 2012

It has been awhile...

Hi everyone,

I feel like such a slacker. So I created this website with the intent of keeping folks abreast of the important research I have been involved with in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, exploring various aspects of prejudice and discrimination on local, national and global scales.

But alas, as is often the case, life had other plans for me, and this blog has fallen to the wayside. I figured, if I pay for this website, I really should be using it to further my agenda. In doing this, I must get on the ball and talk about the things that are important... focusing on how we can create a new awareness and facilitate positive dialogue, transforming the dominant discourse into one that is accepting and inclusive.

I have a lot of really neat discussions to bring to the blogosphere, so please stay tuned. It is going to be a bumpy ride, I am sure, but lets hold on and travel together!

In the meantime, let me share some good news.

I have been accepted to present at the UMass Conflict Studies conference in Boston, MA on October 19-20, 2012. Over 150 graduate students from around the world submitted papers for presentation at this prestigious conference, and mine was chosen as one of 80 approved presentations. I will be participating in a panel titled "Women and Conflict" with students from St. John's University, Columbia, University of Denver, and University of San Diego.

In this presentation, I will be discussing a phenomenological research project that I conducted which is titled "Understanding the Experiences of Female American Converts to Islam Post-September 11, 2001." The purpose of this research was to describe and understand the experience of what it means to be a female American convert to Islam in Post-9/11 America. The American female convert to Islam was defined as a female living in the United States who practiced any religion other than Islam but who has converted to Islam. The term Post-9/11 America refers to not only the physical location of the United States, but also the cultural climate and attitudes that have taken hold since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Female American participants were over the age of 18, were born in the United States, practiced religions other than Islam prior to converting to Islam, and converted after September 11, 2001.

This will be the first time I have ever presented this type of research, and I am looking forward to this opportunity.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Girl in Niqab (bikinis or burkinis, its her CHOICE)

I am in close contact with a young woman who studies at a major university and who happens to dress in niqab. When she and I first met, I told her a bit about the exploring prejudice project and she suggested that I wear Niqab and see how this is different from what I experiences in hijab. (For clarification, in layman's terms, niqab would be the type of covering that only exposes the eyes)

When I first told my friend about my project, and asked her about what it is like to wear niqab all the time, she said that she is lucky. Because the university she attends (and her place of business) are so multi-cultural, she says that her experiences have not been so bad. She says that she gets strange looks from people sometimes, but nothing much more than that.

I can't tell you much more about my friend for fear that I will violate her rights to privacy. I have asked her permission to write this blog entry, but I'd still like to protect her autonomy. That being said, she has had a rough couple of days.

She works with a woman who is French and who has been making her feel increasingly uncomfortable in the office. This French woman said a number of things to my friend which were off color but recently this woman crossed a line. She explained to my friend, in front of the rest of their co-workers about how awful niqab is, how it objectifies women, how it is being forced on women, and how right France was to recently ban its wearing.

my friend responded to her much more kindly than I would have, given the circumstances. My friend told this woman that maybe someday France will have a truly free democracy where everyone has the right to decide for themselves what to wear, and how they feel comfortable. This woman basically walked away with her tail between her legs. But the story continues. Later this woman pressed the issue and asked ignorant questions about the reasons for covering oneself, including suggesting that my friend just wear street clothes with a transparant cloth over her. This woman suggested that my friend would then still be covered, and yet other people wouldnt be offended by having to see a woman wearing niqab.

A number of my friend's co-workers were uncomfortable by the whole situation. They all know that my friend is a convert to Islam and has not always dressed this way. They know that this is a personal CHOICE and that she is not being forced into dressing this way by anyone. They also know that just as we each choose what to wear in the morning, so does my friend. should she be offered any less respect?

Of course I am abbreviating the story a bit, and I am sure I am going to have left things out, but bear with me.

Anyway, this morning, this French woman brought in an article that my friend helped write for her university newspaper where she was talking about a recent guest lecture given by an Iranian woman who was anti-niqab. The student paper asked to speak with my friend because they wanted someone to add a little pro-niqab spin to the story. Basically, my friend blasted this Iranian woman because she felt this is just another way that people were trying to take away her rights. My friend's side of the story was basically that women should have to CHOOSE their garb (whether it be bikinis or burkinis).

When she brought the article in this morning, the French woman basically talked to everyone but my friend about the article and how wrong my friend is and how oppressed she is and how wrong the niqab is. My friend's coworkers filed formal complaints with their management.

And there is more.

This afternoon, I was sitting at a picnic table with my friend today and she stepped away from me to take a phone call. I watched a group of undergraduate aged boys walking up the path towards us. They started staring and gesticulating towards my friend and saying things like "oh, look at that freak" etc. She later told me that the other day while at the health services center on campus, an employee (speaking Spanish) called her a ninja. She thinks the employee said this assuming that she wouldn't understand Spanish, but WRONG. My friend's native language IS Spanish! My friend had to file a formal complaint with the employee's supervisor.

2 formal complaints in as many days.

I love my friend and worry about how she deals with this. It can't be easy dressing this way, but it is her choice and she should be commended for having strength in the face of adversity.

I chose to wear hijab for this project, but I also chose to take it off. Now, I will be choosing to wear Niqab. I don't have a start date yet for the next phase of this project, so stay tuned.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The things we can learn from others:

I find myself sitting here at my computer with a LOT to say, yet I dont know where to start. Everything that I can think of to write about seems so trivial... particularly in light of what is going on right now in Egypt. But maybe that is a starting point for me to use to talk today. When information started leaking into the US, people immediately began to think that there would be fuel added to the fire due to ongoing religious tension between Christians and Muslim, particularly between Coptic Christians and Muslims.

I have to admit, that this was one of the fears that I had, but I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised. During the middle of this uprising, I saw one of the coolest things I had ever seen.

This past Sunday, after the media was already pulled out of Egypt for fear that they would be targeted by the government as well as protesters, images were leaked to the mainstream public using spoofed IP addresses off of internationally registered sim cards in camera phones. This was the ONLY way these photos could spread globally, because the Egyptian government had already cut off all internet and news media that was not giving the Mubarak approved messages to the masses.

Regardless, on Sunday, photos were made global in which Muslims created a safe passage to the churches for the local Christians to have easier access to their house of worship on their holy day of the week. These Muslims lined the streets to keep governmental military from injuring the Christian worshippers, and to keep them from being victim to other violence as the protests grew out of control.

Immediately after these images were released, Someone sent me the above photo which pictures Egyptian men holding hands around a group of Muslims as they made their Salaah (their five daily prayers). For Muslims, praying in a public place which is growing increasingly hostile can be life threatening as they are required to perform a series of movements including standing with the eyes closed, bowing, kneeling and then kneeling with their faces touching the floor (which would leave them particularly vulnerable to attack from hostile people). During the many prayers that Muslims were doing during the day, Christians would encircle these people, hold hands and form a human barricade to protect the Muslims during their rituals.

How cool is that? Christians protecting Muslim during prayer, Muslims protecting Christians during prayer? seriously too cool!

How many times have I heard that the Muslim World could learn a lot from the Western world? How often have people told me that Muslims (and Arabs in general) have so much catching up to do if they want to be "less barbaric" and as "civilized" as the Western World?

In response to these recent photos that are circulating worldwide, I cant help but ask this in return: perhaps there is something HUGE here that we can learn from the people of Egypt. If the people of the Middle East are supposedly so uncivilized, why (in the middle of one of the largest uprisings of our time), are Christians going out of their way to protect and show their love for one another? Wouldn't it be amazing if American Christians, Muslims and Jews could get along like this???

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Interesting message i received

One of the things that I think is really important about this project was that it sparked dialogue. Although I no longer dress in hijab, the fact that I chronicled my experiences on the internet through YouTube and Facebook, the comments still continue to pour in, and I continue to receive comments on a daily basis.

One recent comment really struck me as interesting, and with this young woman's permission I have included the comment here. She had previously commented to me that, as a Muslim woman, she had not really had much experience with prejudice or discrimination... but my videos somehow helped open her eyes to what was going on around her a bit more.

On November 17, 2010, she wrote:

" I remember commenting the other day saying that I had never noticed the prejudice for wearing my hijab. I guess your videos kinda opened my eyes wider into it. Today (on November 17, 2010), I went to Walmart in Covington, GA for lunch at the Subway. I've been there before with my hijab on, but today I actually noticed the judgmental eyes of hate and actually scared me, especially while I was eating lunch and this one man stared with such hate in his eyes. I guess the simple smile I always show to people goes unnoticed with a hijab on. Only one person there was friendly to me, and I forever thank and cherish her kindness. Thank you so much for opening my eyes to my surroundings :)"

Thank you for sharing with me, and thank you for allowing me to share with my followers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Presentation for Henniker Rotary Club

The other day, I was lucky enough to have presented this project to the Henniker Rotary Club in Henniker, NH. While I was excited to present, I found myself to be incredibly underprepared to talk to this population.

Perhaps it was that my mother has been a long term member of this Rotary Club, but for some reason, I was terrified with every word that came out of my mouth that I would offend someone, which would ultimately lead to impacting the relationship that my mother had been cultivating for years. I had never felt this way in front of a group before. It was like walking on eggshells.

For the first time since starting this project, I was legitimately worried about the implications of sharing this project with people, and for that reason I toned down my presentation a bit more than I normally would have. I was afraid of how people in this community would take to my bringing this project to them, and discussing some of the things I would normally pull into a discussion.

I dont have much more to say on this topic, other than the fact that the presentation was a bomb. Not all presentations can go well though. Next time I will have to think about the potential audience a bit more before hand. I didnt even think this would have happened before hand. I am such an opinionated and vocal person, I never thought an audience like this would stump me.

Now I know. And knowing is half the battle...