Archive | February 2012

Muslim stereotypes and my experiences

A very good friend and I were discussing Muslim stereotypes. Ok, we were arguing about Muslim stereotypes. While I’m not going to relate the entire discussion here, I will just say it had to do with what proportion of Muslims are terrorists who want all Americans to die in a fire.

Over time, I realized that we were both arguing from our own personal experiences of encounters with Muslims. His as a soldier in Afghanistan, mine as a college student at the University of Oklahoma. If you consider that for a moment, I think you’ll see that our experiences of what is a “typical” Muslim were very different.

I won’t presume to tell all his stories, but I will concede that in his experience, he likely saw some of the worst of the worst and took that to heart as what all Muslims are about. The one story I remember most was when he first arrived, he started to step out when another soldier practically shoved him back inside. The soldier said to him, “If you go outside wearing that, they will kill you.” My friend realized that his companion was referring to cross he was wearing around his neck. And that was his first impression of the people of the Middle East.

I had a different experience.

As a pre-vet student at the University of Oklahoma, I took a LOT of science classes – tons of chemistry, of course life science stuff like zoology and cellular biology, and eight credit hours spread over two semesters of physics (actually, I think it might have been nine hours, I think there was a lab in there somewhere). Over those two semesters we covered everything from optics (which I loved) to rotational psychics (which I really hated), to quantum physics (which I find a bit silly)… force, mass, acceleration, vectors, particles and waves…. oh my!

Eventually, we formed a study group. We would get together a few times a week to work on our homework and study. This was an informal group that varied from five or six to over a dozen members. As you can imagine, if you spend several hours a week with a group of people over the course of a year, you can become quite comfortable with them.

Among this group were several young Muslim women. Only one of them wore a headscarf which covered her hair, ears, and neck. She dressed in western clothing, but was always completely covered – only her face and hands uncovered. She was smart and funny and just a joy to be around! The others didn’t really stand out at all from mainstream American society. They didn’t cover their hair, a couple of them dressed modestly, but most dressed just like the rest of the group. While we were mostly focused on our studies, we did talk about other things, and I learned more about Muslims than I’d ever known.

Prior to that study group, I assumed a lot of things. I thought that all Muslims were misogynistic and abusers. I thought they were all terrorists who wanted us dead. In fact, I believed a lot of the things I still see posted on facebook every day.

I learned that women are not required to wear the head scarf and that it is a personal choice (Yes, I know this is not true in Afghanistan). There is no dishonor in choosing not to wear it, but if a woman DOES chose to start wearing it, then it is a dishonor to stop.

I learned that when looking for something to eat at a convenience store, choosing Kosher food will meet Muslim dietary laws. That still strikes me as ironic.

I learned that they did wear swimming suits in the pool, even the girl who wore the scarf, but only in front of women or, if men were present only if the men were family.

I learned that even though they don’t celebrate Christmas, they were polite on the subject, would smile and say thank you if wished a Merry Christmas and would thoroughly enjoy a Christmas cookie!

I learned that 95% of the time… they were just like the rest of us, with the same concerns and goals.

The only thing that really jarred me happened one afternoon. The young woman who wore the scarf suddenly noticed the time and said she had to pray. She moved away from the group and knelt down. I needed to leave the room and walked along the wall to get out. She sat up abruptly and said to me, “Please don’t walk between me and the sun.” I laughed, because… because, well… it was so foreign to my experience that I assumed she was joking. For the first time since I’d known her, she spoke harshly to me and said, “I’m serious! Don’t walk between me and the sun when I’m praying.” I apologized, rather embarrassed, and then she was suddenly the sweet and funny girl I knew again. She apologized to me instead, said she should have found someplace more private anyway, and then found another place to pray.

We spent that entire fall and spring semester together, studying and chatting and learning about each other. Based on that interaction, I’m fairly confident they didn’t want me to die in a fiery explosion.

At the end of that semester, we were faced with a final that covered BOTH semesters. We were all concerned and stepped up our studying even more. The day of the final came, and a large group of us began the walk from our study cave to the final. There were over a dozen of us, about evenly split between the Muslim girls and… well… not-Muslim girls.

We were all so nervous, and during the course of that walk, three of the Muslim girls came to me and said, “I’m going to pray for you that you make an A” Not a single Christian, Jewish, or otherwise made a similar comment to me. I’ll never forget that.

    • I made an A.

I know that there are Muslim terrorists out there, I’m certainly not trying to deny that. Like most Americans I remember watching in horror as the towers came down, and I was every bit as angry as the rest of us when we learned how we’d been attacked.

But every time I hear someone claim that ALL Muslims are terrorists, that ALL Muslims want us dead… I remember those girls – worried about their own grades – coming to me to promise that they would pray for me. And I have to say, “No. Not ALL.”

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Why I quit discussing politics on Facebook

Apparently, some of the political discussions on my page are legendary. Some of my conversations on other pages are also legendary. Speaking for myself, I really enjoy a good debate on ideas.

However, I have given it up. No more diving into political debate on FB for me.

Why, you ask?

Reason one: The new uncivility

We live in the age of the new “uncivility.”

How I’d like to believe political debate works

How it really works

Me: If we can really teach these kids about how to avoid pregnancy, how to avoid STDs, then we’ll see less teen pregnancy, less abortion – which is something I’d think you’d be FOR – and fewer kids have their chance to pursue the American Dream taken away because of one teenage mistake. Me: If we can really teach these kids about how to avoid pregnancy, how to avoid STDs, then we’ll see less teen pregnancy, less abortion – which is something I’d think you’d be FOR – and fewer kids have their chance to pursue the American Dream taken away because of one teenage mistake.
You: These kids need to be taught abstinence! There’s simply no possibility of pregnancy, no possiblity of STD, and yes.. no possibility of abortion if they’re practicing abstinence. You: You and your liberal talking point. Why can’t you people see the truth and quit spouting your liberal poison?
Me: But surely you’ve seen the studies that show that in areas where only abstinence is taught that incidents of teen pregnancy and STDs are higher? How do you answer that? Me: Liberal talking points? I’m talking about kid’s lives here!
You: Kids are getting so many mixed messages, from TV and music, and yes… maybe even at home. We need to make the message even stronger to overcome the background noise promoting sexuality. The fact is, with abstinence, we don’t need to worry about those other problems at all. You: You liberals are just too idiotic to see the truth.
Me: I do see your point, but we do live in a world with these influences, and I think we need to teach our kids to live in the real world. Which includes real information about how to handle real problems. But, I can see you’re firm in your beliefs, so perhaps we should agree to disagree? Me: Idiotic? What the hell? Do you just not have a human bone left in your body?
You: I understand, but I continue to think that rather than accepting the world we live in, we should be trying to change it. Which is why I want to really try to get through to kids that they don’t have to act that way. But, yes.. let’s agree to disagree. You: Typical liberal bleeding heart BS. This is the problem with liberals. Unable to see the truth behind your ivory tower view of the world.

(I know what I’m about to do with pronouns is not grammatically correct, but I don’t want to give away the sex of the people involved, so I’m going to use bad grammar. Be assured, I will be wincing each time I time is use “their” when I should type “his” or “her.”

I have had a friend hide my posts on Facebook because that was the only way we could still be friends. This person simply couldn’t tolerate seeing my opinions. That fact that I could see their page and still felt able to be their friend… I guess they didn’t see any problem with that.

Another person “unfriended” me entirely, and at this point, I’m not really sure if we’re still friends in real life. This occurred after I was attacked for expressing a dissenting opinion on something they posted. When it was made clear that the only opinions welcomed were ones that agreed with the poster, I began posting my opinions on the subject on MY page. Apparently, that wasn’t allowed either.

And another actually made it to my block list (a very small list, he’s only the fourth person on it, the other three I have serious, long term reasons for having them there). Not only were his responses to me hateful and mean, they were generally in all caps and so poorly written as to be nearly illegible.

Another friend makes wild claims and then staunchly refuses to back them up.

And a couple of my friend have admitted that they make some posts specifically to irritate ME (it’s done in fun, not out of maliciousness, but still….)

Bottom line, for me, I love to DISCUSS things. I despise arguments which never address the subject at hand and turn immediately into personal attacks. Which is, for the most part, what political debate is now.

So, for the first time in my life, I am deliberately turning away from engaging in such discussions. I can’t promise I will never comment again – it’s possible my temper or my passion for certain subjects might overwhelm my goal. I will almost certainly continue to make the occasional post on my page, and when I do.. you are welcome to comment on it even if you disagree.

Reason two: The “Backfire effect”

The University of Michigan conducted several studies in ’05 and ’06 testing whether “facts” could change peoples mind. They found that when “people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs.” Facts were not only not changing peoples minds, they were in fact, reinforcing the belief the facts countered. From the Boston Globe.

What I consider to be the best recent example of this is the release of President Obama’s full birth certificate. While those of us who thought the Birther movement was just about the stupidest thing anyone could waste their time pursuing, Birther’s themselves instead promptly declared it a forgery and became even more convinced of their beliefs.

In other words, no amount of fact, proof, careful reasoning, appeal to sanity… is ever going to change anyone’s mind on their strongly held beliefs. It’s a complete waste of time to even try. The best argument I can make is only going to cause you to dig yourself deeper into your bunker.

And, to be honest… yes, the same is true of me as well (just in case you thought I was claiming to be the one human alive who wasn’t like this.)

Bottom line… arguing on FB doesn’t accomplish a thing, irritates me, has possibly cost me one friend and reduced my contact with another, and caused me to completely cut off contact with another.

So, it is my goal to be done with it. Now, we’ll just have to see if my temper allows me to keep my goal.

ADDENDUM:Because of some of the examples used, some people have interpreted this to mean that I’m blaming one side of the political debate. I’m not. The title of this post is NOT “How those mean conservatives chased me off Facebok.” I used examples of actual things that had been said to me, but this is not an attack on one side. It’s a statement of frustration with our political environment.