25 August 2010

Teaching Citizenship: We have to do better. Part II

As a follow up to my recent "Teaching Citizenship" post, I want to share a few important resources, and to repeat Mayor Michael Bloomberg's[1] remarks at the Gracie Mansion Ramadan Dinner.

I do believe that, in many ways, the argument over the Park51 Cultural Center is a struggle over the very definition of democracy. Can, as in California, the "majority" vote away the rights of a minority? This is the question, and an odd coalition, including the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, opportunistic right-wing politicians, Manhattan's Catholic Archbishop[2], and a blind African-American Governor, have joined together to say that irrational "majority" fears trump individual and small group rights.

As the Toronto Globe and Mail notes, this is a serious failure of critical thinking skills (thanks to George Couros for this piece).
"They and their ilk have behaved completely contrary to the tenets of critical thinking: Using a few selective passages from the Koran, they have incited fear, generalized and tarred every Muslim living in the U.S. and the West.

“I do believe everybody has a right to freedom of religion,” declared Diana Serafin, one of the protesters in Temecula, a small city between Los Angeles and San Diego. “But Islam is not about religion. It’s a political government and it’s 100 per cent against our Constitution.”

"Such a statement is tailor-made for the classroom. There are many holes in Ms. Serafin’s viewpoint, which ignores the fact that most North American Muslims are assimilated and have absolutely no intention of taking over the U.S. government in the name of their religion. They are loyal Americans and Canadians who cherish the freedoms in the countries they have adopted or been born into, no different than their non-Muslim neighbours.

"From a critical thinking perspective, Ms. Serafin has made a classic leap in logic. The media have reported (and frequently sensationalized) a handful of serious incidents in which American, British and Canadian Muslims have indeed embraced jihadism. But any Grade 11 student could argue that it is intellectually dishonest to make sweeping statements against all Muslims."
As you bring this into your classroom, you may want to prepare with Alan Shapiro's Teaching on Controversial Issues as well as his Teaching Critical Thinking. And then you may want to post this list: 
Samad Afridi
Ashraf Ahmad
Shabbir Ahmad (45 years old; Windows on the World; leaves wife and 3 children)
Umar Ahmad
Azam Ahsan
Ahmed Ali
Tariq Amanullah (40 years old; Fiduciary Trust Co.; ICNA website team member; leaves wife and 2 children)
Touri Bolourchi (69 years old; United Airlines #175; a retired nurse from Tehran)
Salauddin Ahmad Chaudhury
Abdul K. Chowdhury (30 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald)
Mohammad S. Chowdhury (39 years old; Windows on the World; leaves wife and child born 2 days after the attack)
Jamal Legesse Desantis
Ramzi Attallah Douani (35 years old; Marsh & McLennan)
SaleemUllah Farooqi
Syed Fatha (54 years old; Pitney Bowes)
Osman Gani
Mohammad Hamdani (50 years old)
Salman Hamdani (NYPD Cadet)
Aisha Harris (21 years old; General Telecom)
Shakila Hoque (Marsh & McLennan)
Nabid Hossain
Shahzad Hussain
Talat Hussain
Mohammad Shah Jahan (Marsh & McLennan)
Yasmeen Jamal
Mohammed Jawarta (MAS security)
Arslan Khan Khakwani
Asim Khan
Ataullah Khan
Ayub Khan
Qasim Ali Khan
Sarah Khan (32 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald)
Taimour Khan (29 years old; Karr Futures)
Yasmeen Khan
Zahida Khan
Badruddin Lakhani
Omar Malick
Nurul Hoque Miah (36 years old)
Mubarak Mohammad (23 years old)
Boyie Mohammed (Carr Futures)
Raza Mujtaba
Omar Namoos
Mujeb Qazi
Tarranum Rahim
Ehtesham U. Raja (28 years old)
Ameenia Rasool (33 years old)
Naveed Rehman
Yusuf Saad
Rahma Salie & unborn child (28 years old; American Airlines #11; wife of Michael Theodoridis; 7 months pregnant)
Shoman Samad
Asad Samir
Khalid Shahid (25 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald; engaged to be married in November)
Mohammed Shajahan (44 years old; Marsh & McLennan)
Naseema Simjee (Franklin Resources Inc.'s Fiduciary Trust)
Jamil Swaati
Sanober Syed
Robert Elias Talhami (40 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald)
Michael Theodoridis (32 years old; American Airlines #11; husband of Rahma Salie)
W. Wahid

This is a list of the Muslim victims of the World Trade Center attacks - and one of these names belonged to an old friend of mine. So, to me, yes... this is somewhat personal. But it is an important list for your students to see, because it reminds us of how our collective memory is often constructed in exclusionary ways, where we have distinct villains and distinct heroes. Of course, humanity is more complicated than that[3], and so is democracy.

So please, do not avoid this subject when you meet your classes this year... engage it, struggle with it, contextualize it, most importantly, force your students to struggle with it. We will be a better society for your efforts.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg - 24 August 2010 (click for pdf download)
“Well, good evening, and Ramadan Kareem, and I want to welcome everyone to our annual Ramadan Iftar at Gracie Mansion.
   “We call this ‘The People’s House,’ because it belongs to all 8.4 million New Yorkers who call this city home. And people of every race and religion, every background and belief. And we celebrate that diversity here in this house with gatherings like this one.
   “And for me, whether it’s marking St. Patrick’s Day or Harlem Week or any other occasion, these gatherings are always a powerful reminder of what makes our city so strong and our country so great.
   “You know, America is a nation of immigrants, and I think it’s fair to say no place opens its doors more widely to the world than New York City. America is the land of opportunity, and I think it’s fair to say no place offers its residents more opportunity to pursue their dreams than New York City. And America is a beacon of freedom, and I think it’s fair to say no place defends those freedoms more fervently, or has been attacked for those freedoms more ferociously, than New York City.
   “In recent weeks, a debate has arisen that I believe cuts to the core of who we are as a city and a country. The proposal to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan has created a national conversation on religion in America, and since Ramadan offers a time for reflection, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on that very subject.
   “There are people of good will on both sides of the debate, and I would hope that everyone can carry on a dialogue in a civil and respectful way. In fact, I think most people now agree on two fundamental issues: First, that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan and second, that the site of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. And the only question we face is: how do we honor that hallowed ground?
   “The wounds of 9/11 are still very much with us. And I know that is true for Talat Hamdani, who is here with us tonight, and who lost her son, Salman Hamdani, on 9/11. There will always be a hole in our hearts for the men and women who perished that day.
   “After the attacks, some argued – including some of those who lost loved ones – that the entire site should be reserved for a memorial. But we decided – together, as a city – that the best way to honor all those we lost, and to repudiate our enemies, was to build a moving memorial and to rebuild the site.
   “We wanted the site to be an inspiring reminder to the world that this city will never forget our dead and never stop living. We vowed to bring Lower Manhattan back – stronger than ever – as a symbol of our defiance and I think it’s fair to say we have. Today, it is more of a community neighborhood than ever before, with more people than ever living, working, playing and praying there.
   “But if we say that a mosque or a community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.
   “We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.
   “Islam did not attack the World Trade Center – Al-Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great religion is unfair and un-American. Today we are not at war with Islam – we are at war with Al-Qaeda and other extremists who hate freedom.
   “At this very moment, there are young Americans – some of them Muslims – standing freedoms’ watch in Iraq and Afghanistan, and around the world. A couple here tonight, Sakibeh and Asaad Mustafa, have children who have served our country overseas and after 9/11, one of them aided in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. And I’d like to ask them to stand, so we can show our appreciation. There you go. Thank you.
   “The members of our military are men and women at arms – battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values, which have already inspired people around the world. If we do not practice here at home what we preach abroad – if we do not lead by example – we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.
   “In a different era, with different international challenges facing the country, President Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, explained to Congress why it is so important for us to live up to our ideals here at home. Dean Rusk said, ‘The United States is widely regarded as the home of democracy and the leader of the struggle for freedom, for human rights, for human dignity. We are expected to be the model.’
   “We are expected to be the model. Nearly a half-century later, his words remain true. In battling our enemies, we cannot rely entirely on the courage of our soldiers or the competence of our diplomats. We all have to do our part.
   “Just as we fought communism by showing the world the power of free markets and free elections, so must we fight terrorism by showing the world the power of religious freedom and cultural tolerance. Freedom and tolerance will always defeat tyranny and terrorism – and that’s the great lesson of the 20th century, and we must not abandon it here in the 21st.
   “Now I understand the impulse to find another location for the mosque and community center. I understand the pain of those who are motivated by loss too terrible to contemplate. And there are people of every faith – including, perhaps, some in this room – who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate.
   “But it won’t. The question will then become, how big should the ‘no-mosque zone’ be around the World Trade Center site? There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it be moved?
   “This is a test of our commitment to American values. We have to have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy. And we must put our faith in the freedoms that have sustained our great country for more than 200 years.
   “Now, I know that many in this room are disturbed and dispirited by the debate. But it’s worth keeping some perspective on the matter. The first colonial settlers came to these shores seeking religious liberty and the founding fathers wrote a constitution that guaranteed it. They made sure that in this country government would not be permitted to choose between religions or favor one over another.
   “Nonetheless, it was not so long ago that Jews and Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them with suspicion and less than fully American. In 1960, many Americans feared that John F. Kennedy would impose papal law on America. But through his example, he taught us that piety to a minority religion is no obstacle to patriotism. It is a lesson I think that needs updating today, and it is our responsibility to accept the challenge.
   “Before closing, let me just add one final thought: Imam Rauf, who is now overseas promoting America and American values, has been put under a media microscope. Each of us may strongly agree or strongly disagree with particular statements that he has made. And that’s how it should be – this is New York City.
   “And while a few of his statements have received a lot of attention, I would like to read you something that he said that you may not have heard. At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, quote, ‘If to be a Jew means to say with all one's heart, mind, and soul: Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad; Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one.’
   "He then continued to say, ‘If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one.’
   “In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs of New York City that is off limits to any religion.
   “By affirming that basic idea, we will honor America’s values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city in the world. Thank you and enjoy.”
- Ira Socol

[1] You know I'm no fan of Bloomberg, especially on all things education, but he has been the one consistent true American leader on this issue.
[2] Doesn't this prove the failure of the Catholic hierarchy during the Holocaust? If a local archbishop can sell out a minority religion's rights so easily... http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/pius.html 
[3] As the controversy over the "9/11 Gap Looting" suggests http://college.cengage.com/psychology/resources/students/shelves/shelves_20021016.html

2 comments:

Amy Bowllan said...

Thank you for putting these important posts together. And YES, we MUST do better. We must. We must! The list of Muslim victims...I had no idea.

Intrepid Flame said...

I was very surprised by Bloombergs great response to this issue. he nailed it on the Daily Show the other night as well:

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-august-26-2010/michael-bloomberg?xrs=share_copy