The Bottomless Cup

Category: Interfaith Dialog

Can Global Awareness Solve Today’s Problems?

Before I start blogging again, I would like to take a moment to apologize to those few who read my blog, and look forward to my posts. Sorry for not being regular – I was suffering from writer’s block. However, I hope I’m back again, doing what I love – write.  

The founder of the “One World Youth Project” (OWYP) was on campus, to kick of the International Education Week in Education City. As evident from some of my previous posts, I wonder what the recipe for world peace would be. I understand that it can obviously not be achieved in absolute terms, but I do believe that we can at least reduce, instead of increase, violence, hatred and intolerance. And here I look at Education City, a microcosm of what can go right in this world. It makes you realize that ignorance is our biggest enemy, and this ignorance has nothing to do with traditional education, it is ignorance in understanding the world.

Clearly, we can’t make everyone in the world have an international experience like we do in Education City, nor can we make everyone travel the world. However, what we can do is bring a slice of the world into the lives of every single person on this earth, especially those living in secluded societies.  OWYP aims to include cultural competence into the curriculum of all high school children, so that they can realize our shared humanities and make life choices accordingly. It aims to allow global conversations between schools from different cultures so that they can learn and appreciate each other. It’s a fact that regular teachers do not have the time, resources or the support to pull this off. As Jess said, we are not able to to keep up with the rate of globalization. Even though technology has allowed us to come closer in many ways, our minds have not yet adapted to this change. The activities that OWYP does is very similar to what we did during our visit to City High.

I myself have seen how cultural incompetence can lead to intolerance, be it in the east or the west. For instance, I am surprised when a lot of people tell me not to “trust” Americans by educated Pakistanis. Furthermore, I believe that terrorism exists because certain societies have no window to the outside world. On the other hand, I read disturbing posts by literate Americans who think that we “deserved” the floods that killed and affected million of poor, innocent Pakistanis. The fact is that war exists because there is public opinion backing it, and this is what OWYP aims to change for the generations that will replace current policy makers.

For more information on the One World Youth Project, visit their blog at http://owyp.wordpress.com/

The Muslim Pacifist & The Need for Reverse Empathy

Right when I was telling her I was a Muslim, I could sense confusion in her eyes, because we really clicked as friends. She mustered up the courage to say “I find something disturbingly wrong in your religion.”. I could identify with her, for being enclosed in a bubble that is America, where the freedom of press has ironically lead to a very one-dimensional image of the Islamic world, she felt what many uninformed Americans felt but didn’t have the courage to say. I responded by saying “If I were you, I would have probably felt the same way.” I meant it. At the same time, I was determined to prove her wrong.

Therein lay my idea of how interfaith peace can be achieved. Muslims often respond to statements made about Islam being aggressive by being aggressive themselves and hence tarnishing the image of Islam as a very peaceful religion. When we expect people of other faiths to empathize with us, we need to empathize with them as well. Just like the common citizens of any country, the ordinary person in America has very limited international exposure, and often relies on the television as his or her window to the world. When they see the anti-Muslim sentiments and the terrorism around the world, they react, like any rational human being, with anger.

In case you are new to my blog, I’ll let you know that I went for a cultural exchange to America for 10 days in the spring, where we met a group of students from an American Charter High School called “City High”. These were a group of very bright students with a very limited exposure to the rest of the world. We were there to do a “Cultural Show and Tell” of sorts, where we sat as a Panel in front of a group of around 100 inquisitive students and gave them the freedom to ask us anything about our religion and culture. Some interesting questions were “What is the general perception of Americans in the Middle East? Is it negative?” and “Do you invite American intervention?”. We were blunt and said that it is negative, but only because we struggle to differentiate between the American people and the American Policy makers (just like they fail to differentiate between a Muslim and an Islamic extremists). American Intervention is welcomed, but in the fields of Education, Development and Economics, but not when it comes to national security. As they nodded with agreement and a gave out a big smile , these kids made me proud and gave me hope of a brighter future for interfaith peace.

I realized I have become what is popularly known as Islamic Pacifist where I fight for my religion, but with words, ideas and exemplary behavior instead of anger and aggression. I bear in mind that America is still perhaps the most welcoming nation in the world when it comes to accepting minorities.

I am sure many would disagree and say that I reacted softly, but when you look at people like Arslan Iftikhar (A Muslim-American Pacifist Lawyer fighting for the rights of Muslims in America), you will realize the power of pacifism when it comes to bridging the gaps between faiths. Unfortunately, Pakistan has its own checkered record when it comes to accepting its Christian minority. Its interesting how we barely discuss this.

We can achieve a lot if we show some empathy when we expect empathy.