Fall Difficult Dialogues forum, “Muslim Americans in Dialogue Since 9/11”
Posted: October 31, 2011
“What positive growth has the Muslim American community experienced since 9/11? In what areas in the Muslim American community is the most critical work needed today?” These were two of the questions Maria Curtis, professor of anthropology and cross-cultural studies at the University of Houston at Clear Lake, posed to the panel brought together for the Fall Difficult Dialogues forum, “Muslim Americans in Dialogue Since 9/11.” In addition to Dr. Curtis, the panel included Güner Arslan, founding member of the Institute for Interfaith Dialog in Austin; Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Houston branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations; Faegheh Shirazi, professor in the UT Department of Middle Eastern Studies; and Amy Schweiss, a UT graduate student in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies.
For the first hour, the audience of UT students and community members listened to the panel’s responses to Dr. Curtis’s questions. Dr. Arslan opened the discussion by describing his experiences as a Turkish Muslim graduate student at UT. Realizing that he was often the first Muslim other students had encountered, he became convinced that “bringing people together” was the key to combating stereotypes and ignorance. If people can “attach a face” to a religious practice or ethnic group, it “acts as a filter to overcome prejudice. Dr. Shirazi countered that in her experience, education and personal relationships are not enough: “people have to be willing to change.” The focus on Western culture that characterizes most US schools narrows students’ perspectives. “Stereotypes exist all around,” from the movies to news sources; education needs to begin earlier. In response, Mr. Carroll stated that you cannot always predict what experiences or information changes a person’s mind. “How many times have people planted something in our minds, and it takes three or four years for it to grow?” He also asserted that Muslim Americans should attend to “ethnic and sectarian issues” within their own communities. “We are not leveraging our diversity,” he stated, citing the need for Muslims to work on issues of gender equity and coalition building. Ms. Schweiss echoed the need to emphasize the diversity of the Muslim community, not only in the United States, but globally: “It’s not all one practice.” She paid particular attention to Muslim American youth, who are growing up after 9/11, an event that occurred when they were still children.
Following the panel’s remarks, the audience divided into small discussion groups, each led by one of the panelists. Each panelist participated in two roundtables. This gave participants the opportunity to ask questions and engage in conversation with the panelists and with each other. According to evaluations received at the event, audience members in particular found the group discussions valuable. “I actually really enjoyed the discussion portion, when we got to ask our own questions, and I liked listening to what questions the other people had, and the answers to them,” wrote one student.
Click the image below to view more photos from this event.
Difficult Dialogues sponsors one public forum each semester. The next forum will be in March 2012.