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A Critical Look at Multiculturalism and Islam

2012 February 6

Islamic Chair of Peace Dove

By Audra Gustin

It is said in the Qur’an that different tribes were created so that we would get to know each other.

On February 1st, Professor Abdul Aziz Said opened with this anecdote to introduce a panel on Islam, Policy and the Changing Doctrine of Multiculturalism: How Countries are Understanding their New Sense of Pluralism. He suggested that the narrative of confrontation between Islam and the West could be transformed.

The panel started off with Peter Mandaville, Director of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University, who discussed how, prior to 2001, Muslims were identified on the basis of ethnicity and not on the basis of religion.

After 9/11 and subsequent terrorist activities in Europe, the issue was reframed as a security concern. Islamophobia then came to define European identity: to be European meant “not Muslim,” he said. Addressing the Muslim population as a whole became a public policy focus, which Mandaville said leads to poor policy. Although Muslims are not a monolithic group, speaking about and collecting data on “Muslims” furthers the idea that it is a uniform group and that their religious identity is the most important factor.

Fathali M. Moghaddam, Professor of Psychology and Director of Georgetown’s Conflict Resolution Program, spoke against the concept of multiculturalism as an effective strategy to integrate immigrants and other minority groups. Multiculturalism is based on the idea that helping different cultural groups gain confidence in their heritage will lead to openness and acceptance of others.

Instead, Moghaddam proposed the concept of “omniculturalism,” in which people are taught that everyone is a human being and should be respected as such. It is only after this concept is solidified that group differences should be taught. Through this approach, using group identity to identify and exclude ‘others’ can be avoided. “When killing takes place,” Moghaddam explained, “it doesn’t take place physically first. It occurs mentally.”

Corey Saylor, Director of Government Affairs of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, pointed to media as a factor exacerbating Muslim-Western tensions. They tend to showcase individuals like Osama bin Laden, rather than fostering reasonable discussion.

SFCG’s own Partners in Humanity Program  aims to use media in a more productive manner by changing the way individuals think and feel about the issues, stereotypes and tensions that hinder Muslim-Western relations and to facilitate action that demonstrates understanding and trust.

Check out the Common Ground News Service for articles that present constructive ideas, offer solutions, humanize the other, offer hope and/or shed light on a variety of issues in Muslim-Western relations.

Audra Gustin, a student of intercultural communication, is finishing her M.A. in International Communication from American University. She is currently an intern with SFCG’s Communications Department in Washington, DC.

One Response leave one →
  1. March 24, 2012

    Islam is the religion of peace and dignity… I personally agreed with this informative post.

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