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||Contact: Silvia Susnjic, Student Multicultural Club -
Dr. Dan Mayton, Division of Education - 208/792-2280; email@example.com
Dr. Dan Regan, Associate Vice President for Instruction - 208/792-2325; firstname.lastname@example.org
Presenters offer Broad Perspective, Tolerance
as Tools to Understand Islam
LEWISTON-Although she spoke briefly and apologized for her English, Aminata Kanakomo
communicated clearly to her audience that Islam is about love, tolerance, happiness and
understanding. And that made Silvia Susnjic happy.
Susnjic, a Croatian psychology student at Lewis-Clark State College and a member of the
Multicultural Club there, thinks it is important for fellow students and others to know
the facts about the religion of Islam, and to recognize the dangers of uninformed
prejudice. So she and fellow students Timothy Richel, Mike Stickney and Elizabeth Lind,
all from the Multicultural Club organized a lecture for that purpose.
They called on three on-campus authorities to present an informational lecture series: Dr.
Dan Regan, Associate Vice President for Instruction, Dr. Dan Mayton, a psychology
professor, and Aminata Kanakomo, a student practicing Islam, each gave presentations
reflecting their understanding of Islam and common western perceptions about the religion.
Mayton is also the Multicultural Club's advisor.
Kanakoma, a native of Mali, West Africa studying social science at the college, was one of
three speakers addressing an audience of about 30 people at LCSC's Williams Conference
Center Monday night.
Kanakoma told listeners the basic beliefs of Islam are similar to those of other dominant
world religions; only the ways of expressing those beliefs are different. She said that
violence is an insult to Islam and that she is sorry there is so much misjudgment of those
who practice the religion. She spoke with charm, warmth, and obvious commitment, receiving
admiring applause after speaking.
Dr. Regan gave an informative overview of Islam, something he conceded as difficult to do
because of the complexity of the subject. He began by saying that, in his experience in
different parts of the world, Muslims display great generosity just as their religion,
Islam, shows marked diversity.
He felt that Buddhism or Hinduism would be easier for Westerners to learn about, because
there are fewer misconceptions about these two lesser-known religions. Regan then
identified three misconceptions about Islam. He said Islam is overly identified with Arabs
and the Middle East, yet less than 20 percent of the world's Muslims live there. Islam is,
in fact Asia-centered.
Westerners, Regan said, believe in what he called "Islam-and-the-sword." He
feels this Hollywood-perpetrated image has fed Americans' fear of violence by Muslims. He
explained that Jihad is more about the spiritual journeys of believers than it is about
waging war on unbelievers. He also pointed to the idea that Islam speaks with one voice as
the "master misconception." He says there is no such thing as "the Islamic
mentality," and no Islamic monolith bent on battling the Judeo-Christian West."
Regan also commented on what he sees as challenges and problems facing Islam today. He
identified one as the need to escape "stifling conformity; to continue to bring
exotic minds into Islam" without betraying its original beliefs. Another is what
Regan called the politics of gender-the issue of women in Islam. He said there is a
pressing need to productively and peacefully channel the energies of the millions of young
Muslims who feel disenfranchised by Western capitalism and socialism and by the wealthy
elites who rule their countries.
Regan revealed interesting facts about the demography of Islam. He said one out of five
people in the world practice Islam, including five to six million Muslims in the United
States. Islam is the youngest and fastest growing religion in the world, with only Latin
America being lightly touched by the faith.
He concluded his presentation with two thoughts: he believes the only thing that can truly
unite angry Muslims against the West will be indiscriminate or careless use of force by
America. Additionally, he said, "Besides the need for Western thought on Islam,
Muslim leaders around the world must also engage in serious reflection: why has violence
taken place in the name of Islam?"
Dr. Mayton addressed the terrorist acts of September, saying social categorizing and
stereotyping are to be expected. "We tend to think of in-groups (us) and out-groups
(others)," he explained. Subsequent to the attacks, a rush of in-group thinking
(Americans) has created a wave of patriotism and individual reassessment of the importance
of family and home, and an outpouring of charitable actions. Conversely, thoughts about
the out-group (Muslims) have produced stereotyping and prejudice.
This stereotyping of the out-group has several tenets, he said. First, the out-group is
perceived as being homogeneous; "Terrorists equal Arabs, Arabs equal Muslims, Muslims
equal Al Qaida." Secondly, he said the differentiation between the in- and out-groups
is exaggerated. This can lead to competition between the groups and the perception that
the out-group is truly a threat to the in-group.
Finally, there can be a categorization of the out-group as being exempt from moral and
just treatment. "For example, it's OK to kill Osama bin Ladin outright, rather than
bringing him to justice," Mayton said.
Mayton offered thoughts on breaking down stereotypes: on a larger scale, the media must
help by giving respected members of out-groups equal time to present alternate views.
Locally, area residents must work to overcome prejudices that exist. "When making a
friend of a person in an out-group, avoid thinking, 'Most of your group is bad, but you
are OK.' Think of yourself as a resident of the world, instead of just America-as a member
of the human race, he said. "It helps provide some new perspective."
And if members of the audience took that advice away with them, Susnjic and her fellow
students achieved at least part of their goal.