Thursday, September 21, 2006

Diversity or Difference

Last night I had my class "Christian Ministry in a Violent World" and we got into a little bit of a debate about difference and diversity. We read an article that dealt a bit with the theme of ethnic purity that plays out in various Old Testament passages (yes, we really do refer to the bible in seminary), particularly in Deuteronomy where there are many laws about purity and practice of religion - espeically in differentiating the Israelites from "those nasty Canaanites." it got us into a discussion about how people tend to understand who they are - identity is formed by being the same as something/someone or by differentiating from something/someone. In this case in the OT, Israelites understood their identity as being different from the Canaanites. How do you understand your identity?? I had to think about it for a while, and I think I use both differentiation and similarities to understand who I am, but it's ever more complicated than that. Identity changes every day - my mood affects how I see myself and how I relate to those around me. Likewise, the Israelites relationship with the people around them changes throughout time and throughout the Bible. But we could go on there for a long time, so back to class...

After this conversation about identity, we had a conversation about how differences aren't necessarily a bad thing to establish identity; sometime we value those differences and choose to find people that are different in order to do things better (for example, looking at the Meyers Briggs personality profiles, we learn that we need to work with people who are different types so that things get done more efficiently). The questions I have is this: Where is the line between highlighting the differences that are good and those that are bad? Is it simply a question of which traits are seen as "good" although different, and "bad" and different?

To put this into some context, there is an email out there that keeps getting circulated that claims to have information on the Qur'an, that there is a verse 9:11 (note the numbers) which refers to an eagle (the national bird and symbol of the US) wiping out Mohammed. This claim is made along with other references to Muslims as being blood thirsty warriors who should know better than to take on the US, yadda yadda yadda... It makes a lot of generalizations about Islam, the Qur'an, and then the passage that it quotes isn't even real. The actual passage in surrah 9, paragraph 11 is talking about reconciliation and has no mention of an eagle anywhere. This email does a great job of making Muslims "other" - soemthing NOT us. The fact is that the email gets spread around all the time, and the only reason it keeps spreading is because people don't know any better and assume that it's true - if we knew more about Islam and the Qur'an, we would know it wasn't a valid message and it would get deleted. Where is the line?? Why are some differences valued while others get trumped up and played in politics?? And what about Muslims that live in this country - how are we treating them? Do we bother to get to know them or just make assumptions based on the generalizations we hear? Isn't this also part of what happens between races and political parties?


Big Unit said...

We had a Muslim school out at the Harn Tuesday. Taught them a little of what it was like for a child to live in 1889.

The unsolicited comment was before this post.

Got to use my Boy Scout skills tonight, one of our elderly volunteers fell and broke her collar bone.

Kim in KCK said...

I have a good friend (former coworker) who is a very devout Muslim, next to whom I was standing as we watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television. We were both at a loss for weeks. It did not affect our relationship except to make us both work harder to understand each other. I visited with him some more last week. He gave me quite a bit of insight on things going on and how they are interpreted in the Muslim world. Sometimes it seems we don't have a clue. The people that often make vicious statements about others who are different do so on teh basis of stereotypes and rarely have direct personal experience. I explained to Reza, it's like my parents when I was growing up saying that the few black friends they had were "not like the others." I think they finally have come to understand that, yes, their friend WERE like the others. They are all people just like you and I. The same is true of Muslims. Until we all seek true understanding of one another, we will continue to dig ourselves deeper into our own little caves with the people that look just like us. How boring is that????!