Islamaphobia and the West

Throughout the past several months, I have been disheartened to see that the fear of Islam, and of its practitioners, seems to be getting stronger and stronger in the United States. We like to think of our country as a cultural melting pot, accepting of people from all races and religions. Anyone willing to work hard who dreams of a better start will be embraced. Except that they definitely won’t, especially not if they’re wearing a hijab, it seems.

In reality, Islam is quite similar to Christianity. In my eyes, the moral basis of both religions appears to be very similar, and the Qur’an contains much of the Bible within it. Much as Christianity considers itself to be a continuation of Judaism, Islam considers itself to be an extension and perfection of Christianity. All three of these religions are Abrahamic, and I believe that if you look their past practices and into their specific beliefs, you will find many similarities – I certainly have.

None of this is to say that two groups need to be similar in order to get along. Mutual respect should not hinge upon similarity. However, it does make it look to me as though Christians and Muslims have much more to commune about than to fight about. It feels as though it should be easy for the two groups to get along, considering how much they have in common.

And yet. So many Americans, many of them Christians, fear and are threatened by Islam. More and more lately, I’ve been pondering this and questioning why. Part of it, I’m sure, comes from the fact that people feel comfortable pitting another group against their own – you feel closer to your ingroup when you belittle an outgroup. However, I think that a lot of it comes from politicians and public figures playing up the fear of Islam in order to make themselves seem more powerful and to get themselves elected.

I’ve had several conversations with a professor of mine, and we both agree that there’s more here than even meets the eye. I do not believe by any means that these politicians are creating this fear of Islam in many Americans. I think that this fear has existed all along, and they are simply stirring it up. Mistrust of Islam runs very deep, and I would like to investigate how exactly it all began. Because of this, I have decided to conduct my honors research project next semester on the roots and contemporary manifestations of Islamaphobia in the west. I would love to educate others, and myself, on the fact that Islam should be respected, and not feared, and that Muslims are just as valuable a part of this American melting pot as everyone else.

With many good books and articles by talented, engaged people, I hope to get at the roots of this problem. Hopefully, armed with this new knowledge, I can put a good foot forward and start combating Islamaphobia in any way that I can.

Latin Americanist Lunch: “ZONE OF NONBEING: White Civil Life and Anti-Black Racial Terror in the Brazilian Polity”

As someone who is minoring in Spanish, and intending to study in Latin America, I was very intrigued when I realized Professor Jamie Alves would be speaking on racial inequality in Brazil. Although, Brazilians speak Portuguese, the problems encountered and demonstrated in this multicultural nation resonate a sense of familiarity with other Latin/Central American nations; I might add as an African-American female I wanted a deeper insight into Brazil’s social construct. It appears this particular topic came at a perfect time, as it mirrors our very own discussion of ‘race’ in both, America and Brazil in class.

When looking at Brazil it does not take long for one to realize the structural violence being perpetrated on their black citizens. Segregated into Favelas, or urban slums, where one can expect to encounter many Afro-Brazilians. The Favelas are looked down upon, because similarly, to a ghetto they attract drugs, rape, crime, and other forms of violence. Therefore, the Brazilian government, especially the police, put a label on the people living there, explicitly the Black people.

Mr. Alves relayed a story, which occurred in 2015, where five black teenagers were shot one-hundred and eleven times by the Brazilian police while they were in their vehicle, driving by the police checkpoint. Originally, the police denied they were at fault, and even planted a gun in the car to make the victims appear guilty, it was eventually deemed a homicide, but while the judge ‘figured’ out the case, they allowed the suspected officers to be released. This is why the Blacks of Brazil are so enraged, when they are unwarrantedly murdered no one cares except for them, to augment the disparity the know killers are given special treatment. On the contrary, when white Brazilians are killed, or injustices are perpetrated against them, the nation speaks out in an uproar.

During one of the slides the quote “the bullets that attack black bodies are not rubber bullets” reinforces the sentiment and feeling of forgottenness and anger which engulfs the blacks of Brazil. Alves stated that in Brazil blacks are not considered criminal or lawless, no they are deemed something much more aggressive, they are regarded as ‘enemies’ of Brazil. Could you imagine being an enemy of your own nation, because it refuses to recognize your humanity? I ponder about the situation in Brazil and wonder: how much violence is it going to take for Brazil to recognize the need for reconciliation, how many demonstrations must be made to enact change? Mr. Alves left us a with a deep and haunting sentiment, most people want change, but no one wants to endure the violence and aggression of the complete social reconstruction which is required to enact this change, but if no want wants to bear this responsibility will the nation ever fully propitiate?

Latin Americanist Lunch over: “Population, Health, and Environment: Transitions in Latin America”

Attending Dr. Lopez-Carr’s presentation on Latin America, with several references to Africa, was quite insightful, as he had been awarded a grant to engage in socio-economic research within the Latin American region. In terms of urbanization, Latin America was one of the slower regions to pick up this new global phenomenon. However, per Dr. Lopez-Carr’s research 80% of Latin America is now urban, which has resulted in lower fertility. Families that would have originally had seven children, are now having roughly 3.5 children; this further changed the agriculture landscape. Instead of families having large acres of land, which would eventually be evenly distributed among the children, more families have acquired smaller acres of land to farm.

Keeping these new changes in mind, it should come as no surprise that Dr. Lopez-Carr has found the conversion of forest to agriculture has been the biggest impact on the environment by humans. Even, more troubling is that these urban population booms are taking place in the world’s poorest areas, where they cannot financially, and socially, support the growing populations. So, while your average rural family is having less kids to work the land, the families in the urban areas are reproducing at unprecedented rates.

During the duration of the talk my eyes were opened to new statistics, as the big picture was clearly depicted from these seemingly innocent facts. However, the most interesting/troubling piece of information I acquired was perhaps the biggest advocate for vegetarianism. Less than 1% of the earth’s surface is used for humans, for example soybeans, which were a crop driver at the start of the 2000s, of all the soybeans produced less than 1% were eaten by people, the rest were feed to livestock. This means three-fourths of the world’s used surface would be released into nature if people stopped eating animal protein. Therefore, I propose two questions for Dr. Lopez-Carr: 1.) Knowing what we do about deforestation and climate change, why have more Western governments not regulated the amount of meat households can buy, and 2.) In a world where the global north is so privileged, how are we going to sustain ourselves, when we are clearly destroying the land that feeds us? This was a very engaging talk, and I only touched on a small subsection of Dr. Lopez-Carr’s discussion.

 

Fun Alternatives to Talking About American Politics

Studying abroad broadens your horizons, no doubt, but it can be quite daunting to think about how you’re representing your country and home institution. How you behave and comport yourself may influence how the people you come into contact with view America. This is especially relevant in the current American political climate, and you may face questions similar to: “So, what’s up with Trump?”

In my experience, this question is merely a precursor to a larger discussion of American politics. While some of these conversations have been intriguing and have shown me new perspectives, most have been frustrating, and made me want to swear off of talking politics for the rest of my life (but I’m an International Studies student, so that’s never going to happen).

In honor of those frustrating conversations, I have made an Australian themed list of activities that are more fun than discussing Hillary’s emails for the umpteenth time.

  1. Eating Vegemite straight out of the jar
  2. Waiting for a Victoria PT bus that’s running late in the middle of January
  3. Predicting Melbourne’s weather
  4. Finding a Huntsman spider in your room (has happened to two girls in the time I’ve been here)
  5. Waking up after a night of drinking only goon
  6. Driving for 10 hours and still being in the same state
  7. Taking at least 7 hour flights to get anywhere else in the world
  8. Having bird calls wake you up at 3 AM
  9. Seeing road signs demarcating a “kangaroo/wallaby area,” but seeing neither kangaroos nor wallabies
  10. Going to a club in the CBD, only to have them play very bad music

 

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International Event #3: Mr and Miss Hispanic OU

I attended the Mr and Miss Hispanic OU Pageant on Saturday, April 22nd. At the parent, participants competed in several categories including talent, cultural presentation, formal wear, and an interview. The presentation was very interesting and culturally relevant. Much of the presentation, in fact, was in Spanish. The cultural presentations varied in composition. One competitor read a monologue about the struggles of not being a citizen of the United States. Other participants recited slam poetry, did a cultural dance, and presented photography from their home country. In the interview portion, the contestants were asked a single question. Most of the questions asked pertained to the struggle of the Hispanic population in America today. These questions addressed a variety of topics ranging from sexual assault in the Hispanic population, to the use of technology in today’s population.

All of the competitors were fantastic, however, the winners of the pageant were very deserving. They had clearly prepared and worked very hard to perfect their performances.

Easter Break Extravaganza

Are you ready to hear all about my spring break trip? I sure hope so!

In Austria, we get a two-week long Easter break. While many Austrian students stay home and work for these two weeks… the international students take adventures of a lifetime! My two-week adventure did not disappoint, but it certainly wore me out. Between the 8th and the 23rd of April, I traveled a total of 2,694 kilometers (1,674 miles) through four countries and six beautiful and unique cities.

Our first stop was Venice. I traveled there with Lauren and our friend Janine (Sie kommt aus New Jersey.) It was a 7-hour bus ride from Graz to Venice, and then a long walk to our hostel, which was on the mainland. Luckily, our hostel ran a bus service to the island several times throughout the day, so after a night of rest we hopped on the first bus to the island the next day. We were only going to spend two nights and one day in Venice, so we had to absorb as much as we could into a very short time span. Thankfully, Venice is a very walkable city, so I feel like we got everything done that we needed to do. We visited the Doges’ Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Torre dell’Orologio in St. Mark’s Square (which we stumbled upon by accident), the Rialto bridge, and several other gems of Venice. We ate gelato and cannolis and pasta. My favorite part of the day, however, was the Gondola ride. We went through the Grand Canal, as well as the smaller canals where the locals live, and our gondolier even serenaded us with his angelic voice.

Another exciting thing about Venice? It is very easy to get lost. There are so many bridges and alleyways, the whole place is just a huge maze. Thankfully it’s so small, that you can’t ever be lost for too long. Besides, getting lost in Venice is hardly an unfortunate occurrence. Of all the places I went over the break, Venice may have been the most magical.

Our friend Peyton joined us that evening in Venice, after a fairly traumatic incident in which we thought we would never see her again. It’s a long and dramatic story, so I won’t try to relate it here, but if anyone who ever reads this wants to hear the story, feel free to ask, and I would be happy to tell the tale.

Our next stop was Florence. The bus ride took about three hours, and by the time we got to our hostel on a hill that happened to be about 6 miles away from the center of the city, it was too late to go back.

The hostel in Florence was probably the coolest hostel I will ever stay in. It wasn’t party central, like some people would think an awesome hostel would be. The internet didn’t really work. It was at the top of a really steep hill, about half a mile away from the nearest bus stop, so you had to walk all the way. You had to pay 8 euro every night to eat pasta for dinner, but there usually wasn’t enough pasta to fill you up completely. And, to be quite honest, it gave me bed bugs, which I haven’t even told my mom. So, definitely not your typical “cool” hostel. But this place. This hostel? Was awesome. Because it wasn’t really intended to be a hostel…

IT WAS AN OLD MONASTERY.

IN THE MIDDLE OF TUSCANY.

WORDS CANNOT DO IT JUSTICE, so I’ll have to post pictures, but suffice it to say, it was really, really cool. Also, there was a cat who lived there named Gianna, and she took Janine and I on a proper adventure through some beautiful olive orchards to what I truly believe could be the best view of the city of Florence. I will never forget that cat and I will never forget that evening.

Back to the point of the blog, however: Florence is the place to go in Italy, and probably the whole of Europe, if you want to see art. You have to shell out a lot of money to skip the hours-long lines, but if could definitely be worth it to some people. We didn’t have that much money to spend nor time to stand around in lines, so we didn’t go to that many museums. In fact, the only museum we went to was the Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s statue of David. I loved Florence, and I loved the Duomo and everything else that we got to see, but I feel like I just didn’t have time to see everything. One day, I’ll go back.

Peyton and Janine went back to Graz when we were done in Florence, and we met Lauren’s cousin Matt, who has been studying in Hamburg, Germany this year, in Rome.

If there is one place that I need to go back to, it is Rome. How did I develop such an intense relationship with the old city in such a brief period of time? No one could know, but Rome holds my heart all the same.

We visited countless historic sites: the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, the Pantheon, the Roman forum, the Vatican, the Vatican Museums (including the amazing Sistine Chapel!) and so much more. I even thought that the underground train system in Rome was a sight to behold.

The one thing I will say about Rome, is that during the high season there are far too many tourists. I know that is very hypocritical, because I myself was a tourist, but it’s still a valid point. I know Rome will never be completely free of tourists, but the next time I go, it will be in the winter, so I can have a little more privacy while I take in the life of the city.

Our next stop was Zürich, Switzerland. Zürich is the economic capital of Switzerland… and is very, very expensive. Thankfully, we only stayed there for about 24 hours, but in that time, I still spent an ungodly amount of euros on one serving of fondue. I also bought a swiss army knife, which I am quite proud of. Immediately upon arriving to the city, we had a few hours to kill before we could check into our hostel, so we decided to take a two-hour long “vintage” trolley city tour. The coach bus was no “vintage trolley,” but we still got to see everything in the city that we wanted to see.

Next on the Itinerary was Innsbruck. Now, let me preface what I’m about to say with a short summary of the weather that we had been used to in Italy: perfection. The weather in Italy was perfect. It was sunny and at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time we were there.

That all changed on the way to snowy, cold Innsbruck. But what else should we have expected? ? Innsbruck is a perfect little Austrian town settled in a valley of mountains much larger than those that surround my quaint, but still just as lovely, Graz. Every angle of the Altstadt of Innsbruck was picturesque. The snow-capped mountains in the background everywhere you look makes it feel like a beautiful dreamland. Even though I didn’t have the proper clothing to handle the snow and cold in Innsbruck, I loved our time there dearly. Matt had to make his way back home to Hamburg when we left Innsbruck, but we still had one last stop.

Munich, Germany. Is it sad that I’ve already been here almost 3 months and this was my first time in Germany? Hey, at least I finally made it!

I am really glad that Munich was our last stop, because it is a really great city, and I would love to go again. I’m not sure if I was just really digging the culture of Munich or the culture of Germany, but either way, like I said, I was diggin’ it.

The Englischer Garten of Munich is an ENORMOUS and wonderful park that runs about 2 or 3 miles through the city of Munich. There are lovely wooded walking paths, horse riding trails, ponds, a river, and huge open fields. There is also a Biergarten, where we may or may not have forgotten to return our glasses and pfands. We saw the Glockenspiel and Marienplatz in the Altstadt, as well as the Hofbräuhaus, where we gorged ourselves on German beer and food.

We also a day paying our respects to victims of WWII at the memorial and site of the Dachau concentration camp. We felt it was an important site to visit, and wanted to reflect on something profound before we headed home for the end of our long adventure.

So, that was it. It was the most eventful 16-day period of my life.

Along the way, I gained much more than a few trinkets. I feel like I lived an entire lifetime in those 16 days. Acquainting oneself with new people, places, cultures and beliefs is something that cannot be overpriced or undersold. The knowledge gained from travel is immeasurable.

And with that brief note, I am off to sleep, to adventure another day.

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Understanding Cultural Differences: Lessons Learned From an Air Conditioner

I love my air conditioner! While I am a person who much prefers the hot summer months to the cold winter ones I don’t think I could survive without an AC. I am sure many (if not all) my friends would share this point of view. Air condition is simply a part of life here in America!

I have spent over 2 years in a country where the average temperature rarely falls below 90 degrees and the humidity is always somewhere between 70-100 percent. Despite these horrific weather stats, Air Conditioners are not only hard to find but often times not even wanted in the country of Cambodia!

When sleeping in the same room as my Cambodian friends I have been asked multiple times to turn down the AC. I have even seen many members of the church I attend walk outside halfway through the meeting because they need to warm up! After telling my Cambodian friends that I caught a cold they always blame it on my air conditioner!

It is amazing to me the difference in perspective between cultures! The AC conundrum is a small reminder to me that interventions in other parts of the world need to be done only after careful consideration of a country’s cultural. Something that seems so great to one person can really be detrimental to another.

Aw, the lessons one can learn from an Air Conditioner.

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Go, Experience ALL of OU!!!

I have one of the best jobs in the world! I absolutely love being a Tour Guide at The University of Oklahoma where I have the privilege to show off OU every single day! The job really isn’t too hard to do seeing as OU is one of the prettiest campuses in the country as well as home to some of the greatest dance, acting, entrepreneurship, meteorology, and energy management programs in the country. Honestly just by walking on OU’s campus is enough to convince prospective students to attend. While OU is great in so many ways it can be hard to take advantage of all that it has to offer. There are just so many things to do, see, learn, eat, and participate in that sometimes students just feel overwhelmed and don’t do anything at all.

This last week for example I had an innumerable amount of emails and personal invites encouraging me to attend some really cool events. The botany club was having a plant sell, the Iranian Student Association was celebrating Omar Khayyam with poetry, food, and art, numerous sororities were hosting all you can eat mac and cheese parties as a fundraising event, and the industrial engineers put on an end of the year banquet. The list goes on and on! It indeed will be a sad day when I wake up and realize that guest lectures, free food, parties, and banquets were a thing of the past. There are so many neat things to learn and do while at OU and it would be a shame to let them all pass! Now is the time to act and really get out there and experience all that OU has to offer! GO AND EXPERIENCE ALL OF OU!!!!

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Omar Khayyam Day

I am embarrassed to say that I have walked past the mesmerizing white statue in front of Farzaneh Hall multiple times and had no idea who the sculpture portrayed. I was quick to recognize the beauty of the statue and was correct in assuming that the statue was a portrayal of a great thinker. Little did I know that the statue portrayed one of the greatest and most influential thinkers of the middle ages, Omar Khayyam.

Omar Khayyam accomplished much during his life time and I am glad I had the chance to learn more about him at the Omar Khayyam Day put on by the Persian Studies Students in tandem with the Iranian Student Association. The event was well attended and consisted of many fun elements. There was a poetry recitation put on by the Persian language students, great speeches on the importance of Khayyam and his effects on Persian literature, great baklava and other food, as well as Persian calligraphy.

All in all the event was fun, educational, and delicious. Next time an event is hosted by the Persian Studies students I will be sure to mark it on my calendar.

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