In recent months France approved several controversial laws. In September, France began a mass deportation of the Roma Gypsies and the French Senate approved a law that bans Islamic veils known as burqas or niqabs. Burqas, according to the CNN article "French Senate Approves Burqa Ban," are "a full-body covering that includes a mesh over the face" and niqab's are "a full-face veil that leaves an opening only for the eyes.
This ban makes it illegal for women to wear either form of the veil in public, the punishment is $190 and/or a citizenship course." The CNN article goes on to specify that "forcing a woman to wear a niquab or burqa will be punishable by a year in prison or a [$19,00] fi ne." The ban does not include the hijab, which only covers the hair an neck, or the chador, which covers the body but not the face. The law passed 246 to 1. A poll shows that 82 percent of French citizens support the ban.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project found that while French, German, British and Spanish citizens backed the ban, most Americans (two out of three) opposed the ban. Americans typically view religious freedom, such as wearing a veil in honor of Islam, as a human right. However, the ninth anniversary of Sept. 11 showed a different side of America, a side still grieving from the terrorist attacks.
This past anniversary shows how deeply some Americans still grieve deeply; others go to extemes. One such man is Pastor Terry Jones, a pastor in Gainseville, Fl. Jones proposed an International Burn the Koran Day on Sat, Sept. 11, 2010. This event occurred in response to the building of a mosque/community center in New York City. He cancelled the book burning at the last minute. Despite canceling an International Burn the Koran Day event, Jones's hate for Islam is one form of xenophobia.
The proposed "mosque"/community center Jones protests would be located two blocks from Ground Zero. According to Laura Batchelor, a CNN reporter, the project transforms a 13-story building into a community center which includes "a mosque, performing arts center, gym, swimming pool and other public spaces."
The founder of the community center and the founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, wished for the project to foster understanding, reports the Associated Press. However, his idea of fostering understanding is a national controversy. Groups such as Freedom Defense Initiative (FDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) strongly oppose the building so close to Ground Zero.
According to an article by The Street, groups such as these claim "[to defend] human rights, religious liberty, and the freedom of speech against Islamic supremist intimidation and attempts to bring elements of Sharia to the United States." These groups tend to foster hatred and misunderstandings towards Islam in America. This is another form of xenophobia.
Last year, Billboard published an article, "Fear of the Other Must be Addressed at Wilson," located online at www.wilsonbillboard.com. The reporter, Kayla Chagnon, Wilson alum, defines xenophobia, using the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, as "the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign."
In his book, What's Right with Islam Rauf addresses concerns between Americans and Muslims. His book discusses why there is this concern, and how to fix it, as well as dismisses myths about Islam. Rauf writes, "We have two powerful tools with which to bridge the chasm separating the United States from the Muslim world: faith in the basic goodness of humanity and trust in the power of sincerity and dialogue to overcome differences with our fellow human beings."
Just as Rauf says dialogue can help overcome differences, so does Wilson College's Global Citizenship Initiative. The Initiative--part of the Leading with Confi dence: The Campaign for Wilson--tries to, "ensure that Wilson students, faculty and staff acquire deeper knowledge about the wide range of cultural perspectives that exist in the world." This quote, taken from the Wilson College website, shows Wilson believes education is key in overcoming cultural differences.
Both Rauf and Wilson College agree education is an important step in overcoming this fear and hatred of other people. The banning of veils and burning of religious texts are actions born out of a lack of understanding of traditional American values. These deeds, especially the religious book burning, foster hatred. We need to educate people about different religions and cultures in order to be more tolerant. While Sept. 11 affected me and I held my own moment of silence for all those who died that day, I do not hate the religion of Islam and do not punish them for the actions of radical extremists. President Barack Obama correctly stated in his speech at the Pentagon on Sept. 11 that, "it was not religion that attacked us that September day, it was al Qaida, a sorry band of men which perverts religion." Education is important in order to see the difference between a religion and a small group of people.
Wilson is focusing on this education. In addition to Wilson's Global Citizenship Initiative, this year Wilson offers new language classes, such as Arabic, which also teach students about that language's culture. Also, new professors, such as our spotlight Asst. Prof. of Economics, Xiangjing Wei, and new students of various nationalities have joined the Wilson community. The diversity in the Wilson community demonstrates how, through education, people from many different religions, cultures and backgrounds can come together to create an even stronger community.