Opportunity to build understanding squandered by insensitive remarks
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
By Shadia Kanaan
On Jan. 8, Diether Haenicke gave a speech to more than 100 individuals at the Heritage Community of Kalamazoo on the topic of Muslims in Europe.
As a devout Muslim and a proud American I have two identities which find themselves in opposition in the minds of many people throughout the world and in my own community. I have taken on the responsibility of both of my identities to emphasize the values and ideals they have in common and to try to help others understand the true nature of Islam.
And so when I learned that Haenicke would be speaking, I was eager to hear what the president of my alma mater (I am a graduate of Western Michigan University's political science department), who is such a respected educator, intellectual and community leader, had to say on the subject.
I am saddened to say his discussion left me with a mix of bewilderment, fear and anger.
Haenicke presented a litany of crimes committed by Muslims in Europe over the last 10 years as if he were a judge reading the charges to 1.3 billion Muslim defendants. He described the demographic growth of Muslims in Europe with the same tone of alarm one might use to discuss global warming or the marginalization of a precious habitat. He failed to recognize that globalization and the concentration of wealth in places like Europe are the driving forces for millions of immigrants to leave their native lands and seek opportunities elsewhere.
Haenicke's energies were spent writing a speech that identified and magnified differences rather than trying to understand or reconcile them. There were no suggestions for helping Muslims integrate into their new communities without losing their cultural and religious heritage. He had no solutions for improving the economic and political situations in countries of origin that might lead to less immigration.
The disparities between Western countries and those in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are often maintained by corrupt governments supported by the West for the purpose of aiding large multinational corporations at the expense of exceedingly impoverished populations
His speech was open-ended, leaving the listener to reach potentially dangerous conclusions built on his insensitive and inflammatory statements. Statements such as: "99 percent of Muslims are not terrorists but 99 percent of terrorists are Muslims.'' Imagine this quote with a different minority group or different stereotype: "99 percent of this minority are not this stereotype, but 99 percent of this stereotype are this minority.''
Just as insulting was his claim that "any refrain from insulting criticism of Muslims is out of self-censorship driven by fear rather than sensitivity.'' The community outrage would be deafening if the president of Western Michigan University had chosen to single out anyone else.
We all have to remember that each of the Muslims immigrating to Europe is a human being, a human being who has hopes and dreams not unlike those that Haenicke emigrated with himself.
After his talk, I approached him and told him how I, as a Muslim, was offended by his remarks. He replied, unapologetically, with a smile: "Of course you are.'' President Haenicke, when you deny the humanity of another, you diminish your own.
Shadia Kanaan, of Portage, is a member of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of Greater Kalamazoo.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
"Of Course You Are"
What a great response. From the Gazette: