Hijabs—The Terror of the West?

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Recently I participated in a discussion with Dr. Matthew Klaemingk, assistant professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear, about muslim headscarves. In his article, THE HEADSCARF: ISLAM’S GIFT TO WESTERN DEMOCRACY, he argues that headscarves are actually a gift to western democracy.

Islam is a global religion with over 1 billion members, often framed as dangerous and a religious threat to Christianity. Since 9/11, western dis-ease with the religion has grown climactically. However, Dr. Klaemingk argues that we should not view Muslims with several instant pre-conceptions, which we place on them, but instead we should approach them with hospitality.

Here are a few things I learned from my conversation with him:

The main form of headscarf worn by Muslim women is the one featured above—the hijab. Women wear these dominantly for a combination of two reasons, social and theological. Socially, it is first and foremost a statement of their faith, as well as a symbol of modesty. A popular western conception is that women wear hijabs or other headscarves because they are oppressed. This is on occasion is true but is generally a misconception. Women also wear these as a theological and empowering statement—”I belong to Allah, I don’t belong to you”.

And just possibly, the real reason hijabs make westerners weary is because they challenge our assumptions of beauty, modest, sexuality, and feminism.

Dr. Klaemingk also expanded on why westerners tend to villan-ize this religion. Beyond the general and false presumptions that Islam is a threat to Christianity and national security (I will expand on why), western countries, like many others, unconsciously prescribe to Scape-goat political theory. A prime example of this social and political phenomena is World War Two when Nazis used Jews as scape-goats for Germany’s national crisis.

This theory is driven by the idea that every country needs a common enemy in order to remain unified. Accordingly, the modern scape-goat for western countries is Islam—the more we strive for a binary between us and them, the more unified the us will be. The problem is that there really is no us and them.

This circles us back to why western presumptions of Islam are false. Islam is not a threat to Christianity because basic theology reminds us that if God is in control, then we should not fear. Christians also still hold a significant amount of power within the U.S. Dr. Klaemingk develops this concept further in his book, previously mentioned. Jointly, Muslims are not a threat to national security. Terrorists who use Islam as reasoning for their actions are a threat to national security but they are not, by definition, Muslims and do not in actuality embody the majority of domestic terrorism in the west. Hint: PETA and other social justice organizations statistically are most responsible for terrorism within the U.S.

The solution that Dr. Klaemingk proposes is instead of instantly framing Muslims upon sight, specifically women who are instantly identified as Muslim by their headscarves, with a million little or big conceptions of their beliefs, lifestyle, and difference from us, we should take it as an opportunity to be reminded of what we believe and thank God for their existence. When we see a Muslim woman at the store, we should stop and pray for them, thank God for them, and be reminded of our own faith. Muslim women do not have the ability, or rather don’t choose to, go about their day as religiously ambiguous. You know that everywhere they go they will be framed by their religion. Christians can easily choose to remain unidentified; so when we see a Muslim woman, maybe we should contemplate their boldness and faith, and consider our own.

Humanity is created in the image of God, so collectively we must all exist. When we encounter a form of “other”, a person who is so dynamically different from ourselves, we are presented with the ability to 1. recognize the glory of God within them, and 2. experience an aspect of humanity, God’s image, which we may not yet embody, and as a result further reflect the image of God within ourselves.

Imagine you have a Muslim family move in next door to you—if you live in the northwest then your initial inclination is likely introversion—but then they invite you over for dinner and bless you with incredible hospitality. Hospitality is an art, the bedrock of life, within Middle Eastern culture, and this story is true, a professor I know had this experience. He described it as an extremely introspective opportunity for him in which he realized his own lack of hospitality towards others. In that moment, he was able to frame that Muslim family in such a way that he glimpsed God’s image within them, an aspect he had not previously accessed.

Ultimately, I do not think hijabs or less symbolically, Islam, is the terror of the West. I think our own inability to recognize God’s image within each other is. The reason we may feel it is, is because with God abiding within our relationships there is beauty and glory; without Him, power, abuse, and rampant deception.

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Evolving Book Marketing

 

Marketing for any product is continually evolving and books are no exception. The newest form of marketing is book trailers. They are basically like movie trailers but for books and less entertaining.

I watched probably ten book trailers before I found this one. All of them were very cringe worthy and repelled me from the books they allegedly tried to sell. They comprised poor camera work, bad acting, and weird music.

What struck me about this book trailer was that it didn’t try to act out the book it was marketing and didn’t pretend to be anything other than what it was—a dorky plug. This trailer had a humorous interaction between the author and another comedian pretending to be her headshot artist. It helped me get a feel for the brand of comedy the author would express in her book and even makes me consider reading it.

But this trailer was a small statistic out of the mass of honestly, shameful trailers. I think for books that aim at connecting with the audience in a personal way i.e. through humor or personal anecdote, a book trailer like this one is excellent. Otherwise, for fiction/fantasy books the trailers tarnish the reader’s imagination and because the videos are low budget, they don’t actually represent the books very well.

One thing is definite about this new trend—it reveals a shift in the way society views books. If authors need to turn to movie-style marketing in order to sell their book, then it implies that people are more attentive to visual effects and actors than words on a page. It tolls a daunting bell for books and should raise a great deal of concern among all literature fans.

News-Bots—A Journalist’s Best Friend?

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When I initially heard about the concept of news-bots, I was horrified. I’m aspiring to be a journalist and now there are people creating and using robots that will do my job?

Actually, no.

Right now news-bots don’t function in the capacity of a journalist; they serve as incredibly helpful tools. These tech buddies can search and harbor massive amounts of data, run local and internet-wide polls, and even assimilate an article based on pieces a journalist has written.

A monumental example of this is when The Washington Post used a Heliograf news-bot to write an article on Iowa’s congressional election. Prior to the results, an editor or journalist wrote narrative templates for either outcome of the election, this included key phrases or word choice, and then the Heliograf used Vote.org‘s statistics to generate and promptly release an article that fit the election results and used accurate data.

This sort of process saves the journalist a lot of research time and allows news outlets to produce more articles on more platforms.

These bots can also monitor the internet to highlight trending issues and locate, geographically, points of interest. It can then notify news outlets if one of their journalists are already covering the issue, and if not then the bot can even possibly generate a factual and informative article on the event.

So, it’s easy to see why news-bots are popular and why they can be valuable aids for journalists, but I’m not entirely sold on them just yet.

Facebook has employed such technology before and it is the number one reason why most of the nation believed for the better part of a week that Megyn Kelly had been fired from FOX news. Another unsavory aspect of this story is Facebook fired their human editors in order to make way for the bot.

Many news outlets like The Post claim they don’t intend to use news-bots to replace the human element of journalism but what will happen when these bots become more sophisticated, cheaper, and easier to manage? And at that point and I wouldn’t even know how to argue against these bots. If they can succeed at writing pieces with as much fiber and charisma as Maggie Haberman, Nina Burleigh, or Dan Balz, then I’m not sure what recourse we have.

But for now this human writer is going to give it her best shot.

A Farewell To Books… ?

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Traditional book publishing seems to be on the precipice of its demise. Technology has rapidly developed which allows companies and authors to publish online and/or with out a big name publisher. I personally have some qualms with the trend of self-publishing because it provides untrained writers a landscape ripe for violating and the institution of writing will be easily infiltrated by any who desire the title.

Of course, I refer in this sense to fan fiction and erotica-type writers. Those with real zeal and a desire to cultivate the discipline will surely be called a writer. But people like E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, are causes for great despair. With a change in this industry we will certainly see a decline in the quality of texts we permit to be sold and read yet, in the interest of creativity and not being elitist I do think self-publishing offers some flexibility and power that authors have not seen.

Traditional book publishing gives publishers all the power. They choose what is consumed by the masses, what is popular, and often short change the author. Other than the socially unjust implications this carries, it also permeates into our cultural and political trends. Just as many news sources today venture towards monopolies, I fear our book industry does as well. Freedom within our book market may promote freedom of thought and function like the printing press did at its conception.

The fear then was un-refined ideas would be produced and un-educated readers would be privy to them. Of course this fear was extremely narrow-minded and poured straight from the minds of the elite and privileged who really feared losing their power, so perhaps this serves as a self-check before we get too anxious about self-publishing.

I think the overturn and evolution of the book industry may just surprise us.

7 Years—The Syrian War Trudges On

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The Conversation Part IV: Civil War

During this ongoing series I have discussed multiple aspects of diversity and the divisive issues within it. But one faucet that I have failed to address is internal struggles. Syria is a nation containing a multiplicity of views and cultures but its sense of inclusiveness and human respect has disintegrated.

Yesterday Syria crossed the threshold of its seventh year at war with itself.

This wretched juncture refers to the start of protests against President Bashar Assad and his regime. Assad struck hard against the rebels inflaming civil war and leading to critical fractures within the nation. Within the conflict, a second arose—Kurdish groups used the chaos to reclaim territory. Then, as though this war was not complicated enough, a third party sought an opportunity as well: ISIL. The terrorist group managed to seize large areas of Syria and declare them part of the caliphate. And this, of course, is all operating within the sphere of international interests which involve the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran. The latter two supporting Assad.

Though each party has differing agendas, they all serve to perpetuate and escalate the violence within Syria.

This milestone should, in theory, be monumental. But in all honesty, seven years doesn’t seem to stir much desire for resolution. And it sure as heck does nothing for the civilians, refugees, and medics barely surviving by living as post-apocalyptic people among rubble and explosion. Many have found meager refuge in basements in Ghouta but the sanitary and food conditions are unimaginable.

Jointly, the Human Rights Council reports horrendous utilization of sexual violence as punishment and torture. The report compiles a sickening number of shocking accounts, including this specifically jarring quote from a civilian:

“My home was invaded in December, one security officer told me to go to my room and he followed me in. He began insulting me and telling me he would ‘do me’ and that I would ‘never be clean again.’ I screamed,” she said, “but no one came.”

At this point the death toll is well over 500,000 and as they enter the eighth year of war, the sickening truth is we will soon start to see a generation maturing within the broken nation who have known nothing but violence, assault, disease, death, and extreme violation of human dignity—war.

America’s Fast-Paced Work Culture is Degrading Writing

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As America has adjusted to compete on the global economic stage, our culture has suffered. As a writer, I am most concerned by the way our rapidly accelerating lifestyle is degrading the quality of our writing. I mean this in terms of creativity and conceptualization.

The dominant tool for creative execution is, of course, technology, a modern guillotine for creativity. While the internet and laptops and iPads and word processors and cellphones have enhanced the innovation and speed of our production, they have also diminished a certain je ne sais quoi from our writing.

Writing used to be a deeply personal and intimate act rendered through mind, pen, and paper. It was a free form—presented on conception as raw and wholly truthful. Now we are expected to write via typing. We use word processors and are self-editing during the act. Rarely is a piece initially written in raw form. We sacrifice the process for the product. We cannot afford the time it takes to free write and experience stream of consciousness when we have due dates that badger and stalk us.

We sacrifice the process for the product

I fear our deadline, result, product, success, number-one-in-the-world driven culture will degrade writing without us really noticing or caring.

In, arguably, the best movie for those who love arts, Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams executes a remarkable quote as his character Professor Keating. He says,

“We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

I wholeheartedly believe this and it is why I feel incredibly honored and proud to be an English major. It is also why I believe these are things we need to fiercely protect and the number one, very first thing we need to do to protect them is to protect their time. Our culture is smothering the purest form of humanity and culture—writing and it [culture] is finding victory by stealing time from this discipline.

We must, I implore of you, demand respect for the sanctity of writing. For once this institution crumbles, all others will surely fall; language, love, peace, piety.

I realize this piece is rife with fallacy and even some hypocrisy, as I am currently writing this on a laptop and will edit it with a word processor and I am writing this to meet a class deadline, but I so strongly hold this conviction and I hope you will permit a little intellectual impropriety and see the root of truth. America’s fast-paced work culture is degrading writing.

Hypocrisy—The Way the West Views the Middle East

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The Conversation Part III: The Middle East

From Aladdin to The Mummy the Middle East has been popularized in West as some sort of exotic and adventurous motif. It’s this mystical land of one thousand and one nights, colorful spices, golden dunes, and hidden-veiled faces. We easily romanticize the culture by envisioning archeological digs encased by foreign and supernatural myths, hidden treasures under Persian rugs at markets, and star-lit journeys led by camels. But do we somehow conceive this Middle East to be a different place from the Middle East we encounter in the media?

It’s as if we cannot picture those golden dunes and Persian rugs coinciding with war-torn landscapes and Muslim mosques. The way we view the Middle East in the West is so fractured.

In Egypt, we supported an authoritarian dictatorship which incarcerates thousands in horrendous and torturous prisons. In Palestine, we supplied bombs to Israel when it ruthlessly bombarded Gaza. And in Iraq, the US helped the embattled Nouri al-Maliki become prime minister, and supported him even after he had Sunnis scythed down imprisoned for their ethnicity.

We seem to condone dictatorships in some regions, dismantling them in others; condemn the killing go civilians, yet are complicit in some appalling massacres. We hold these strange double-standards and value western policy and luxury over ethical sensitivity and morality. Our actions and policy really fails to weave the fabrics of the Middle East; it’s more like we’re a clunky four-year-old playing with tin soldiers.

Today, we continue to wage wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, President Trump uses hostile language when addressing Muslims, and our actions increasingly build tension. The west has worked itself into a grotesque muddle in the Middle East and a general sentiment is that the Middle East is a problem to be eradicated not a country with a rich culture and complex political, historical, and religious intricacies to be engaged and respected.

We need to stop viewing the Middle East as some disparate place—completely foreign and savage. How long will it take us to realize imperialism and nationalism is just senseless recourse?