Bahai News - Campuses should be hotbeds of ideas, not just protest
from the November 06, 2001 edition -
Campuses should be hotbeds of ideas, not just protest
By Avi M. Spiegel
The tragic events of September 11 sparked two rallies here at Harvard
University. A peace vigil included over 500 people; a rally organized to
celebrate patriotism attracted only 50.
While talk of war takes our nation and media by storm, a new antiwar
movement, with teach-ins and demonstrations, galvanizes many
universities. As more questions surface about our war effort, students
must not allow disillusionment to breed disengagement. In this new
environment, our capacity to produce new ideas and inventive policy
proposals has often appeared deadlocked in invective.
We can draw on the diverse opinions, backgrounds, and specialties
found on campuses to reinvigorate the national debate. As the Pentagon
plots military strategy, we should heed their advice to think "outside
of the box" - but not just for military solutions.
Our education and divinity students, for example, could work hand in
hand with law students to develop an acceptable curriculum for the
instruction of religious history in our schools. Surely we can teach
about religion without infringing on the separation of church and state.
Our religious ignorance has been fatal for Sikhs mistaken for Muslims.
We should help craft a nationwide "America the Beautiful" curriculum,
showcasing what makes our country stunning: our religious and ethnic
diversity. In this new age of American religious pluralism, we need to
teach students about Sikhs and Muslims as well as about the Puritans.
Indeed, if Americans knew more about Islam, they might be less likely to
dismiss the entire tradition based on the actions of a few extremists.
Students of the arts might unite to make US film and TV more
representative. Our most popular exported product should not continue to
mislead the world into thinking that all Americans look or think the
same. Where are the nation's millions of Buddhists, Hindus, or Bahai's
on TV? "Baywatch" continues to be one of the most popular shows in Iran.
Is this the only image we want to project?
Public policy and advertising students could team up to battle heroin
addiction among the nation's youth, using our newfound antipathy for the
world's largest producer of opium as our catalyst. We should do to
heroin what Kathy Lee did to sweatshops and child labor.
Finally, all students should lobby, not for the termination of
foreign-student visa programs - as some members of Congress have
suggested - but for their expansion, and for more cultural-exchange
programs. We could begin by sending thousands more American scholars,
development volunteers, and students abroad and by bringing more foreign
During my two years of Peace Corps service in Morocco, I was often
the first American my fellow villagers had everencountered - let alone
the first who spoke Arabic. Since my colleagues and I have returned, we
have shared our stories of Morocco and Islam with students here. The
Peace Corps should also facilitate bringing foreigners to the United
States, and civil-service programs should involve an option for
If such initiatives were developed, drawing on the diverse
perspectives found on American campuses, universities would soon become
hotbeds of ideas, not just protest. Constructive, creative engagement
with policy would flourish. The nation, then, would have much to learn
from its students.
Avi M. Spiegel is a student at Harvard University Divinity School on
leave from NYU School of Law.
©Copyright 2001, The Christian Sciense Monitor
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