>Overcoming Cultural Ignorance

>Ignorance can only be overcome through exposure to new ideas, and the people who represent those ideas, and through education.

And, the Media has failed to properly educate citizens regarding cultures, becoming a conveyance for the propagation of myths and half-truths.

I posed the topic, “Discuss the influence of religion within the Southwest Asia realm,” to my world geography class. Responses were typical of people’s impressions today. I’m not being critical, but a lot of what students stated in their responses are based in myth and half-truths, propagated by ignorant media who espouse propaganda and no facts, ignorant teachers at lower levels of education, and just ignorance of the general population. We tend not to process what we hear in church, in classes, or via media. If society could actually do that, we would be able to recognize inconsistencies when we see them.

Most people forget that Christianity has a very violent history. Consider the Spanish. Spanish Conquistadors forced native populations to convert to Christianity or die, whether those people be Aztecs or Jews (The Spanish Inquisition). Consider the racism practiced against Africans during slavery, and even thereafter. They were seen as non-Christian pagans and therefore white Christians could treat them, or any people of color for that matter. any way they wanted.

The Christian Crusaders who sought to evict Muslims from the Holy Land their ancestors walked away from would kill Jews along the way in order to practice for anticipated battles later. The Jews killed Jesus the Christ, right? Christians killed Jews and Muslims along the way. In many portions of the Southwest Asian realm, the Muslims protected Jews and Christians from each other. Think about it: the Hebrews/Jews have existed along side Palestinians for over 4,000 years. Jews and Christians have existed along side each other for about 2,000 years. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have existed side-by-side with each other for about 1,400 years.

People forget the history of Christianity is founded within this region. The People of the Bible were not Caucasians. Most of them were Semitic people, the ancestors of the Hebrews, and Persians, and Arabs. Moses was a Hebrew, a Semitic person. Abraham probably was from southern Iran or southeast Iraq. His first son, Ishmael, born of Hagar, would go on to parent the Arab people. Another son, Isaac, born of Sarah, would go on to parent the Hebrews. Because of Abraham’s place in religious history, he is seen as the Father of Three Religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These three religions are therefore termed, “Abramic” religions.

Islam and its adherents, Muslims, see themselves as the next stage within the Abramic religion framework. Muslims acknowledge the Tanahk, the Bible, and then add the revelations of the Mohammad, whom they see as the last prophet. Jews and Christians are People of the Book, the Qu’ran, and thusly have a special place. Islam recognizes all of the people found in the Old and New Testament, only they add an additional work, the Qu’ran. To clear up another myth, Allah is not the name of the Islamic “God.” Allah is the Arabic word for God. Jews call God, YHWH (Yahweh), or Jehovah. Regardless of what you believe, as it really makes no difference, Muslims believe in the same God as the Jews and Christians.

Throughout history, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have been able to live together in relative peace. In recent history, since the late 1880’s, the Zionist movement had been a leading cause of conflict within the realm. The movement for the creation of a Jewish homeland created controversy that persists today, and for the foreseeable future. Part of the problems of today can be tied to the way in which the British and French created the boundaries of the modern Middle East, without the consent of local populations.

One must also bear this in mind: Religion exists across cultural and ethnic boundaries. What do I mean by this? What I mean is  this: An Arab can be Jewish, or Christian, or Muslim. A Palestinian can be a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim. An Israeli can be a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim.

None of the three religions can hold themselves up as bastions of Peace. Each religion has portions of violence that contradict the teachings of their holy people. Unfortunately, people have bad memories, politicize spirituality, and states institutionalize bigotry. What we must always keep in mind is how people use, manipulate, and corrupt religion towards their own goals. Remember, religion is a human construct, the set of cultural traits, rules, and ceremonies that humans undertake honor to their respective deity/deities. The conflict in Israel is not a religious conflict; it is a conflict over space, over landscape, and who has the right to control a scarce resource. When Israel fires on Palestinians, the possibility exists that those people could be Christian Palestinians, Jewish Palestinians, or Muslim Palestinians. Conversely, those Palestinians that create problems could be Muslims, Jews, or Christians. The media glosses over the complexity of cultures found in the Middle East. Rarely does a news network discuss the cultural complexity. As a result, the majority of populations, not just within the United States, but global populations, do not adequately understand the forces at work.

As a result, individuals form beliefs from erroneous information, myths, half-truths, our own bigotry, or propaganda. I personally have known people from most religions, Shinto, Hindi, Muslim, to name a few. Most people, by-and-large, go about their daily business, to satisfy their basic human needs, food, shelter, comfort. Look at the Christians around you. How many of them go to church regularly? Tithe regularly? Pray regularly? How many do you know that attend church only at Christmas or Easter? Read their Bible every day? Muslims are the same way. The vast majority do not read the Qu’ran every day, or attend mosque. They are humans, too, and susceptible to the same characteristics as everyone else. And, yes, there are Muslims that are more traditional. Christians can be that way, too. Pentecostals, Foursquare, some Southern Baptists, for example, seem extreme to more liberal or moderate Christian faiths, like Methodists or Episcopalians.

Do not let the media or talking head nitwits fool you: Usama bin Laden and his criminal organization is NOT representative of Islam. Most everything his group espouses is, in fact, anti-Islamic. The Taleban is the same way. The Taleban is an organization of tribes who feel their crude, misogynistic, and traditional way of life is being threatened. They also happen to be Muslims. However, again, nothing they present or espouse is supported in Islam. I understand what the media broadcasts, and much of what I have said contradicts the media. Remember that any literate person can read a tele-prompter.

Something must be said about religion versus customs, i.e. head scarfs, burqas, chadors, or any of the other full-length garments women, and sometimes men, wear. The wearing of veils, head scarfs, and body-length robes began well before Islam. Greeks, Persians, and Romans wore them long before Muslims. Body coverings of these types served a few purposes. Robes block the sun. Robes block dust and blowing sand. Robes also provided a way to show ones status in society. Women who wore robes and veils tended to be in the middle to upper class within society. Common women and prostitutes did not wear veils and wore less elaborate robes. Indonesia is the world’s 4th largest country, in terms of population, a Muslim country, and women commonly dress as any Western person might.

Exposure and education can overcome ignorance. Ignorance is neither a bad thing or a good thing. Ignorance is curable, through education, unlike Stupidity, which is cannot be fixed.

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