We are taught to believe the opinions of all people are encouraged in the United States. Democracy relies on the ability of people to make their own decisions. But false speech is not positive for our society or our democracy. Such speech has led to violence and created an unbalanced democracy where some people’s opinions are valued more than others.
I demand more from my university. I want to have the option of learning about the Middle East and Arab world the same way I can learn about European culture and history. USF has a one-sided, unbalanced educational program. There is an overabundance of one culture’s history and practically a complete denial of the existence of another. This may be one of the reasons why some people’s opinions are valued more than others and why some cultures are more accepted than others in our society.
USF is a perfect example of a place that does not encourage learning about the Middle East. At a time when the United States is deeply involved in the Arab world, why don’t we have a well funded Arabic language program? If you’ve tried taking an Arabic class you know that not many are offered each semester. Arabic is a widely spoken language and I should be offered the choice to learn it properly. I am not.
Have you ever tried taking a history course on the Middle East at USF? The best you will get is either a course on the Middle East in the International Studies department or maybe a course on religion that covers a brief history of Islam in the Religious Studies department. Our history department at USF doesn’t’ even offer one history class on the 20-plus Arab countries. Simply put, USF is not offering or funding classes for students who want to learn more.
Earlier this year a college in the Carolinas asked its incoming freshman class to read the Quran, the Muslim “Bible,” and write a paper about what they learned. It was optional and if they didn’t want to read the Quran they could write a paper about why they chose not to. Believe it or not, some people were outraged about this reading material and many major news stations were debating whether it was a good idea to have students read about another religion, particularly Islam. This negative reaction to the Quran came from fear about the religion, which in turn came from ignorance and a lack of knowledge about Islam. I guess ignorance is not always bliss.
Ignorance should not be considered harmless either. A recent example of how a lack of knowledge led to violence in the United States was after the Sept. 11 attacks. Many Arab-looking people and Muslims were attacked physically and verbally simply because of their skin tone or religion. More tolerant Americans took the democratic approach to counteracting their fears about Islam and Arabs by asking questions and gaining knowledge.
We cannot function in a democracy without the fundamental ideals of tolerance and equality. We will only learn to respect other opinions when we are able to hear other opinions. As students and Americans we must be given the opportunity to learn about other cultures and their histories, especially in our universities. Only after we acknowledge the Middle East in our history, language and other various educational departments can we say we are a nation that values the opinions of all people.
Aya Batrawy is a senior majoring in mass communications and history.