Resolution (Why I love America!)
Well, today I was told the situation with Tasneem and the language program has been resolved. She's been admitted on the basis of her academic qualifications. (Yay!) I had called the Indiana University Office of Diversity and explained the situation, and they followed up really quickly with a meeting with the head of the program and the head of the foreign languages department. On the phone today, they actually thanked me for bringing the issue to their attention. I guess I'm not too surprised, because in a conversation with the director she had mentioned a past student and her approach to him was quite similar to the approach she had taken with Tasneem, though he was a Buddhist not a Muslim. Basically, she felt she had the right to tell kids how or how much they should practice their religion, and to base their admission to the program on whether they respected her wishes, rather than their academic qualifications.
Of course, it's a bit of a tricky issue, because it is a foreign study program, and character does figure in the application process. But, at the same time, she was telling Tasneem she should not wear her headscarf, and later telling me that it was ok to tie it behind her head, but under her chin was too much. Similarly, she told this Buddhist boy that he shouldn't meditate two hours in the morning before class, it was excessive, he needed his sleep and 1/2 hour should suffice. Clearly these are issues quite separate from issues of character, and tantamount to religious discrimination.
So what does this have to do with why I love America?
One, it was clear throughout the process that the director meant no harm -- she clearly had good intentions, even if they were misguided good intentions that happened to result in something illegal. I know that deliberate discrimination against Muslims does occur in the US, but in my experience it's very rare. Most of the reports I read in the news about discrimination are very similar to this, and are resolved quickly and with relative ease. Further, there is no institutionalized discrimination (with the exception of the airport security) such as we see in France. To me, that is a huge plus. Discrimination, especially institutionalized, systemic discrimination is a breeding ground for bitterness, resentment, alienation, and hatred. I think one of the reasons that Europe is having some problems is because there are systemic forces at play that keep the Muslim immigrants there estranged from their societies, even after two, three and four generations. That America has chosen a different path -- to honor and protect all religions and to allow people free reign in practicing their religion -- and that Americans as a people are committed to equality and tolerance for all is one reason I love America.
Two, everyone we talked to was very supportive of Tasneem and the fact that religious discrimination just isn't acceptable. This support meant a great deal to me, personally, and I think it will come to be important to Tasneem as she gets older and thinks back on the incident. The overwhelming positive response we got shows that when something does go awry, people are ready to step in and do something, to stand for a principle. I have seen this time and time again -- the hand stretched forward to help a person and/or community in need. I know this is not unique to the US -- compassion and striving for justice is a value in all religions and pretty much every culture I know, but the fact that I see it practiced in my own country makes me love it and my neighbors. We could have been told, "don't rock the boat" but that's not what happened. We were met with support and action that will help my children understand that the incident was an isolated case, not the norm -- and that ties right back into the whole alienation vs feeling a part of the society. They will know that they are indeed part and parcel of this society, as much as anyone else, no matter what they wear, or what religion they practice. What a wonderful knowledge to have; what a wonderful society to live in!