After attending the screening of The Ground Zero Mosque: The Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks and Amer Ahmed’s lecture “Islam: Beyond the Myths, Breaking Down the Barriers” on Ohio University’s campus in the last few weeks, I feel I have received a thorough grounding in both sides of today’s heated debate about the legitimacy of Islamophobia.
Though the blatant hate speech of the former was deeply disturbing, after reflection, I do not find the right-wing extremist attitude to be the only troubling aspect of this dispute: rather, the sharp dichotomy of the viewpoints provokes disquieting implications as well.
After the film screening, the subsequent panel discussion with Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and the videographer quickly degraded into a shouting match.
Though each questioner began respectfully, the panel would begin to answer mid-question and so often misinterpreted its meaning. Even when the discussion breached a point upon which both sides could logically agree — for instance, that extremist interpretations of Islam that inspire terrorism are problematic — the argument continued, neither side budging an inch.
In contrast, Ahmed’s lecture attracted an interested and respectful crowd, and the attitude in the room displayed a general acceptance for the prevalent peaceful lifestyle which Islam advocates.
At the surface, these two events are completely dichotomous; on a deeper level, they both contain one unfortunate characteristic that holds staggering implications: a one-sided view of a deeply divided debate.
While Ahmed undoubtedly more closely approached a middle ground than Geller and Spencer, there were several elements missing from his talk: namely, an admittance of any legitimacy in the widespread fears of Islamic practice and any mention of the very real passages in the Quran that at least seemto advocate for violence.
There is no doubt the vast majority of Muslims practice a peaceful version of Islam. However, increased terrorism in recent years has bred a fear of the religion that needs to be dealt with in a direct way, more than simply emphasizing its peaceful elements.
If the situation were reversed and Christians were feared — and we must note Christian terrorism does exist — I would expect a similar inclusive dialogue to progress.
To discover one universal truth about the matter is, of course, impossible, considering how many different interpretations of Islam there are both inside and outside the Muslim world. One cannot expect to come close to any kind of truth, though, without a comprehensive exploration of all sides of the issue.
Currently, though, the debate over Islamophobia is so deeply divided that people are fearful even of learning about the opposite view, let alone exploring any legitimacy it might hold.
Being fearful of the other side only reinforces the staunchly held beliefs of everyone involved and denies the opportunity for genuine exploration and open-mindedness. Frankly, that should not be the case.
After all, what are we afraid of? Are we alarmed that by exploring the other side of an issue, we might be ridiculed or estranged, that we might have to incorporate new ideas into our established identities?
Those fears are trivial compared to what should frighten us: our society is slipping into an dichotomy when it comes to controversy, forcing us to pick a side.
I witnessed both of those sides during the last two weeks. Far from experiencing balance, I now feel torn and more dissatisfied than before.
I now fear for the harsh segregation that is forced upon us, fear for the truth that might lie divided indefinitely. I only hope that someday, we will have the courage to bridge the divide to discover it.
Allison Hight is a sophomore studying English and a columnist for The Post. Are arguments too black and white? Email Allison at email@example.com.