The Killing of a Stereotype:
With the Help of Elizabeth Spelman’s Ideas of Repair
Repair; it surrounds us. You either repair something or you leave it broken. It’s a black and white idea. Elizabeth Spelman describes the different forms of repair in society. This could range from physical to emotional, and all the way to the repair of a culture with much greater detail in her book: Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World. September 11th, 2001; two towers full of hundreds of innocent people toppled to the ground with only dust and debris remaining to show the vastness that each once had. Twelve years later, a “Freedom Tower” was built as a memorial for the lives lost on that fateful day, this is America’s way of repairing the legacy of the World Trade Center. However, the towers and the lives of innocent people were not the only things destroyed that day; the attitude and opinion of Muslims and Middle- Eastern people changed in the eyes of the western world for the worst. 9/11 was a history-changing event, not only did it shake the world with the new knowledge that a radical group could perform on large scales, but also because it changed the way we, as Americans, viewed Muslims. While we should fear radical terrorist groups, and some may be affiliated with religions, we should not discriminate against those religions in general. Using the idea of repair that Elizabeth Spelman explains in her book: Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, I am going to go through the possible repair of the judgement that people of the western world have for Middle-Eastern people and Muslims.
Whenever a tragedy occurs, people like to look for someone to blame. A lot of the time, however, people are wrongfully blamed or accused for something they had nothing to do with. Spelman writes,
“‘Restorative justice’ isn’t only about fixing the flaws and making up
for the imperfections in existing legal institutions; it’s about putting
the repair of victims, offenders, and the communities of which they are
a part at the center of justice.” (Spelman, page 51).
There were many victims of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. In fact, our entire nation is looked at as a victim. Specifically, firefighters, policemen, etc. are praised for their heroism and strength that they showed on that tragic day in history. However, what people don’t tend to talk about is the fact that the Muslim culture is a victim of that day as well. Because of that one day, all Muslims are stereotyped as terrorists. So, it appears as though we should be looking at Muslims as victims too; they are victims of a false stereotype. A person’s religion should not affect the way others view them; their character should.
How do you repair something that is not physical, but more immaterial and psychological? In the following quote from Spelman’s Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, she explains how there are the obvious physical repairs but also the mental repairs, as well as large-scale repairs that happen between things like nations, which could also pertain to religions and skin colors.
“Perhaps the most obvious kinds of repair are those having to do with
the inanimate objects with which we surround ourselves — the clothes
calling out for mending, the automobiles for fixing, the buildings for
renovating, the works of art for restoring. But our bodies and souls also
are by their very nature subject to fracture and fissure, for which we
seek homely household recipes for healing and consolation, or perhaps
the expert ministrations of surgeons, therapists, and other menders and
fixers of all manner of human woes. Relationships between individuals
and among nations are notoriously subject to fraying and being rent
asunder. From apologies and other informal attempts at patching
things up to law courts, conflict meditation, and truth and
reconciliation commissions, we try to reweave what we revealingly call
the social fabric.” (Spelman, pages 1 and 2)
As Spelman articulated, it is the personal relationships between people and/or nations that are the most subject to fraying. This is like the idea of the western world versus Islam and the Middle Eastern stereotype. How can we fix something that is so susceptible to unraveling and wearing away? We, as Americans have a natural view of Muslims and Middle-Eastern people that is negative due to their different clothing, culture, etc.. Whether it be Muslims, African-Americans, or Asians; humans naturally judge based on appearance, we tend to dislike difference and nearly everyone is guilty of it.
Through an interview with an old friend, Yusef, and his family, who are Muslim, my friend stated
“Things just aren’t the same for me, I’m more likely to be randomly selected at an airport, and if I get pulled over by a cop, I have to be more cautious with my words.” (Yusef Basma, personal communication, October 20th, 2016).
My friend has been discriminated against; it is an injustice in society that must be repaired. Yusef told me some interesting stories that pertain to my claim very well, including the following. In 2014, while Yusef and his family were at an airport on their way to Lebanon to see some family, his mother and two-year-old brother got stopped for having traces of bomb on their hands, they got held up for two hours and missed their flight for what ended up being hand lotion. When he saw the shock on my face after telling the story, he also added that he has never been to the airport and gone through security without being stopped. Somehow I do not believe the “random selection” is so random anymore. Yusef was only four years old when the events of September 11th happened, so he is a prime example of someone who has been singled out and victimized for his entire life. The final story Yusef explained struck me as a very interesting display of how the stereotypes have affected not only our adults, but also our children. While Yusef was in middle school, a white male labeled him with a very derogatory term. The term that our middle schoolers should never be familiar with, let alone know the meaning of: Sand N****r. (Yusef Basma, personal communication, October 20th, 2016). Yusef claims that he then got suspended for calling the kid a fatass in return. In a concluding statement, Yusef said:
“There’s a quote that I’ve seen that goes something like this: ‘Mixing culture with Islam is like mixing poison with water’ but our faith makes us no different than you, other than belief. In the grand scheme of things, we are all the same particles of H2O in that glass of water.” (Yusef Basma, personal communication, October 20th, 2016).
The repair of an unjust stereotype could be nothing more than knowledge. The knowledge that not all middle-eastern people are Muslim, and not all Muslims are terrorists. The repair of the twin towers may not be possible, but as Spelman narrates, there are possible things to do to recreate the hope and safe feeling that Americans, and New York once had to live in the” land of the free” and expel the fear that Al Qaeda instilled in their consciences.
“The wide range of responses to the horrible wounds inflicted on September 11, 2001, bear solemn witness to the sheer variety of H, reparans’ [Humans: in reference to Homo Sapiens natural impulse to repair] capacities: The twin towers can neither be repaired nor restored, but as the president of the Historic Districts Council of New York sees it, whatever is done at the site ‘must reweave the damaged threads of the fabric that terrorism sought to tear apart, and create a sense of place that fills the void and honors the losses of September 11.’” (Spelman, pages 2 and 3)
The thing that the president of the Historic Districts Council of New York left out was what would be a far greater task to overcome; and that is the false representation now given to Muslims and Middle-Easterners by many Americans that feared their small population of radical counterparts. Fixing this stereotype will be harder than simply “repairing the damaged threads”, an entire movement is needed to lift this custom that is supported in our minds by unease and doubt. This can be completed with a larger population of the Muslims embracing their religion and not tucking it away due to dismay of being judged differently. Wear a Hijab in public, exposure to diversity is one way to rebuild. Another possible solution could be for people to train their brains, denounce stereotypes and seek media messages that are factual, realistic, and are for Muslims, not against.
The media plays a large role in the fabrication of false images of Muslims. “Several prominent media icons of the Christian right have gone so far as to label the prophet Muhammad a ‘terrorist’ and the Qur‘an as the ‘enemy’s book’” as well as political cartoons displaying things such as bombs with turbans on them, and mad religious mullahs or imams. The repair of the false creation of these stereotypes could be something as simple as truth. The truth that terrorists are a very miniscule minority of Muslims, and they exist in nearly all religions and societies. (el-Sayed el-Aswad PhD, “Images of Muslims in Western Scholarship and Media after 9/11”, 2013)
In a current event relation to this topic, our current President of the United States, Barack Obama, in a speech given to the United Nations on September 25th, 2012 declared that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” Meanwhile, in a mere four years from the date of that speech, the Republican candidate, Donald Trump is quoted saying “They’re [Muslims] not coming to this country if I’m president. And if Obama has brought some to this country they are leaving, they’re going, they’re gone.” As well as when he got ridiculed for his outlandish quote, he refused to apologize for it.
September 11th was a history-changing event, and we should not only look to the families of the victims, but also the religion; the culture, that was changed and the ideals they are now associated with in the western world. In conclusion, a solution will not be found without effort, it is not simple, but necessary, I personally do not feel fear when I see Muslims or Middle-Easterners. All it took for me was to befriend someone of that ethnicity and culture. Use Spelman’s concept of repair as a stepping stool, her thoughts of repair can pertain to nearly anything, as repair is around us at any moment in time. Let us not be the generation that started the stereotype; but the generation that dismantles it.
el-Aswad, e.-S. (2013), Images of Muslims in Western Scholarship and Media after
9/11. Domes, 22: 39–56. doi:10.1111/dome.12010
Wood, C. and Finlay, W. M. L. (2008), British National Party representations of
Muslims in the month after the London bombings: Homogeneity, threat, and
the conspiracy tradition. British Journal of Social Psychology, 47: 707–726.
Yusef Basma, October 20th, 2016, Personal communication.
Religious persecution is alive and well in America. But the victims are not Christians. There is no liberal "war on…www.stevedennie.com
I would like to first thank my TA, Seda Oz, and my professor, Joe Harris for their professional input on my piece, which helped in allowing me to create the paper that the final product became. I would also like to thank my group members, Sonya, Anne, Amanda, and Elijah, who gave their personal input on my piece and helped to edit it. I would also like to thank my parents who, had they not pushed me, I would not be at the University of Delaware writing this piece and becoming a better writer. Finally, I would like to thank my classmate, floormate, and more than anything, friend, Rachel Levine, who helped me finish my assignments on time and helped to edit and in giving me her (although sometimes harsh) honest opinion, as I did for her. At the end of the day, if you feel as though you’ve affected me in a way that would influence me to be where I am today, then you belong on this list, thank you all.