Difficult discussions about diversity

22Oct10

Juan Williams’ unfortunate remarks have made for some excellent conversation over the past couple of days.

At the office this morning, the discussion centered on whether he deserved to be fired. The opinions ran the gamut from “I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal,” to “Hell, yeah—and he should be prosecuted, too.”

Later this afternoon, the talk turned humorous when a friend pointed me to Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things. Based on the site’s title, I was worried I’d be offended. Instead I was delighted to find a wonderful representation of the modern face of Islam. The caption for this photo reads,

This is Jamal Baadani. He’s Muslim, a Marine, and he’s wearing a lot of medals.”

I couldn’t help but wonder … would Juan Williams feel uncomfortable if he saw Jamal Baadani at the airport? Or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Or Congressman Keith Ellison?

The topic came up a third time a couple of hours ago. I met three friends for dinner—a professor, a judge, and a yoga teacher—and as I expected, the conversation was lively. Within minutes of touching on the Williams debacle, we were talking about whether women should be forbidden to wear a hijab.

I argued that, in a democracy, people should be free to wear what they choose. I suggested that some women who are accustomed to the hijab might feel immodest without it. The judge said that others might be glad to be rid of it. Either way, we thought it should be their choice.

The professor countered that, to function properly, society requires a certain degree of assimilation. The yoga instructor offered up France as an example: To keep their long-term visas, resident aliens are required to take French language and culture lessons.

The conversation soon faded into a long moment of silence. The questions we were pondering had no easy answers. It seemed that we had to make a choice between individual rights and collective social cohesion.

Fortunately, we closed our evening in absolute agreement on at least one point: We were all glad that Juan Williams’ gaffe had brought the issues of race and religion into the center of the public spotlight.

It’s about time we had some difficult discussions about the true meaning of diversity.

Read an earlier related post.


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