On Friday, August 14th I had the opportunity to interview Professor Amaney Jamal.
Dr. Amaney Jamal is the Edward S. Sanford Professor of Politics and the Director Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice at Princeton University, and has a wide range of impressive accomplishments. Please learn more about her brilliant work here: http://www.amaneyjamal.com/.
As an American-Muslim youth seeking to make a difference in this world, it is those like Dr. Jamal that I truly look up to. Her work to advance justice in the American- Muslim community, in the Arab world, and for women has truly been profoundly impactful. Speaking with her about the issues that mean most to me, and hearing her advice on how to properly address many of the injustices that most detriment our society has given me information, perspective, and understanding to be a more effective advocate of social change.
There were a few key takeaways I took from our conversation:
It is imperative that people take initiative to increase their own understandings. We need to think of ways we can apply our work to benefit others in society. Dr. Jamal commented that students at Princeton are doing a great job of seeking knowledge, working hard, and taking action as citizens. As the younger generation, it is really important that we invest our time into clubs, organizations, volunteering, and really any type of constructive engagement. For example, we should use social media as an educational tool, not simply for frivolous activity.
The younger generation needs to find ways to make mild improvements. Each of us should focus on increasing knowledge, promoting understanding, and being part of a positive change. We should be able to look back after a year and ask ourselves if we have made any sort of difference? She concluded by saying, “We need the younger generation to be engaged.”
We must each recognize our own responsibilities. Dr. Jamal suggested that, “Women need to recognize their importance in society. Men should work on this too.” She went on to speak about how we need to work together in a “cooperative equilibrium.” It is important that we start at the individual level. As a community, we cannot reinforce norms that are misguided, norms that have subjected women. As a community, we
can't be complacent in injustice. We must raise awareness, recognize our responsibility, and ask ourselves what is truly happening in society.
3. Confronting Reality:
Dr. Jamal noted that one of the biggest obstacles she has faced in her own encounters-- both professional and non-professional--is the lack of understanding and knowledge is the source of a lot of problems that persist. She recommended that we overcome those obstacles by “imparting knowledge on people.” Dr. Jamal very eloquently stated that “We must make sure that monolithic, inaccurate, and stereotypical paradigms do not go unchallenged as it is our duty to keep educating.”
During our discussion of the stereotype of Middle Eastern women in America, Dr. Jamal remarked that, “We must confront the reality that exists. The status of women in the Middle East is not very good. It is not very good compared to other places, and there is significant room for improvement.” She also noted that, “part of confronting that reality is realizing that in recent years the gains the women in the Middle East have made are tremendous. The women in the Middle East have not caught up yet, but we cannot ignore their huge gains. The growth has been astronomical.” Her discussion regarding the condition of women in Middle East lends itself to the discussion of confronting reality profoundly. We cannot just accept what the media feeds us, but instead must continue to educate ourselves, research what is happening in this world, and confront reality accordingly.
Dr. Jamal called on society to realize that, “the status of women is often used to reinforce the idea that there is something wrong with the Middle East and Islam, but that things weren’t great in the USA for women 100 years ago. Women couldn’t attend Princeton until 1970s, not because of Muslims, but rather because patriarchal norms are present in all societies.” She furthered that, “We cannot use the status of women to demonize an entire faith community, and must instead be constructive in our critiques and work for improvement.”
4. Obstacles as Opportunities:
I think that Dr. Jamal’s discussion of using obstacles as opportunities is likely the aspect of our conversation I will remember most vividly. She stated, that “As a hijabi American-Muslim woman, I realized early on that people would stereotype me negatively, and that I could easily get bogged down about the level of ignorance regarding Arab and Muslim women. I then recognized the false stereotype, and used it
as an opportunity to educate about myself, my faith, and tradition. It has made me a better teacher, researcher, and scholar.”
I will remember that quote so profoundly because I hope to throughout the course of my life to use obstacles, ignorance, and prejudice as opportunities to educate, to promote understanding, and to better myself.
5. Condemn, but don’t Apologize:
I don’t think any commentary is necessary for this truly exceptional quote that I will leave you with by Dr. Jamal, “There is no monolithic American-Muslim community. The Muslim world has over 100 homelands, over 80 different ethnicities, and is a remarkably heterogenous community. We can’t just say American-leadership should do x, y, z [in regards to the American-Muslim community effectively demonstrating its peaceful nature]. ISNA and ICNA leadership have unequivocally condemned violence and terrorism, and have tried to counter the stereotypes permeating media, but no one is listening. We have not been successful [in demonstrating our peaceful nature] because the Islamophobia machine is too powerful, and no one is listening. We could scream we are not terrorists all day, but no one is listening. We have the right to say what we need to say, but we also need to be listened to. We need to gain access to mainstream media. FOX News, CNN, and etc. are not giving us a voice. We need to have to be able to point out that we are being marginalized, institutionally. It has taken me personally a long time to get there.”
She continued with an anecdote, “I was watching a TV segment about the Sandusky fiasco, and it was discussing how football fans all of a sudden had to consistently apologize for liking football and Penn State. I realized that that’s how we feel, and I realized that as equal Americans we aren’t equal until we don’t have to feel this guilt. We cannot apologize for things that are beyond our control. ISIS is disgusting - we need to say it - but we cannot apologize for them because we have absolutely no control over them or relation to them. Apologize for passing a red light, not ISIS. We need to be able to assert ourselves as American. An entire community cannot be held responsible for an actions of a few people.”
Stay engaged, act responsibly, view obstacles as opportunities, and realize how deeply we cannot accept stereotypes.