Table Conversations at Festival of Faiths

IndyFestival1On Sunday September 18, the Desmond Tutu Center worked alongside the Center for Interfaith Cooperation at Table Conversations, an event that was a part of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation’s Festival of Faiths in downtown Indianapolis. While cultural music, food, and information were being shared by participants outside, inside the Table Conversations discussions brought dozens of people together from multiple different backgrounds to discuss the pressing social and political issues plaguing our communities.Waseema Ali, the Managing Director of the Desmond Tutu Center for Peace, Reconciliation, and Global Justice moderated the event, while each individual discussion topic had its own table and its own respective moderator.

Butler student Lynn Alsatie led one of the  Table Conversations which was about the current Syrian refugee crisis. Factors such as the political and economic advantages and disadvantages to hosting an influx of refugees were discussed. Within the context of Europe, increased nationalism was brought up as a result of the dramatic influx of refugees into the region. However, in the United States, the biggest result of the refugee needs relates to Islamophobia and the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists. National security was a large concern and participants discussed how they felt in regards to the dramatic Christian-only attitude taken by some politicians and public figures.

FoF3A second table, Moderated by Faryal Khatri, of the Islamic Society of North America discussed Islamophobia directly.Table Conversations attendees discussed some of the ways Muslims are discriminated against in the United States, one major example being at the airport. Muslims, or people deemed Muslim by unjustified physical characterizations, are often subjected to special treatment by TSA officials, are further  subjected to racial slurs, and often people ask to switch seats on airplanes to avoid sitting next to “Muslims”. These situations ultimately dehumanize others and further perpetuate negative stereotypes.

The third table  focused on the limits of religious freedom. Moderator Don Knebel, of Barnes and Thornburg LLP, posed situations such as what if a mother refuses to vaccinate her child for religious reasons? Is this allowed through religious freedom, or does the risk of not vaccinating a child pose a greater threat to other children? Rights of employees were discussed in the context of religious holidays as well. Complicated situations like these developed the discussion into a complex conversation about where the lines of religious freedom end and where the rights of others begin.

At another of the tables Lang Brownlee, University Co-Chaplain at the University of Indianapolis, led a conversation about racism on college campuses. Some of the questions that guided this conversation included whether universities have an obligation to require diversity training for their faculty and staff or whether colleges should be held to a higher standard than other institutions. Students are, after all, susceptible to the opinions of their professors. The subject of “safe spaces” was also brought up. College campuses to some minorities are seen as hostile environments and safe spaces would allow them a platform to discuss relevant issues with solidarity. Participants also discussed how assimilation was a huge problem for minorities on campuses. As soon as they step on campus, joining the larger group instead of modeling their own individuality is a problem situation for proud minorities.

The final table discussed how patriotism and protest interact in the social sphere. Moderator Pierre Atlas, Director of The Richard G. Lugar Franciscan Center for Global Studies at Marian University brought up the example of pro-football player Colin Kaepernick and his protest of the National Anthem before football games. Atlas asked questions like whether this is the most effective way of protesting social and racial injustice in the US. and whether Kaepernick’s actions were an insult to people who have served the country in the military? Participants at this table could understand both sides. Regardless, they agreed that the method of protest that Kaepernick was following was effective in the manner that it brought forward much attention.
All participants had the chance to sit in at each table and discuss with the moderator and peers how these issues are created and perpetuated, as well as what solutions might be necessary in order to create a more united local, national, and global community.

By: Autumn Tyler

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