Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What I Learned in Dance Class

Traditional Jaipong Dance
Four years of dance instruction. Six years of competitive cheerleading. Seven years of living in Montana hiking and skiing. With those experiences in my back pocket, I thought that my first traditional, Indonesian dance class would be a breeze. Boy was I mistaken. I entered the room to find a delightful, petite woman who I presumed to be the teacher. I introduced myself with the phrase I had practiced in my head ten times over. “Halo, Ibu! Nama saya Mallory dan saya mau belajar tari Jaipong.” Without any introduction from herself and with a smiling face, (smiling is a stretch, I’m pretty sure she was smirking) she commanded me in Sundanese to start doing bizarre squat motions. It’s funny, really. The second I start thinking about how much my Bahasa Indonesia has improved, someone starts yelling in Sundanese. As my awkward American stature performed my uncomfortable squats in front of this menacing woman, I knew it was going to be a long two hours.

Strange hand movements that resembled flailing butterflies. Uncomfortable squatting positions that went against the laws of gravity. Ominous stares and scoldings from the petite master. Repetitive toe taps. Countless chest thrusts. And plenty of puzzled faces from myself. Two hours of this nonsense had passed at a glacial pace, and as my legs were uncontrollably quivering, I was feeling defeated and worn. When the clock struck six, my new teacher finally gave in and spoke normal Bahasa Indonesia. “Kamu bisa belajar tari jaipong dan kamu sudah jago! Semangat!” (You can learn jaipong and you are already very good.) With the biggest smile I was capable of giving, my confidence went soaring the roof.

I’ve returned to dance class three times since that first day. In the six hours I’ve spent with the pint-sized woman,  I’ve been taught lessons that cannot be sought elsewhere. Her language of choice, I’ve realized, is not Bahasa Sundanese. Her language of choice is the way her body moves- The way her high eyebrows skyrocket, and her face tightens when I’m just not understanding. The way her eyes beam when I finally do. The way her body glides across the floor as she relishes in the fact that she’s alive and well. The way her compact frame pulls me into a bear hug with the conclusion of each class, expressing her satisfaction with the unexpected bule. I may not know the complex language of Sundanese, but I do know the language of human interaction. And when you’re an exchange student, that can make all of the difference.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Media Vs. Muslims

Trench warfare. Machine guns. Atom bombs. When it comes to weaponry, the world has made significant gains in the way we fight wars. However, within the past 20 years, a new weapon has emerged- Mass media. In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, Muslims from every corner of the Earth have been unjustly used as scapegoats for many of the world’s conflicts and tragedies through media. How many news broadcasts have you heard begin with, “Muslim Fundamentalists responsible for bombing,” or “President Barack Obama suspected of being Muslim?” as if being a Muslim could be the worst possible offense?  Mass media has attacked the religion as a whole- providing fuel for people’s misguided fear and hate of this “unknown and strange” faith. Doesn’t this all seem a bit ironic? In the era of communication, people are still struggling to understand and respect each other.

“In terms of stereotypes, I think Muslims are like any other religion on this earth. We have religious, not-so-religious, extremist, and something in the middle. Just because the media likes to spice things up, people keep swirling around the extremist and the terrorist. While in truth, there are many good, fun, humorous Muslims out there, just like there are a lot of many good, fun, humorous Christians, Buddhists, etc.”  -Age 22

“Islam is not a religion of violence and all of the bad things people think it is. It is a religion of peace and submission to God. And nothing, not a single verse in Quran states that we should kill innocent, non-believers. The terrorists are just people that are misguided and use the name of faith to justify their deeds. They are criminals like all other criminals of any other religion. Nothing in Islam states that they will go to heaven or be rewarded for their act.”  -Age 21

Hear that? There is not a single verse in the Quran that says innocent people should ever be killed. What it does say however, is that Muslims are allowed to fight back against those who attack them. “Fight in the cause of the  God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors.” (Quran 2:190) HOWEVER, it is also clearly stated that if the other party is not using aggression, then it is absolutely unacceptable to use aggression towards them. “But if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” (Quran 2:193) The truth is, many Muslims are accepting of other practicing religions. Every human life is scared, no matter what religion they practice- And all must be free to worship God in whatever setting suits them best. “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Quran 2:256) 
I have also often heard the phrase “Holy War” thrown around on TV, in movies, and in books. I’ll let you in on a little secret... There is no such thing as a “Holy War” in Islam, nor are such words ever written in the Quran. What many people often get confused about, is the word jihad, which literally means to struggle in the name of God. Jihad does not solely apply to war! We all struggle- Whether that’s with resisting temptation, or not saying unkind words, or doing things selfishly. In hindsight, even making the decision to study in university could be considered jihad, because though it’s a struggle, it’s the right thing to do in the pursuit of a better life. All the while, keeping in mind that God is the one who graciously allowed you to do that.

The problem goes beyond just the news. Muslims are also often depicted negatively in Hollywood movies. In over 900 American films, the vast majority of Arab/Muslims characters have been completely twisted (Jack Shaheen survey.) Depictions of daily life include reciting Quran all day long, telling children to die in the name of Allah, and treating women as second class citizens. I live with a Muslim family, and I can promise you that none of these things happen. My family is most commonly found engulfing Domino’s pizza, taking selfies, or perhaps watching a soccer game on TV. 

Media is great, and it is powerful. But with its great power, and nearly unlimited access to information, critical thinking is a must. If we are to make strides towards peace in the era of media, it is with this ideal that we must run with to the future. 

"America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." -Barack Obama