Tina K. Russell

July 30, 2008

My worldview is confirmed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:10 pm

Oregon state senator wounded in gun accident – Breaking News Updates from Portland and Oregon – The Oregonian – OregonLive.com
The Medford Mail Tribune reports that Republican Jason Atkinson, 37, was hit while repairing a friend’s bicycle Tuesday.

Central Point police say a .38-caliber derringer was in a bag attached to the bike, and it fired when Atkinson dropped the bag.

Man, if only he had had a gun with him. Then, he could have defended himself!

(Actually, it does sound like he’s in pretty bad shape, which is sad. I hope he makes it out all right.)

Staying the Course

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:54 pm

Op-Ed Contributor – The Catholic Church and Birth Control, 40 Years Later – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
FORTY years ago last week, Pope Paul VI provoked the greatest uproar against a papal edict in the long history of the Roman Catholic Church when he reiterated the church’s ban on artificial birth control by issuing the encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” At the time, commentators predicted that not only would the teaching collapse under its own weight, but it might well bring the “monarchical papacy” down with it.

Those forecasts badly underestimated the capacity of the Catholic Church to resist change and to stand its ground.

Such unwillingness to change can be a resolute stand for all that is right and good, but it can also be simple obstinance, blindness to how the world is changing around you. An encyclical, of beautiful poetry on on the innate value of human life, does nothing to comfort me when confronted with the horrors of overpopulation and sexually transmitted disease, nor does it temper my belief that access to birth control could allow women to have more power over their male lovers by allowing them to make sex something other than a contract to form a household and raise children without end. I hope that in time, the Pope will see birth control the way the rest of the world sees it: an imperfect but valuable tool to allow women to take control of their own love and sex lives, so that men and women can reap the benefits of that independence.

I’m not exactly sure what value there is in tying sex, marriage, and procreation together in the same act. Doesn’t that seem like overdoing it? As we say in relationships: take it slow! One thing at a time!

But also, by not accepting the realities of how world culture has changed, the church risks making its own valuable messages irrelevant by making them seem inapplicable to the lives of young people. How can you teach sexual responsibility at the same time as absolute, unyielding fidelity before marriage? How can you teach safe sex if you are teaching no sex? How can you teach to care for your partner, to listen to his or her wants or needs, if sexual desires are rendered illegitimate for all but childbearing? And does it really value children to imply, in a backhanded way, that they are handy excuses to have sex? (What I mean is that the church runs a harsh risk by tying sex exclusively to children: that, instead of making sex more meaningful by tying it to children, they make children less meaningful by tying them to sex. That disturbs me greatly.)

I admire standing on principle, but they have to be timeless, unyielding, and grounded in the ultimate sancticity of life. I don’t think there’s anything in the Bible prohibiting medical implements that would not be invented for thousands of years and have no historical analogue. There’s a legitimate argument (one I do not subscribe to) against abortion, but it distresses me because it comes close–not there, mind you, but close–to an argument that a potential baby is the same as a birthed one. (I’m sorry to bring up abortion here because I know it’s a touchy subject. I promise to address it later in full.) The argument that emergency contraception, desperately needed in times of (as the name implies) emergency, is “effectively” abortion crosses this line, as does the even more insipid argument that any birth control does so by preventing children from ever being concieved. (Emergency contreception, it should be noted, does the same: no baby is concieved, or aborted.) One more step and we’re saying that something else is “effectively” abortion: abstinence. Apparently, if but one of a woman’s eggs goes unfertilized, that’s a potential baby lost for the ages. I would much rather have men and women make responsible choices about whether or not they can really raise a baby than make unrealistic vows never to have sex until they do so.

I’ve never had sex. I am a virgin. Given that I am in my early twenties, this puts me in a minority. However, teen pregnancy has, thank the Lord, gone down in recent years, upticking only recently (and though I know many factors can influence such statistics, I have to be irked at how our youths’ promising tradition of lowering these rates came to an end as students taught under federally supported abstinence-only education started going off to college in large numbers). If the church cannot bear to stress the importance of sexual responsibility–requiring it to jettison its view of sex outside of marriage as innately wrong–it is writing itself out of young people’s lives and out of history, which is tragic because I would wager young people need this message now more than ever. I’d think that increased interconnectedness has given young people more peer influence than ever, and given parents less control over the envrionment that kids grow up in. That would mean kids need the message of sexual responsibility reinforced all around them, by people they respect, in school, in the home, and in the church. That means that church leaders must step up to the plate and be involved in students’ lives, and not surrender them to the seductive terror of unfettered, selfish, irresponsible sexuality.

There’s nothing Godly about making yourself unhappy, and nothing inherently sinful about sexuality. The scourge in question is selfishness, nihilism, the unrestrained quest for self-fulfillment, one that never ends. You are not, realistically, going to make your children uninterested in sex, no matter how many promise rings they wear upon going to college. Far more important is arming them against the forces of temptation to lose themselves in ceaseless self-gratification, and to teach them how to respect themselves and their partners. Such precautions have a multiplier effect for human rights, here and in the entire world. We can stand by our children through harrowing times, or we can abandon them in the name of principle, principle as well-meaning as it is misapplied. It’s that simple.

One argument remains, which is that birth control makes sex easier for people, and will cause them to do it more, resulting (somehow) in sexual irresponsibility. I dislike this argument because I think babies are a harsh disincentive, and I do not want to devalue children by making them a token punishment for sex rather than beautiful human beings in their own right. But also, I do not think it is fair for us to limit people’s choices in this way. We can model good behavior, we can demonstrate good behavior, we can advise good behavior, but we cannot force it, and doing so for a person’s own good is morally reprehensible. If somebody wants to lose him or herself to mindless pursuit of pleasure at the expense of all else, fine. It’s best to make sure that we do not involve children in such mindlessness by forcing the duty of parenthood upon such people ill-suited for the job, and to ensure our children know how best to avoid falling into such traps, traps of forcing themselves to be unhappy or traps of thinking of nothing but making themselves happy (and never reaching it). (People, incidentally, have a way of sharply flipping between these extremes. It’s best not to encourage either.)

Our bodies, our sexualities, are beautiful, they are gifts from God. Why should we not cherish and respect them, and treat our own and those of others with the dignity they deserve? Why should I not allow the church’s teachings into my sex life when I think they may be useful, as the essential rightness of what Jesus says does not somehow end at the bedchamber? Why should I not respect myself and those I love by engaging in sex when taking physical and emotional precautionary measures on behalf of us both, and choosing not to when it would not be a good idea? If the choice to have sex is out of your hands, so is the choice not to have sex, and the choice to have sex on your own terms. When overpopulation, STDs, and the suboordinate status of women are stubborn problems in the developing world linked to all others, it makes the breaking of the taboo of sex, in dorm rooms, dining rooms, and churches, more critical than ever.

Athletes and the elusive definition of sex

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:01 am

Yes, they’re setting up a clinic in Beijing to test the sex of Olympic athletes who are, ah, “claiming” to be female.

This led me to learn about the case of Santhi Soundarajan, who competed in the 2006 Asian Games. Read:

The sad story of Santhi Soundarajan-The Times of India:
She should have been home with her poor brick-kiln working parents and four siblings in rural South India celebrating her moment of glory at the Asian Games.

Instead, Santhi Soundarajan has been reduced to leading a life of public humiliation amid uncaring and insensitive officials, shattered by the fact that her sporting career may be over.

The Olympic Council of Asia stripped Santhi of the silver medal she won in the 800m in Qatar, saying she had been “disqualified as per the recommendations of the medical committee on a Games rule violation.”

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) said the 25-year-old had failed a sex test, implying she had deceived the sporting world by competing as a woman when she was actually a man.

Of course, she may have had a relatively rare condition with precedent in such international games:

Normally, women have two X chromosones (XX) and men have an X or Y chromosone (XY) in their cells. The presence of XX chromosones confirms the person’s female gender.

However, some people born with a Y chromosome develop all the physical characteristics of a woman except internal female sex organs, a result of a genetic defect that does not produce testosterone.

A person with this condition – called androgen insensitivity syndrome or AIS – might be XY but she is not a man because her body never responds to the testosterone she’s producing.

Since testosterone helps in building muscle and strength, an AIS case would not give an XY female athlete any kind of competitive advantage.

Seven of the eight women who tested positive for Y chromosones during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics had AIS. They were allowed to compete.

A year later, amidst the public humiliation, Soundarajan attempted suicide.

I can’t say I know what the correct solution is for the entirely unlikely problem of whether a country would enter a man disguised as a woman into an international competition (though I would imagine the likelihood of the information coming out, and the country’s subsequent humiliation, would be sufficient deterrent). Perhaps a more likely problem would be coaches, looking for a less obvious way to cheat, would use male hormones instead of steroids as the drug of choice to tell players to take and not to ask questions about. However, then you would want to have a look at recent medical history, as male hormones have fairly obvious effects over time.

I do think, though, that countries or teams flinging accusations of gender impropriety–the entire stated reason for these sex-verification clinics is to “protect” athletes from such accusations–represent the very highest in poor sportsmanship, unable to accept anything but the most vicious, scandalous, and titillating explanation for their loss. I can say that there must be a better way to do this, lest we lose another talented athlete like Santhi Soundarajan, a cissexual victim of anti-transsexual ignorance and prejudice.

July 28, 2008

Locker rooms and common sense

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 9:48 pm

Transsexual fights city of Cleveland over pool locker room – Cleveland.com
Last month, while she was dressing, a little boy asked why there was a woman in the men’s room. Embarrassed, Deamons tried to change in an enclosed area in a separate women’s restroom – a move for which pool workers banned her from the pool for a week.

Here’s a typical story: a trans woman fights the city government so that she can use the women’s locker room, like any other woman. She’s pre-operative, so she still has that thing that makes people so nervous.

You know what makes this interesting, though? She used a private stall in the women’s locker room! The men’s room has no private stalls! She risks torment, derision, and violence by going into the men’s locker room. Nobody risks… anything when she uses the women’s locker room. I wish the world weren’t so crazy as to freak out over seeing a penis on a woman, but if that’s really a problem, remember that she’s fighting to use a stall in the women’s locker room. I can’t imagine a more appropriate compromise. (It’s not ideal–as my friends will tell you at length from the long stories I’ve made them endure–but it certainly removes the immediate risk of harassment and violence. The ideal would be widespread acceptance of trans people’s bodies, but until then, we can compromise.)

I’m sick of being treated like a suspect for these kind of things. All I want is a place to relieve myself and change my clothes. Any human being needs that. Believe me, I know what a cissexual woman looks like naked, and it’s not interesting enough to merit peeping. I’m not in third grade.

July 26, 2008

Back-Seat Thriving

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 10:44 pm

Thriving on Vague Objectives(Those of you just tuning in: I’m transsexual. Riftgirl here is transsexual. By writing about her post, I hereby violate the “two tranny rule.” Onward…)

BEING T: BUSTED
Since transitioning from male-to-female nearly six years ago, I’ve learned that much of what may be considered implausible has more to do with mindsets than actual limitations. For the most part, my current everyday reality far surpasses any of the fantasies I harbored while eyes glued to the television during my pre-teens. I’ve established a successful career, have a number of friends that I hold near and dear, and family relations are at long last solid. (What can I say? My nieces and nephews think I’m cool.) Sure, my ongoing search for a significant other — or even insignificant at times — continues. But that’s certainly not unique for a transgender individual — at least not according to the Saturday night recaps shared by non-trans gal pals over Sunday brunch.

So, all in all, I suppose you’d say I’m a success. But that term disturbs me — success. When it comes tumbling out from somebody’s mouth and rolling towards me, I tend to question the criteria used in making the determination. Particularly when a guy I’m dating says it. Does he think so because through it all I’ve managed to hold my life together and still retain an outlook that’s decidedly half-full? Or does he believe the compliment is merited solely based on any semblance I might bear to the cover of this month’s Maxim — despite my genetic circumstance?

Yeah, I know people like that mean well, but it always bothers me when people compliment me simply not for making a mess of my life. Have I made any accomplishments besides merely breaking even?

Just to make sure nobody gets mad at me in the comments, yes, simply not making a mess of one’s life is often difficult for anyone. I’m just not sure you understand how condescending it is to be praised for a bare minimum. It’s happened to me many times before.

Once, a social worker complimented me for “thriving.” He had seen me twice in five years–I’m disturbingly recognizable–and this was the first time he communicated with me. He was basing his assessment on the fact that I had grown up to be someone who was smiling and talking with friends. Oh, wow! I have friends. And a working mouth.

I don’t want to dump on people for trying to make me feel good about myself, but damn, please try not to say (in essence) “congratulations! You’ve made it to the place that everyone else starts from.” Maybe, in five years, I’ll complement you on how well you’ve recovered from my punch to your mouth.

EXTRA BONUS SEGMENT

I tried to find a reference for the “two tranny rule,” a situation in which a trans woman is afraid to be near another of her ilk due to fear that it makes her twice as likely to be read as transsexual. (Y’know, two Adam’s apples, and people start to wonder… I do find my big hands pretty sexy, though.) The whole concept, when I heard about it, I thought was funny and it makes me giggle a bit, thinking about it when next to one of my trans friends in public (a freewheeling thought of “Whooo! I’m breaking the two tranny rule!”).

To my shame, my Google powers failed me and I could not find wherever it was that I read about the concept. I did find this gem, though: a Yahoo Answers post asking the immortal question:

In a democracy, how can we best protect against the tranny of the majority?

That’s right, fools! Look out! I am the tranny of the majority! Fear me!

July 24, 2008

The Worst of the Worst

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:14 pm

Op-Ed Columnist – Madness and Shame – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
Donald Rumsfeld described the detainees at Guantánamo as “the worst of the worst.” A more sober assessment has since been reached by many respected observers. [New Yorker journalist and author of The Dark Side] Ms. [Jane] Mayer mentioned a study conducted by attorneys and law students at the Seton Hall University Law School.

“After reviewing 517 of the Guantánamo detainees’ cases in depth,” she said, “they concluded that only 8 percent were alleged to have associated with Al Qaeda. Fifty-five percent were not alleged to have engaged in any hostile act against the United States at all, and the remainder were charged with dubious wrongdoing, including having tried to flee U.S. bombs. The overwhelming majority — all but 5 percent — had been captured by non-U.S. players, many of whom were bounty hunters.”

Holy living–! Of course, it’ll take more scrutiny (and meaningful trials) to determine how many wrongdoers there really are at Guantánamo, but I’d always been generous and imagined at least one half. Eight percent? As cynical as I have become, I never thought it was as bad as that.

Let me be clear that even if Guantánamo had a 100 percent success rate it would still be deplorable, as we should be treating even the worst prisoners humanely, showing the difference between us and them. (Besides that, wars become intractable if lasting hatred forms through abuse of prisoners. Securing victory is difficult and costly if the enemy fights to the bitter end.) However, we should not hold a person who is innocent longer than is necessary for a fair and speedy trial, and I do not think military tribunals and seven-year waits succeed on either count.

I should discuss the central argument of Guantánamo’s defenders: that we are in a time of war, and different rules apply. First of all, it is true that different rules apply in war, and I do not see those rules, such as the Geneva Conventions on holding prisoners of war, being applied. (Breaking those rules in a time of war endangers the safety of our soldiers.) Second, a “war on terror” is a propaganda win for al-Qaida, giving them dignity, as soldiers, that they do not deserve. They are criminals, and only when they are brought to justice as such will the case be settled. Declaring war rallies recruits to their cause and makes it harder to fight their toxic influence.

Natural remedies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Tina Russell @ 7:58 am

From a list of common medical myths:

Personal Health – The Truth Behind Some Medical Myths – Jane Brody – NYTimes.com
NATURAL IS SAFER THAN MAN-MADE A woman recently asked me if it was safe to take “bioidentical hormone replacements.” These, I’m afraid, are estrogens, and there is no reliable evidence to support claims that they are safer than the ones made by chemists that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.

Remember, nature has produced some of the most dangerous substances known, including arsenic and botulinum toxin. And chemists have produced medications that can control or cure many life-threatening ills. Many important medications are derived from natural substances that not only have druglike actions but also druglike side effects.

Only carefully controlled clinical trials can assure the safety of a natural or man-made drug, and few natural substances have been tested in this way.

Thank you!

Yes, it’s a very good list. I highly recommend reading it, though you may need to brace yourself for a breaking of long-held childhood beliefs.

July 23, 2008

Rearranging the org chart on the Titanic

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:23 pm

Op-Ed Contributor – The Risk of Too Much Oversight – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
To appreciate the challenge we face, it is important to remember that the Sept. 11 terrorist attack was a classic “low-probability, high-consequence” event. In the pre-9/11 era, if experts had generated a list of risks to our country — various terrorist attacks, hurricanes, contagious diseases and so on — they probably would have concluded that terrorists flying planes into skyscrapers and government buildings was unlikely, in light of the security and logistical obstacles the terrorists would have to overcome. While those experts would have acknowledged that such an attack would have grave results, before 9/11, relatively few people worried about such low-probability, high-consequence security events. After 9/11, however, many people began thinking about a broad range of such attacks.

Not surprisingly, when people started to focus on bad things that might happen to us, they identified a seemingly infinite catalogue of worrisome possibilities: nuclear, chemical and biological terrorist attacks delivered by planes, ships, cars or other mechanisms; conventional explosives on mass transit systems; gunmen in public places; cyber attacks on computer and communication networks; and natural hazards like earthquakes and hurricanes. This is just a sliver of the ever-evolving list of homeland security concerns.

But resources are limited and it’s not possible to do everything, so we need to think carefully about the risk: the likelihood of the event and the consequences if it were to occur. Ideally, we would be able to rationally rank homeland security risks, and resources would follow. Though some prioritizing efforts are under way, the process has been made unnecessarily difficult.

I’m glad that this person recognizes the danger in what Bruce Scheier calls “movie plot” security (that is, the monastic delineation of everything that might happen). Prioritization would be an improvement, but I’m not sure it would still be the best.

Perhaps the DHS could organize all possible threats into broad strokes–like hijackings, bombings of population centers, espionage, infrastructural attacks, etc–and ensure that the related agencies are doing their jobs. That is, it would be impossible for the DHS to pick one plot–say, Snidely Whiplash blowing up a dam–out of a hat in time to prevent one in progress. But, the agencies responsible for the dam could be responsible for ensuring the structure is resilient and the security is sound. In turn, Homeland Security could make sure that this work is taking place and proceeding well.

You cannot predict every terrorist attack, but every terrorist needs tools to carry them out, and those common threads–a train station, an airplane, a dam–can be secured to ensure such plots, known or yet to be invented, could be prevented. In the meantime, experts at the DHS could watch the terrorist chatter like hawks, and indeed prioritize the likely methods and trouble spots for the benefit of other agencies. The DHS could in turn check that these agencies are fulfilling their responsibilities, and send liason officers to offer support and expertise.

Turf wars are common in government, and my impression is that the DHS tries to be a jack of all trades, ensnaring them further in multi-front battles. A support organization at the nexus of government security matters could be more effective than one lording over government with a heavy hand. An agency with the CIA and FBI whispering in its ear may be more effective than one fumbling to interlocute or aspiring to the status of a third player. Then again, I may have misinterpreted how the DHS works. I simply doubt that their reputation as a staggering and understaffed bureaucracy is entirely unfounded, and we’re all stinging from the department’s first major test: Hurricane Katrina.

On the overuse of monkeys

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:58 am

Op-Ed Contributor – Silly Chimps on TV Make People Think the Apes Aren’t Endangered – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
A survey that I and several colleagues conducted in 2005 found that one in three visitors to the Lincoln Park Zoo assumed that chimpanzees are not endangered. Yet more than 90 percent of these same visitors understood that gorillas and orangutans face serious threats to their survival. And many of those who imagined chimpanzees to be safe reported that they based their thinking on the prevalence of chimps in advertisements, on television and in the movies.

I’ve long been troubled by the overuse of monkeys in design, especially in Web, fashion, and “counterculture” circles. It’s not clever or funny; it’s just cliché. But this op-ed brings to light one more problem: we are 98% chimpanzee, and these creatures are as respectable, and scientifically useful to learn from, as they are endangered. The more we present the use of a monkey as hip or hilarious in itself, we perpetuate the idea that they’re harmless and plentiful, when neither is true.

I’m not saying you should never use a monkey to represent your brand or product (though the author of this op-ed rightly encourages you not to use a live-action monkey). Perhaps, though, your monkey-themed project could do a charity drive to help real monkeys facing real threats. That could help people understand that monkeys deserve respect and face real danger.

July 20, 2008

Islamic PR

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:32 pm

Pope Calls for Unity to Oppose Violence – NYTimes.com
Pope Benedict XVI, in Australia for World Youth Day, called on religious leaders of all faiths Friday to find common ground and to unite against those who resort to violence to achieve their ends.

“In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence, the unified voice of religious people urges nations and communities to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity,” he said at a meeting with Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists.

“The universality of human experience, which transcends all geographical boundaries and cultural limitations, makes it possible for followers of religions to engage in dialogue so as to grapple with the mysteries of life’s joys and sufferings,” he said. “At their core, human relations cannot be defined in terms of power, domination and self-interest. Rather, they reflect and perfect man’s natural inclination to live in communion and accord with others.”

The message of reconciliation came from a pope who angered many Muslims when, in a 2006 lecture in Regensburg, Germany, he used a quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor that appeared to vilify Muslims. The pope subsequently said that he did not subscribe to the views expressed in the quotation and, although the furor subsided, some strained feelings have remained.

Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem, of the Australian National Imams Council, told the pope at the meeting that, while Muslims should become more understanding of other religions, “significant segments of the Christian and the other religious communities should overcome their misconceptions and prejudices of Islam and Muslims.”

Mr. Saleem is right, but the key thing is that I think that prejudice stems more from lack of information than anything else. While it’s the onus of the media to present the world as it is, instead of sitting around waiting for ABC to run a feature story on the non-shocking truth about Islam we could be engaging people with the faith and teaching them what what Muhammad actually said, whether or not they are inclined to follow him. (I think his teachings are worthy of great respect, in any case.) That vacuum allows stereotypes and misinformation to slip in and quickly become the basis for even (or perhaps especially) the most enlightened liberal’s view on Islam. When I read Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: Prophet for our Time (again, highly recommended), I was surprised to find out not just that there are many wrong stereotypes about Islam, but that they’re almost universally wrong and not grounded in even the most remote fact. With one billion Muslims in the world, you must look to the Koran for the common threads in a diverse practice, and the themes are overwhelmingly ones of discarding your petty arguments and tribal affiliations and surrendering yourself to God. The word islam means “surrender,” and Muhammad considered contemporary Christians and Jews to be fellow muslims, sincere in their surrender to God. Muhammad was a populist, an altruist, and a feminist, and within the context of the violent practices of tribal Arabia, he was progressive for his time on matters of war. In fact, the one war he waged was on behalf of his people, who had been driven out of their homeland; this put a massive lump in my stomach when I realized that Hamas must have a similar conviction. (Israel, of course, must have similar conviction, which is exactly why an equitable deal must be reached and the violence of neither side should be rationalized or romanticized.)

I’m positive I’m doing violence to Muhammad’s words and life as well simply by going from only one book and using my memories of it to summarize core beliefs of a vast portion of world cultures. It’s just remarkable that but one brief taste, one scratch of the surface, has given me a vastly different impression of Islam, of Muslims, and Muhammad. Knowing the similarities between Muhammad and my personal savior–a man I like to call “Jaysy C.”–really warms my heart when considering the sizable Muslim population of my school, including women I really admire. (You can now add “Muslim friends” to the list.) So, it shouldn’t be hard for a public-relations campaign, long overdue in this day and age, to show the Christian world what I’ve been shown, shine a light in the darkness and drive out the prejudice and misinformation. Our choice is whether we want to replace stereotypes with a vague feeling of “well, I’m sure they’re sincere in their religion” (a convenient and well-meaning mantra), or with the actual poetry of the Koran and the scope and depth of Islamic thought. The question is whether we’re willing to let stock footage of angry men rioting over cartoons have a monopoly on the portrayal of Islam, or if we’re willing to compete with that on the news and in the public mind. The question is whether or not we’re willing to lay the foundation, in people’s minds, of a sound and informed impression of Islam. And, lest I lay responsibility unevenly, remember that it is not your Muslim friends’ responsibility to teach you about their religion, it is your responsibility to learn, and in a globalized world it is all part of being a good citizen. We should take that one step further and, whether or not you are Christian, whether or not you are religious, venture to tell your friends what you learned about Islam, what does and does not appeal to you, and help create a more solid ground for world religious dialogue than vague mistrust and stereotypes.

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