Let’s Not Hate Muslims, Shall We?

I live in Indonesia, a nation with the largest Muslim population in the globe. When I was a child, no older than maybe eight, I saw and heard of churches set ablaze by the followers of Islam. I was told stories by Christian priests of Islamists murdering those who do not follow the teachings of Allah. Basically, my childhood was filled with tales of horror of the Muslims’ cruelties, and why it would be best for me to always stay within the herd of Christians I then belonged to. Yet today I find myself disagreeing with the assessment of the people in my past; I do not believe that Islam magically turns a person into a violent extremist. I understand the religion to have a similar value with any other ideology, that which both encourages and discourages acts of good and evil.

I write this post as a response to the recent, now infamous filth that poured out of Donald Trump’s mouth. His proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States of America bordered on racism, xenophobia and many other forms of hate based on stereotyping. It is an enormous act of ignorance to label an entire population comprised of diverse peoples—with contrasting upbringings, experiences, moral compasses, et cetera—into a singular lump; that of being a threat to the security of the U.S.

We must remember that human beings are, in general, inconsistent creatures. In the context of religious adherence, we would find a broad spectrum of believers: from the somewhat apathetic, the liberal, the conservative, the devout, to the zealous. Explaining why such a phenomenon exists would take too much your time, as I believe that each of you have at some point in your lives seen this nearly endless gamut with your own eyes. As there are Christian who pray on a daily basis, go to Church each and every Sunday, there are also those of the same faith who prefer to indulge themselves on more worldly pleasure, whilst rarely taking part in Christian rituals. This same principle applies to all creeds, especially Muslims for this particular discussion.

Furthermore if I may slightly detract from the beaten path, historically speaking, the followers of Yahweh have not always been as peaceful as they are thought to be today. Atrocities such as the Crusades where Catholics slaughtered those of differing faiths, the religiously-fueled Thirty Years War of Europe, the burning of innocent women in witch hunts, and much more were conducted under the banner of Christ. Neither Christians nor Catholics can proclaim that they are freer of guilt than Muslims, today that may ring true, but looking at their actions in the past it is hard to argue that they were a force for peace.

And there is danger often ignored in misjudging religions popular in the West as peaceful, all the while labeling all Muslims as potential terrorists. That is, by constructing and strengthening negative prejudices about Islam, terrorist groups who advertise themselves as the “true Muslims” are being continuously handed an invaluable asset which indirectly supports their destructive causes: Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is by no means a new occurrence, especially in the Western world. It is the fear that all Muslims inherently wish to sow destruction and chaos wherever there lives anyone who does not practice the Islamic faith. From a certain perspective, this perturbation is quite justified. The rise of Islamist terror organizations the likes of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State lend some credence to those who sincerely believe that Islam is without a doubt foul. But again, this is untrue for the reasons I’ve previously written—the diverse kinds of believers, the sins of Christians and Catholics—and it is simultaneously beneficial to terrorists by providing them with enlarging pools of manipulable people; i.e. men, women, even teenagers who feel alienated and ostracized by the community they’re presently living amongst.

ISIS in particular thrives on the feelings of alienation suffered by Muslims. It is actually possible that the more alienated Muslims are, the likelier it is for them to support groups which seem to be supportive and accepting of them (Jones, 2015). Common sense alone would drive us to help and even follow people who say that they understand our pain, that they are willing to drive that pain away at all costs, not for their sake but for ourselves. This is likely why some Muslim minorities living in Europe, the U.S., and other corners of the world where Islam is not the majority religion are driven to spread ISIS’ reign of terror; whether by outright joining them in the Middle East or orchestrating their own terroristic exploits. E.g. Paris, South California, and many more.

What else could a person do when driven to a corner by everyone near him? Either he would run to whatever safe haven is available, or begin fighting back.

I cannot, from any perspective, endorse whatever anti-Islam stratagems previously or will one day be proposed. For one, I live in a state chockfull of Muslims. Yet all my Islamic friends, family members, lecturers, even acquaintances are indifferent, tolerant, accepting, and at times encouraging of my Atheism. Yes there are still some groups of individuals that firmly hold on to the idea that non-Muslims are infidels that must be erased from the face of the earth. However, these misguided individuals are few and far between, holding what little power they have in the relatively obscure localities of Indonesia. But my disapproval comes most of all from the self-defeating idea of alienating Muslims as much as possible, which essentially results in more fuel for the expansion of terrorist propaganda. And by extension, an increase in the number of Muslims vulnerable to said harmful messages.

The more we as a society encourage hatred against Muslims, the more Islamists will power in the form of independent loyalists, living in a myriad of areas across the globe. This would allow ISIS and kin to expand their brand of terror, subtly encourage Islamophobia to grow their following, widen their pool of potential foreign recruits, etc. without a foreseeable limit. Muslims, specifically those living in the West, are backed against a corner and they are sometimes forced to strike back, and seek safety among extremists who they would never have supported beforehand. For this reason alone, we should consciously suppress all forms of hate against the religion of Islam and its subjects. The words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Hate begets hate,” applies in this situation more than anything currently going on in the world.

I beg of any persons living in the West, perhaps you yourself dead Reader, to dam the flow of hatred for Muslims. We will never win the war against terrorists by transforming ourselves into bigots, by bolstering paranoia, by indiscriminately loathing a group of people because they stand under a banner that can be interpreted in infinite ways, from approving of violence to frowning upon it—likewise with any other religious or ideological flags.

As for people like Trump, I sincerely hope that any who listens to his tirades would stop subscribing to his rhetoric; on the grounds of reason and decency. His suggested approaches would not only fail to alleviate the terrorist threat, it would also allow for the cancer of zealotry to swell. Without us being able to know how large it would one day be, and how quickly it would spread.

Muslims are as human as any who are religious. Most of them believe in righteousness, in warring against the evils of the world. True, some are misguided in their approaches, but those who spite all Muslims without acknowledging that they are of the same species—with likewise morals, virtues, flaws, ideas of justice and cruelty—ignore all the evidence regarding human diversity, adaptability, basically the things responsible for the progress we have made as a species. A process which has pushed us to be more peaceful, accepting of one another despite numerous differences, and encouraging of an existence that values all sorts of human lives (Pinker, 2010). It is this belief that led me to stand in defense of a group I am clearly not a part of (Atheism pretty much annihilates that possibility).

Reference:

Owen, J. 2015. Islamophobia plays right into the hands of Isis. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/25/islamophobia-isis-muslim-islamic-state-paris

Pinker, S. 2010. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York City: Viking Press.

Help

Unfortunately, this post will sound a bit like a rant throughout, as it deals with something that I am personally involved and invested in: the treatment of the psychologically ill in Indonesia. I won’t be wiring a critique on my state’s healthcare system—as I’m far from qualified to compose such a piece—rather, I will concentrate on the general way the common populace perceive and, based on these perceptions, act toward the mentally ill.
Before we start this discussion though, we must ask why should anyone care about how the mentally ill are treated in Indonesia? Firstly, it’s because they are as human as anyone who falls in the category of ‘normal’. But also due to the way they are seen, and how their sicknesses are misunderstood, the sick would often find themselves unfairly stigmatized against, and barred from the medical care they sorely need.

I’ve met very few Indonesians—outside of those who dabble in the fields of psychology and medicine—who realize that mental illnesses are in fact diseases that demand our attention and appropriate medication or therapy. Most of the people I’ve met think of depression, bipolarity, and the plethora of cognitive disorders as a “phase,” a “quirk,” whilst condescendingly muttering that the sufferers just “get that way sometimes, it’s nothing to worry over.” Even if they exhume signs of suicidal tendencies. Of course, these responses downplay the tremendous amount of psychological, and at times physical pains inflicted by the minds of these individuals on themselves. And it’s unique sort of pain where the one thing that dictates who you are, what you do, your perception of the world, turns against you. Somewhat like being the child of an abusive parent, but with no way of ever escaping the abuser.

Worse is when the mentally ill are labeled as ‘freaks’. With the aforementioned ways that they are understood to be ‘different’ individuals, at the very least they would be fathomed as oddities who demand nothing more than a dash of caution. Yet when one is assigned the role of the social outcast of the group, then he would likely be treated with hostility. E.g. autistic children who become the butts of jokes, the intellectually impaired who are openly mocked, the potentially suicidal who are marred by tags such as ‘attention seeker’ or ‘drama queen’ and so on. Sadly, these acts of cruel labeling are common occurrences in Indonesia. We plainly don’t see why special needs individuals actually need to be cared for, not ridiculed.

Then there’s the doubt about the legitimacy of therapy and psychiatric medication. I’ve heard time and time again that the remedy for depression and likewise illnesses is prayer, meditation, or any other equally senseless methods. I am also saddened by the fact that some of my friends know they need medical attention, but do not have access to those types of aid. Why? Among the many reasons l’ve been told over the years, a few stand out: their parents think it’d be a waste of money, opting for “mind-altering” medicines is blasphemy for whatever god they and their parents believe, worst of all is when the sufferers fall prey to the misguided words of those who are supposed to be their betters.

I have to admit that this list of complaints has been going on for too long, but I beg your attention for one last point that I really need to address. That is, when an individual finally manages to receive the medicine or therapy they need after countless hoops, they will in most chances be shunned. I’ve taken my antidepressants and other pills in front of my friends, prompting them to ask those tablets and capsules are for. Presuming that these friends of mine would play the roles of supportive companions, I told them, and a surprising number began to look at me differently—mostly in a negative way. Beginning by saying things like, “they [the pills] do more harm than good, you know,” and, “you should really stop taking them and face your problems, like a normal person would.” Which is actually my preferred approach, had I been granted the ability to function like a well-adjusted human being without external help. Though there is one particularly ridiculous advice, which basically amounted to, “You wouldn’t need all those meds if you believed in God,” inclining me to guffaw at the person’s face (in his and my defense, we were both very drunk).

So, there’s another layer of challenges, where you have to commit to the medical program despite opposition from the people closest to you. Something I still struggle with every time I look at the pills on my desk. This is perhaps the toughest trail of them all, since one would have to be able to convince himself ceaselessly about the necessity of the medication, all the while being harangued about the evils inherent in his pills. But this obstacle is something which I believe requires a very personal approach. I sadly cannot offer a bulletproof way to sway your friends, parents, siblings, etc. to believe in the effectiveness of your specific program. Hence, I will stop talking about this point, and return to the topic at hand.

Why are Indonesians so callous about mental illnesses and the unfortunate who suffer from them? This is a question that must be addressed if anyone in Indonesia wishes for better treatment for the mentally ill. Starting from acceptance, support, and recognition for the efficacy of therapy and medicine. Put simply the correct reply to the question, in my opinion, is that the general populace must be better educated in the topic of psychological disorders.

In my many, many years of schooling I may have only heard the topic of mental illness discussed once or twice—even in Civics classes, where the supposed goal of the subject is to teach students how to behave morally to their fellow citizens, especially to the people in need. And these addresses came in the form of special lectures from guest speakers, or seminars. They are not part of the standard curriculum, implying that mental illness is a secondary issue in Indonesia, that will be dealt with at an unspecified time, in either the near or far future. This needs to be changed.

For the mentally ill of Indonesia to be perceived in a more positive light, an extensive educational program must be developed and utilized to its utmost capacity. I’m not speaking only of modifying the topics discussed in Civics classes, but of using whatever means necessary to illustrate the point that mental illness should be a matter of national concern. Equal to any issues that plague my country, the likes of poverty, religious extremism, or anything else that is currently the ‘hot topic’ of the media. Television programs, magazines, radio broadcasts, social networks, all forms of mass media have a moral obligation to support a population in need, who have been forced into the darkest corners of public awareness. Without such an approach, these vulnerable people will continue to be ignored, ostracized, harassed, essentially suffer from any form of abuse conceivable by the human imagination.

However, I am by no means declaring that mental illness should be an issue that overshadows all the other problems Indonesia is presently facing. What these paragraphs mean to say is that psychological diseases should be lifted up in our list of concerns; that it be acted on with the same rigor as combatting malnutrition, corruption, illiteracy, and the endless list of predicaments.

My hope, is that one day the mentally ill would be seen and treated as any individual with a physical sickness; that they won’t be treated differently because of the abstract maladies they are forced to endure. And would be entitled to the same level of care, patience, and love of someone who suffers from a lifelong disease.

More Homework, Please

I must admit that the first few semesters of college was a harrowing experience for me. Coming from an educational background consisting of below average grades and a counterfeit diploma, higher education furnished a number of unpleasant surprises. The lectures were far from straightforward, forcing me to peel away the essential message hidden by superfluous words. The  lecturers were unforgiving, and most cumbersome of them all, the never-ending stream of assignments. For a Communications Studies major, I expected a much more relaxed environment.

On a weekly basis, my former classmates and I were hand homework from each and every subject. At times they came in the form of simple questions, later on projects which must be presented and validated by the rest of the class alongside the lecturers, yet the most daunting of them all were the essays; the standard applied to our written works were overwhelming, demanding us to constantly research for as many data as we could, transforming free-time from an actual concept to an illusion. Moreover, the judgments given were shockingly harsh, leading to perhaps a third of my old class to drop out after the first and second semesters. Back then, no matter how much I love to write, I deeply that the workload would decrease at some point, and that the teachers would apply laxer criteria, for what they considered a passable paper.

But since humans have a particular penchant for adaptability, so did my classmates and I. After months of sleep deprivation, countless failures, public humiliation as the flaws of our works were discussed as we stood in front of the class, we began to see our the incessant assignments as  merely a part of our daily lives. We stopped groaning when work was handed to us, and the fear of being judged in the harshest manner conceivable in our eyes practically disappeared. Our responses turned from “oh god no,” to “okay, when’s the deadline?” And we’d finish whatever was thrown at us without much complaint, whilst grabbing better and better marks. Unfortunately, as I reached that point, I was forced to switch universities, mainly for financial reasons (for those better acquainted with my blog and myself, they’d know the actual causes, but they are irrelevant to this discussion).

Now I’m attending a different university, complete with a switch in majors. It’s quite similar to my previous one, in the sense that they both belong to the social sciences camp. However, similarities aside, there is a major difference between the two: the rate at which assignments are given. As I had previously explained, the former constantly pumped out work for its students whenever possible, yet the latter would hand them out at a mere monthly basis.

While I do appreciate the excessive free time I now have, I’ve come to realize the issues that stem from minimized student evaluation. Primarily, the absence of an appropriate feedback loop.

Although students may complain about the homework given to them. they may not realize why such tasks are necessary. In other words, that homework allows teachers to better evaluate the levels of understanding reached by each specific pupil. I.e. assignments are one of the educator’s most effective methods of discerning their own efficacy.

When I studied Communications, I had the opportunity to be granted unabating evaluations. They happened each time I went to class, no matter what the subject was. But these days, I would only be aware of my performance after waiting for weeks at best and more often that not, months—all the while having a short six month period for concocting the most appropriate approach for contrasting topics. This is a problem for numerous reasons.

Teachers, lecturers, deans, whoever’s career depends on manipulating the development of other individuals’ cognitive abilities, must pay close attention to the their subjects’ respective abilities; because without knowing how a person can best learn, how would they figure the most effective technique to teach them? And, for the students themselves, knowing their respective merits and flaws is essential for forming an appropriate learning strategy.

Let’s say that a student only knows how well he’s performing once every three moths. By that supposition, it would mean that they could only adjust their approaches after their midterms, give or take. Which, in a worst case scenario, would probably mean that it is far too late for any changes they implement to be meaningful. This sequence of events results in the absence of an  indispensable feedback loop between teacher and student; a condition detrimental to both parties.

The straightest way a student can evaluate his own performance is by observing the marks written for him by his teachers, and understanding why those marks are such. A’s of course mean that he is doing quite well, while F’s suggest that he is in dire need of assistance. Minimizing the frequency of these feedbacks would leave a student in the dark, where the only option left for him to assess his capabilities is via guesswork. Which, obviously would lead to wildly varying and inaccurate conclusions, as well as difficulty in discerning whether they should stick by their tactics or drastically change them—the main reason why a teacher’s helping hand is needed.

Now I understand that there are problems inherent in frequently handing out assignments. For the students, it would seem to them that their educators are doing their utmost to eradicate whatever spare time there could have been. As for the teachers, grading and composing the numerous tasks that would undoubtably be needed for this approach would exponentially add to their already long list of responsibilities. However, even with these obstacles, the opportunity for constant evaluation provides benefits that must not be ignored.

For a student to fully grasp how much of a mastery he has over the topics he is currently studying, he would need the uncompromising guidance and support of his teachers. When the asset of frequent evaluation is made available, the likelihood that the student would be able to come up with an effective learning strategy could increase to an astonishing degree; affecting how he composes his essays, absorbs the necessary materials, answers his exams, so on and so forth.

Feedback is crucial for improving a student’s performance. One of the most basic ways to bring it into existence is by conjuring up assignments and grading them, complete with pointers for the pupil’s weaknesses and strengths. The more often these works are given, the better, for then the student would consistently be able to analyze the pluses and minuses of his methods. The extra burden for the teachers is a necessary sacrifice that needs to be endured, should they truly wish for those under their care to be the best that they can be.