Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sociological Props

The other day I heard a very interesting interview on Talk of the Nation with Eboo Patel, an American Indian Muslim. Patel has written Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation to discuss his thesis that if we want to stop not only terrorism, but violence perpetuated by gangs in our own streets, that we need to teach children peaceful ways of belonging, and most importantly, religious pluralism (just as groups like the Taliban an al-Qaeda spread messages of hatred, and religious extremism/domination among children).

Patel made a very reasoned argument. I was most impressed, though, by a particular point that he made. Patel said that to truly combat violence/terrorism, we don't need a psychological or political understanding of the problem. Rather, he says we need to take a sociological view of the phenomenon. Specifically, he argues that the problem of terrorism lies at the institutional level of analysis. Terrorist groups often target young children within their schools, and start teaching their message very early in the life course. Patel says that there is a lack of such institutions teaching our children religious pluralism and peace among religious groups. He advocates for the creation of more.

Patel must have paid attention in his sociology classes in college, and I am both impressed with his dedication to his cause (and his solution, which I agree with), and his use of the sociological imagination to find a solution to a real world problem.

I encourage you to listen to the interview and/or read the book. My description has only touched the surface of what this amazing man has to say.


Slag said...

I agree 1,000,000%. We are never going to stop terrorism by killing terrorists, because the killing gives them more content to recruit new members with. The more terrorists we kill, the more new ones we create.

The trouble is that it's very hard to convince policymakers and voters of that argument. Many people think that considering sociological causes for terrorism or crime serves to absolve the terrorist or criminal of guilt. And anyone who is seen as absolving terrorists of guilt is seen as weak.

How do we convince people that terrorists are still 100% responsible for their actions, but we have a responsibility too - a responsibility to take actions that will create a world with less terrorism?

Practicing Idealist said...

Slag, I've never been agreed with 1,000,000% I have to be honest, it feels pretty good : ).

I think you put your finger right on the main point - that of exposure of our ideas, with the caveat that we aren't condoning terrorism. I don't think there are any easy answers. I teach my students that major changes in society have only occurred when a group of people consistently proclaim their voice (Ghandi, M.L.K. Jr., and Jesus were only the leaders of much larger groups of people). I think that if conscientious people like Eboo Patel keep spreading their message, that perhaps we can spread a different message.

Unfortunately, it's going to take some time.