Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thanks to Katherine Paterson, Centre County Reads and CDT

Originally Posted in the Common Threads Blog
Centre Daily Times, June 28, 2007

My daughter and I thought that Tuesday’s installment of the “Centre County Reads” Breakfast Serial, Katherine Paterson's “The Long Road Home,” has been one of the best so far.

It describes a day in the life of the Lleshi family, right after 9/11, when Meli and Mehmet are accused by their soccer teammates of being terrorists too.

Katherine Paterson vividly captures the mindset of many who perpetrated such crimes in real life, as she depicts the ignorance of the teammates.

Their ignorance of geography – the Lleshis are from Kosovo, and the terrorists from Saudi Arabia – would these kids be able to point to either on a map?

Their ignorance of world history, cultures and religions, that makes them lump all Muslims in one group.

Their ignorance in denying the individuality of Meli and Mehmet.

They taunt Meli and Mehmet with “You are Muslim, and so you must be a terrorist,” and “Go back to where you came from.”

And I want to tell them, “You do not know Meli, or her father – he is the one who believes that hate makes no sense. They believe in peace. They came here only so that Mehmet would not become one of the KLA fighters.”

That the labels they are coming up with deny the reality and the individuality of the Lleshi family.

I am impacted by this story, because I think of the many real people who experienced this kind of misdirected hatred after 9/11. Those who got beaten up, and those who lost their lives.

A November 2002 report by Human Rights Watch concluded that hate crimes, which included murder, assault, arson and vandalism, against Arabs, Muslims and those who were perceived to be Arabs and Muslims increased 1700 percent after 9/11.

Suddenly, I wonder why the story impacted my daughter, who was only in preschool during 9/11, and she explains, “The story makes you remember all the times that someone has been mean to you.”

That got me even more – stereotyping, biases, lumping of people in groups are truly just acts of great ignorance and meanness.

And I find myself thankful to everyone involved in bringing this story to the CDT - what a wonderful opportunity to reflect on and do away with similar acts of ignorance and meanness, at least right here in Centre County.

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