Workshop Report contributed by Susan Gisler

“The Danger of Nationalism and Racism” was presented as a workshop by Mehdi Jahandar. The presenter opened with an incident that occurred when he was a teacher in Tehran, where a group of Islamic students were mobbing another student who they accused of drinking alcohol. This led into a discussion of the definition of nationalism and racism. Racism, among other things, was described as occurring when a person assigns lesser characteristics to other races/religions. This can be both implicit or explicit. Nationalism (not the same as patriotism) is putting the well-being of one’s own nation above others. Both can be fear based and involve a privileged class taking away rights or goods from others. The result of these are a shutdown of communication from both sides.

Mehdi used his own experiences to illustrate the radicalization that has occurred, especially since 9/11. He differentiated between true Islam or Christianity and those factions with -ism as a suffix which are intolerant of those different from themselves. He led a brainstorming session of examples of antidotes to racism. These included participating in sports, sharing of music, being open to talking with those different from ourselves, watching the cyclical nature of racism or watching the words we use that keep us stuck.

The presenter emphasized the need for finding inner peace to help clarify one’s vision. Increasing awareness of what constitutes one’s own identity and understanding differences helps in treating others with respect.

There was one last brainstorming session on ending racism and decreasing the slide into nationalism. Traveling, living in other cultures, working cross-culturally and humanitarian work can decrease the fear of “the other”. Working on ourselves to recognize harmful language and learning from classes that teach more effective and loving ways to communicate with those who are different are helpful. Participants also suggested banding together in larger groups to fight the powers that thrive from division.

Mr. Jahandar ended with the thought that we are evolving into a multicultural society. Some places, like Switzerland, have found ways to be well functioning entities in spite of multiple cultures represented. He was hopeful that this can happen globally but will take work and commitment.

This workshop was timely and made valuable points in the face of the present tensions in the world.