If history tells us anything, it’s that fear is a powerful catalyst in exacerbating the misconceptions many people hold about races and religions other than their own.

“Journey Into America”

7 p.m. tonight
Dennison, Room 213

In a Sept. 2009 study, nonpartisan think tank The Pew Research Center reported that nearly six out of every 10 American adults see Muslims as being discriminated against more than any other religious group in the world. As a result of these perceived tensions between Muslim-Americans and other Americans — specifically those manifested after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 — a small non-profit organization has dedicated its existence to fighting for the end of this hostility.

According to its official mission statement, the American Islamic Congress (AIC) is “a non-religious civic initiative challenging increasingly negative perceptions of Muslims by advocating responsible leadership and ‘two-way’ interfaith understanding.”

As an extension of these efforts, the AIC’s college subset “Project Nur” is promoting its Muslim Film Festival, which showcases films about the prevailing notions that non-Muslims have of the Muslim faith. Included in the screening are prominent works like “Persepolis” and “Faith Without Fear,” as well as lesser-known movies, one of which, “Journey Into America,” is screening today on campus.

“Journey” will be shown today in Room 213 of Dennison Hall from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The event is entirely free of charge, and refreshments will be served.

“Journey Into America” is the passion project of Akbar Ahmed, a notable scholar who has won countless awards, appeared in numerous news, entertainment and print mediums and has even been termed “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam” by BBC radio show “Good Morning Sunday.” His documentary marks the fruition of an extensive study focused on the relationship between Muslim-Americans and Americans of other faiths, and includes commentaries by intellectual Noam Chomsky, Rep. Keith Ellison (D — Ind.) and former Rep. Andre Carson (D — Minn.) — even the Reverend Jesse Jackson gets a word in.

All in all, the documentary covers more than 75 cities and 100 mosques and contains extensive interview footage of countless American citizens. Ahmed’s inquiry is highly relevant to the matter of national identity as he travels from city to city asking people of all backgrounds the same question: What does it mean to be American?

Ahmed’s credentials are reinforced not only by his work in academia and for the government of Pakistan, but also by his unparalleled experience as one of the first American political commentators of Pakistani nationality whose primary focus is inter-faith relations.

In an interview with PBS more than two years ago, Ahmed described a revelation he had as he conducted research for his book “Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization.” His intent then was entirely the same as the intent behind “Journey Into America,” but his studies were conducted in the Middle East, South Asia and Far East Asia rather than the United States. Ahmed made the decision to bring a group of American students with him in his studies abroad as well.

“This was the first time that many (Muslim) people had ever met or talked to Americans. Everywhere we went, anti-American feelings were quite high … I’d try to explain American policies, American culture, American history, and, of course, they would not be entirely convinced,” he said.

However, as amazed as Ahmed was when he realized this rift between Muslims and non-Muslims, he was equally overwhelmed by the ease with which the gap was bridged.

“I’d ask my (American) students to intervene and talk … and very soon, the atmosphere would change,” he said.

“Very soon, they’d be exchanging cards and e-mail addresses … within two or three hours they had begun to make friends for America.”

According to the AIC, the majority of those directly affected by terrorism is Muslim. Both the AIC’s initiatives and Ahmed’s research have shown us that those who may be considered to be persecutors are in fact quite frequently the ones being persecuted.

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