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Commentary: Fighting About Muslims

By Dawn McMullan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-934204.mp3

Dallas, TX –

Recent polls indicate misperceptions and fears among some Americans about Muslims post 9-11. That became a subject of debate in commentator Dawn McMullan's family.

I am my father's child, whether he claims me or not. We are so similar, so absolutely unable to leave an opinion unsaid, so persistent, so right if we agreed on anything more than our love of Car Talk and his grandchildren, we could change the world.

We are also Facebook friends.

Over the past month, my dad and I have gone to the mat on the issue of Muslims. It started with the community center in Manhattan, aka the "Ground Zero Mosque." For more than three weeks, we didn't speak through anything except the 71 Facebook posts related to this topic. One day, I spent more than an hour researching Dad's claim that 10 percent of Muslims would qualify as radical. I argued that nobody checks the "radical" box on an opinion survey about religion, but he would not be dissuaded. And I couldn't prove otherwise.

I argued with Dad and others, including a soldier who told me he makes the world a better place by killing as many Muslims as he can each day when I should've been working. I argued when I could've been reading a book to my 10-year-old. I argued when I should've been sleeping. I argued as a humanitarian, as a Christian, as an American.

Finally one night, I was done. All this talk, talk, talk wasn't getting us anywhere. What if we took this energy and really made a difference?

Earlier this year, I read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. One main point made in the book is that in countries where fundamentalist Muslims oppress women and girls, poverty and terrorism reign. And in countries where women and girls are empowered with education and proper medical care things start to change. Slowly, but they do change.

So I sent Dad an email. Let's go in together and send a monthly donation to a respected organization in Afghanistan that has been working since about the time the Taliban took over, teaching girls to read working underground, risking everything for education.

I proposed that for $25 a month, we help 15 women and girls learn to read. Dad takes one month, I take the next.

Dad discusses, but doesn't bite. He has other financial obligations and can't imagine donating money to a country like Afghanistan, can't risk it will get into the hands of terrorists. "Hopefully," he says, "Afghanistan will progress into a more civilized country in the future, and the women there will be able to gain the rights that women in western countries have today."

I wouldn't be dissuaded. Returning to the scene of my spinning wheels, I posted a similar proposition to my Facebook friends. 20 hours later, I had enough responses from friends to sponsor girls for the next 13 months 195 girls will learn to read, will have a chance at a future, will make a small ripple in the terrorism we fear so much. Interestingly, one of the sponsors was someone I almost defriend on a daily basis over our political differences.

I wish the story with my Dad ended differently, but the lessons I learned about common ground and action are still valid. We can all agree radical Muslims are doing harm in the world, starting very personally with the women and girls in their countries of power. Imagine if everyone Christian, Muslim, Jew, agnostic took all this energy, all this talk, talk, talk, and made a difference. No Qur'ans need be burned. No all-caps Facebook messages need be posted. No right-wing downtown preacher need rant. And no girl need be illiterate.

The energy and the passion are there, everywhere. It's up to us how we use it.

Dawn McMullan is a writer from Dallas.

E-mail questions or opinions about this commentary at the "Contact Us" section of http://www.kera.org.