Don't let them close down America

A Kuwaiti political science professor who had come to the U.S. in 1971 for undergraduate and graduate studies, and who was working in Washington last September, is saddened, like many of us, at the prospect of a less open and accepting America.

A day after the attacks I walked to my office and noticed that people were looking at me more than usual. I kept smiling back and telling myself, "Shafeeq, you have become unusually handsome overnight. Be happy with it."

The America I knew in the 1970's taught me that whatever your ideology you could still be accepted and have a meaningful connection with others. When I first came to the United States I was a leftist and had in me all the anti-American slogans of the Vietnam war and the Palestine struggle. My American professors surprised me with their tolerance. Even when the professors were hard-core Republicans or fundamentalist Christians — I studied for one year at a very small junior college in the Midwest — the fair-mindedness was consistent. It amazed me.

In graduate school, in the 1980's, the most Zionist of all my teachers would listen with empathy to my opinion and my difference of perspective, then argue. This opened the way for respect, learning and understanding. Tolerance, even without accepting the other view, does have a moderating power on people and permits for the repetition of the cycle of understanding. Tolerance breeds tolerance. As a professor of political science at Kuwait University, I practice my old professor's technique on my own fundamentalist students.

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Published on August 26, 2002 2:33 PM.

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