Is tolerance really tolerant?

It seems unreal that exactly a week ago, the program ended and everyone left to resume their separate lives. It’s even more unreal when I think about the experiences that were packed into one month. I was given the chance to explore another country in extraordinary ways and then given the same opportunity in my own country. It’s really amazing when you reflect on how much of your own country’s history and culture remains unfamiliar to you. What’s more, is that until this program, I really didn’t have an understanding of what religious pluralism meant in America, let alone an appreciation for it.

In Indonesia, there is no doubt that religious pluralism exists, but in my opinion, it exists in a limited sort of way. There is a hierarchy of religions in which the six nationally recognized religions are given special privileges over the secondary and rural religions. Furthermore, there are certain sects of religions that are forbidden from being practiced in Indonesia, yet these sects are allowed to practice freely in the United States. To me, this demonstrates a difference in tolerance between the two countries. The United States on a whole is a more tolerant country in terms of religious practices than Indonesia is. While many people may look at this and think, wow that’s great, I’m not really sure it is. When we went to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit, a man who worked there asked us if a tolerant society is the best solution. Tolerance doesn’t encourage people to embrace and learn from other ideologies; instead it asks us to merely show “willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” Tolerance is most definitely better than any other violent alternative but is it something that we ought to strive for? Or is it merely a stepping-stone between two places? And if so, what’s the next step for us as a society to move past tolerant behavior?

 For me, I see the solution to tolerance as a move towards a more compassionately oriented society. During the trip, we spent a day at the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Washington, New Jersey. There we participated in a meditation session and also attended a Buddhist class. Through those experiences, we were exposed to what one might call a Tibetan Buddhist’s approach to life. An approach that is simple in its understanding and refreshing in its ideology. For Tibetan Buddhists, there is an emphasis on compassion for all mankind, regardless of past grievances. Compassion is compulsory even for those who have committed an act of violence against one another. Moreover, there is not just to be a tolerance for other religions but an embracement of them, a love for those who find their truths in another religious practice. In a society that reflects a Tibetan Buddhist approach, there would arguably be less conflict and harmful misconceptions, as embracing another religion calls for a greater understanding of it, a greater appreciation of the difference. I don’t see that the Tibetan Buddhist ideology as only limited the Buddhist religion. I see it as an ideology that can be adopted by all different schools of religious thought, an ideology that speaks for a more peaceful and equal society, the kind of society in which all religions should strive to create.

Tolerance walks a thin line, as its pillars are weak and thus can easily be transformed into a deep seeded hate for those who are different. Before WWII, in Germany and parts of Eastern Europe, while the Jews were most certainly discriminated against, they lived in a society that was more or less tolerant to their religious views. Yet that tolerance was never developed into compassion and instead, grew stagnant. During the Holocaust, tolerance worked in the Nazi’s favor as those who did not agree with their ideology simply tolerated their existence and as a result, 6 million Jews perished. While this is an extreme example, it nevertheless shows what can happen in a society that endorses tolerant behavior.

In this way, to ensure progress, we must constantly work to push our society beyond a simple tolerant view of those different from us. While this change may seem daunting, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Anne Frank, a quote I find particularly inspiring.

 “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”



Moving towards progress

We spent two days in New York City and I think I can speak for the whole group and say that the best part about that part of the trip was our meeting with Daisy Khan. It was our first day in the City and we were all kind of burned out by the end of the day as we had been walking around, trying to see as many sites as we could. By the time we were to meet with Daisy, I think many of us were just hoping not to have to sit through a dry lecture.

Luckily, it was completely the opposite. As soon as Daisy entered the room, it was like she breathed energy into each of us. She talked to us about her work and her basic opinions about how Islam works in American countries, and the role it plays in the future development of the world. Her husband is Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam in NYC who proposed to build a mosque a couple blocks away from the World Trade Center. This proposal was met with strong resistance from the public, as many felt it would be inappropriate to have a Muslim place of worship so close to Ground Zero. Daisy and her husband along with other advocates, however, do not see the issue in this way. Instead, they see it as an issue of religious freedom, which means freedom to practice whatever religion one chooses along with complete freedom to practice that religion in any location regardless of previous events. Moreover, they see the mosque as an opportunity to show people that those responsible for the 9/11 events were radicals and not a correct representation of the Islamic world at large.

Additionally, Daisy told us the young Muslim population is responsible for standing up to the Islamic radicals, telling them that their violent agendas are immoral and a direct violation of the Quran. In this way, her message was more oriented to the Indonesian students as she urged them to stand for change in their own country and to encourage people to expand their views and experiences. She reminded them that standing for change is not a simple thing to do but for the Islamic world, progressive thought is imperative for their future. Daisy Khan really just summed up all the themes that we had been learning about and brought new ideas to the surface for us to think about and reflect on.

Towards the end of our conversation with her, she was asked what she thought about the future of Islam in both America and the Arab-States in the Middle East. She replied that she thought that the Islam that develops in the United States will go to influence the type of Islam that develops on a international scale. Islam in the United States enjoys more freedom than anywhere else in the world and as such, change and progress comes more easily.

Daisy told us a story of Muslim woman who was very devoted to her religion, and yet as a strong-independent woman she had some problems with the widely accepted translation of the Quran where it says that the man has the right to beat his wife. This woman felt that the Allah she believed in would not stand such behavior and so she set out to make sense of the translation. She began to translate the entire Quran herself and consulted with many other translators of the sacred text. She found that the word that many scholars had translated as “beat” was used in several other places in the Quran, only in the other places it did not mean “beat.” Instead, the word was translated as “go away from.” From this, she came to the conclusion that the translation of “beat” was indeed wrong, as it was inconsistent from the rest of the translation. Her new translation showed that the man ought to leave his wife, or go away from her, when she angered him, not to beat her. When she told others of her findings, they became convinced as she provided sound reasoning. Through her work, online translations have been changed to reflect this new understanding of the text, and that change has made its way into the printed Qurans as well. This change, all centered around a single word, is changing the face of Islam for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

I thought that this was a profound example of standing up for change in a situation where many may not want to listen to that change. Often times in the United States, it seems that religion and change are deeply opposed to each other. Religion is seen as steeped in tradition and resistant to progress. Yet, here is an example where those perceptions simply are not true and perhaps religion may prove to be the biggest agent for change. For right now, I think it’s time that we all think of ways that we can positively impact our world in our path towards progress and social justice.


The Ford Rouge Factory

The Rouge Ford Factory

June 21, 2011. It is still the third day of USIPP in USA. After leaving the Charles H. Wright Museum and having lunch along the beautiful Detroit River (and across from Canada!), we headed to the Ford Rouge Factory in Dearborn.

The Tour of the Ford Rouge Factory consists of five parts. Since we arrived a little late in the afternoon, we only did four of the five:

  1. The legacy Theater

Here, we learned the history of the factory: the striving of Henry Ford in maintaining the human resources and creating it into something worthwhile; the ups and downs it went through (repeatedly changing name of the factory), right up until the peak of its success; how then it became one of the main source of economy in Detroit; how the people of Detroit really depended on this one industry and the withdrawal of the city when the factory went bankrupt.

  1.  Art of Manufacturing Theatre

This theatre is, to me, the most exciting. It is a 14 minute film explaining the process of car making. What makes it special is the 3D effect and loud noises. The room is shaped like a dome and screens go all the way around it. It was actually quite fun.

  1. Assembly Plant Walking Tour

This part of the tour is the longest, but the most interesting. During the half-an-hour walk, we saw the real process of building the newest Ford car. It was really my first time in a car factory, let alone seeing it being assembled.

  1. Legacy Gallery

I consider the Legacy Gallery as the icon of the Factory. The five antique ford cars exhibited attracted many of the visitors, including me of course. We took nearly a whole hour looking at them!

From this tour I did not only have fun, but I also learned what one person, Henry Ford, and his one industry can contribute to. His dreams of making automotive affordable to the public came true and without planning it, became the main source of economy for decades. The decline of its “power” has such a big effect on the city, which I saw through my own eyes the next following days in Detroit. Detroit is now like an abandoned city, schools are closing down, and people are moving out. I never thought I would see anything like it in the US. Maybe because the condition exposed to the general public, worldwide, is not as explicit. Still, however and whatever, the name of the ford factory will always be commemorated for its contribution to Detroit and the United States.



Where Do We Go From Here?

“Where Do We Go From Here?”, The famous speech from Martin Luther King. No, we did not go to his memorial, neither did we learn about the philosophy of his speech. But we did go to the place that recognizes one of the things he is the most devoted to: Equality for African-Americans.  

June 21, 2011, the third day of the USIPP program in USA. It was sprinkling and chilly outside, which made it perfect to have an indoor activity. We had all our usual routine of trying to wake up early in the morning, and then have breakfast. We then drove over to The Charles Wright Museum of African American History, located in Detroit. This museum is founded in 1965 and is said to be the world’s largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. Our half-day at the museum was divided into 3 parts: the introduction, the tour, and the discussion.

The introduction in which we went through a series of art work that described very briefly the coming and protesting of African-Americans in Detroit in very early days. We saw many art works done by Guyton, who decided that the “black and white” city needed more color, and so he went around painting the city. He also put hangings on people’s houses (I actually got to see a street which still had stuff puppets hanging all over the outsides of a house later that day)

After the Introduction came the tour: And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture. We playing out scenes of the story of the African-American history: from when the journey begins in the prehistoric days of Africa, the forcing of civilians through the door of no return, it’s shipping right up until how they become an integrated part of the community. It was a very interesting journey. Our tour guide made it very exciting, since he went into “character’.

The last parts is the one I consider most loaded with information. It was the decussion and lecturing by Yolanda Jack. In the discussion, we received further explanation of what we saw during the tour. Also the current condition of how African-Americans are living today. Though the racial discrimination has died down, conflicts do still erupt every now and then. Then there is also the debate amongst the African-Americans regarding their identity and where to bring their future. It is still questioned whether they have responsibility to go back to their homeland, or are they to stay put. It was a very interesting discussion, and I really learned a lot. Though I previously understood that the African-Americans had a rough time in the US during their earlier years of settlement, the experience of going through the story and seeing of “what really happened” is a great joy and very eye-opening.


How much is too much?

The east coast part of our trip has been a whirlwind of activities and experiences. It’s been hard to keep the days straight but I’m trying! On Tuesday, we made our way to Lancaster County to visit the Amish. I’ve always been familiar with the Amish lifestyle but I’ve never interacted with actually witnessed it before. We took a tour through the Amish country and the simplicity of their lifestyle really began to set in. As many people know, they don’t use electricity and make their living either through farming, livestock, carpentry, or by other means. There were barns at pretty much every house we went to and lots of horse drawn carriages. For some reason, I had it in my mind that if someone wanted, they could convert to being Amish. But I found out that’s not the case, it’s a culture you must be born into. At the age of 18, you are given the chance whether or not to embrace the Amish way for the rest of your life. If you decide to enter mainstream society, though, then you are cut off from your family. The Amish pride themselves on the fact that they a group of people unlike anyone else in America, a group of people who have consciously decided to reject the way that modern day society has developed no matter the consequences.

Over time, the way they live has become a point of interest for many American people and it was actually kind of unsettling to see how their life has become a tourist attraction. While I definitely thought their pretzels were delicious and I even bought some of their homemade potato chips, I couldn’t help but feel I was in a museum of sorts. I understand that part of the experience was to see a completely different part of American culture and to understand the diversity of religious practices in the United States but part of it just didn’t seem right to me. We had dinner with an Amish family and I think that’s when I started to feel uncomfortable with the whole experience. I had anticipated that the family would eat with us and we would be able to ask them questions about their life and they would be able to do the same. Instead, the family served us and it felt much more like a restaurant. On top of that, the family had business cards that they gave to us and also had a room in the basement to accommodate large groups. I guess what I’m trying to say that nowadays in American, it’s difficult to stand against the norm and to engage in a lifestyle that is completely different from what is considered modern. While it’s great that the Amish are benefiting from increased interest in their lifestyle, I can’t help but feel that there’s something inherently wrong with making their lifestyle a spectacle. But I guess that if you can’t beat it, you might as well make money off of it.

Besides my uncomfortable feeling about the whole thing, I really did learn a lot and I think that the Indonesian students did as well. It was good for them to see that there is a whole range of religious practices in the United States. A couple days after we went to see the Amish, we were all reflecting how amazing it is that there really is so much diversity within in the United States- something that’s easy to take for granted. However, after spending time in Indonesia, you come to appreciate just how much freedom our society affords us, and not just religious freedom.

When we were in New York City, we went to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance. It was a really powerful museum that gave us all a lot of things to think about. One of the topics that came up there was the issue whether or not hate speech ought to be protected under freedom of speech. As we saw in the museum, words have power, a power  that can be both negative and positive. In Indonesia, there are certain restrictions on freedom of speech in order to ensure a harmonious society. This means that the media can never defame the six national religions and even expressing certain political views or opinions is prohibited. This type of limitation is something we don’t really see in society but in some cases, is it what we need? If there were certain limitations on the media, would we be living in a less dangerous and hateful society? Or is it important that everyone have the right to express their own thoughts and opinions no matter how offensive and backward they may appear? Take Pastor Terry Jones for instance. While his actions reach beyond the freedom of press realm, they still concern freedom of expression. Should his actions be defended by our constitution even though they instigate violence across the world and just go to further fuel people’s negative attitudes toward Muslim communities? Is there such a thing as too much freedom? We discussed this issue briefly as a group and I can’t say I’ve come up with a good answer. America as a country has always prided itself on its freedom and if we were to limit one person’s freedom of expression, we may end up limiting our own in the future.

Just some things to think about as we consider what freedom really means in our society. It’s hard to believe that we only have two more days with the program, I’m definitely not ready to say goodbye to my Indonesian friends, I’m going to miss them so much!



We arrived in D.C at round midnight.  By the time we made our way through the train station we were all so weighed down by our fatigue that we could barely take in how gorgeous an empty Union Station was at night.  We got to our dorms at George Washington University and passed out.

Our first stop in D.C was to visit the important capitol buildings.  Of course there were tons of tour groups and we all were herded from one historic room to the other like cattle, our heads all turning and dipping and gawking in unison as our tour guide took us from room to room.  I certainly have an appreciation for history and for historic sites but I find the company of hundreds of other people to be a distraction from all of the important things we saw on the tour.

I am quite glad that I have gotten to understand the way that the United States government operates better  since doing this program.  I feel a bit more competent as an American citizen now.  Anyway, after seeing the capital building we went to the Indonesian Embassy in D.C to meet with the ambassador.  The embassy was one of the most beautiful buildings that I’d ever seen.  The Indonesian Ambassador was so incredibly friendly and down to earth.  He was so funny and was just a really likeable guy.  We met with him for about an hour and then posed for some pictures where we also got to meet his beautiful wife.  They seemed like some of the coolest people…ever and I kinda didn’t want to leave 😛

So after our meeting we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then went for a walking tour of the monuments.  We got about less than halfway through the tour before the exhaustion and pain of walking around for hours forced us to call it quits.

The next day was a lot less packed, we went to Arlington cemetary and saw the exchange of the guards.  I had never been to Arlington before and there really is nothing like seeing a sea of white headstones to make you understand the horrors and senselessness of war.  The entire time we were on the tour all I could think of was “were all of these deaths really worth it?”  I think war is a horrible thing and it makes me sad that we have been in this one for so long.  I won’t go off into an anti-war tangent but having that visual representation of all of the young lives throughout history that have been lost because of war just makes me angry.

Seeing the exchange of the guards was a real treat…not just because they were cuties.  It was interesting to see how precise and involved getting off your shift at work can be.  But really it made me feel a sense of pride and patriotism.  The American military fascinates me.  We also saw the Kennedy’s memorials and I got to learn a little bit more about their place in American history from Jack and Debra.  Of course, I was not anywhere near alive to understand all of the drama and tragedy that followed the Kennedy family so it was interesting to hear them from the perspective of people who grew up during that time.

The next day we spent in D.C was relatively low-key.  We went to the Holocaust museum which was an amazing museum but also a very difficult museum to visit.  The museum was huge and it really took you through life before during and after the Holocaust.  The exhibits gave you an idea of what it would have been like to be a Jew in Europe during that time.  There was even a video that had real Holocaust survivors talking about what their experiences were like in the concentration camps.  As they were telling their stories of all of the horrific things that they had witnessed, I couldn’t help but appreciate the strength of the human spirit.  The idea of genocides and ethnic cleansings is so deeply disturbing to me and it sickens and saddens me that such terrible events are still happening in the world today.  Once we left the museum we went back to the monuments to finish our tour.  It was a much welcomed slower pace to the day and we ended with a nice dinner at a Tapas restaurant in Georgetown.

The Fourth of July came and excitement was in the air.  I managed to put together a red, white, and blue outfit and we all set out to watch the parade.  The parade was nice but slow-moving so we left before it ended to have lunch.  Later that evening we put together some classic American snacks and headed to the Washington Monument to watch the fireworks.  One fun fact about me…I am terrified of fireworks.  Most people think they’re beautiful and fun, I think they’re horrifying and dangerous.  So as much as I could appreciate the opportunity to be in the Nation’s capital on the 4th of July I was honestly pretty shaken by the fireworks…embarrassingly disturbed.

But they didn’t last long and after they were over we headed back to our dorms and prepared to pack up and say our good-byes.  It was so hard to part ways with everyone, however, I feel confident that we will see each other again.  This has been one amazing experience and I feel so fortunate and appreciative of all the wonderful people I’ve met and all the fantastic things that I’ve gotten to do in one amazing month. Thank yooouuuu soooo much to everyone who made this trip possible!

NYC day 2

After arriving back at Lehigh after a very long day in the Big Apple I packed up all of my things and got ready for our second and final day in New York before heading to our Nation’s capital…Washington D.C.

Our first stop of the day was to have a meeting with people from the Institute of International Education (IIE).  The purpose of the meeting was to speak with them about the program also to get more information about the other opportunities out there to work/study/live in Indonesia and vice versa in the future.  I was really pumped about this meeting because after spending two weeks in Indonesia I knew 100% that I was to go back in the future.  I sure will have my work cut out for me applying to all these different programs for my life post-graduation.  I love the ETA Fulbright program, it literally sounds like everything I could ever want to do after I finish college.  Everything I read about the program just makes it sound better and better and makes me want it more and more.  Booo I wish that I could magically flash forward my life and be teaching English somewhere in Indonesia.  Perhaps in addition to finishing the last of my concentration requirements I should start building a time machine.

Anyway, I digress…. so after IIE we went to the United Nations for a tour.  It was pretty cool to see the UN and to gain a better understanding of what all the UN does.  I just loved the idea of all these different people from counties all over the world working together under this one big building… I’m all for unity.

Once we finished our tour we went to the Museum of Tolerance.  The exhibits at the museum were very difficult to watch at times because they dealt with some very serious and very real issues.  We did this little interactive activity about tolerance and freedom of speech that was kind of useful but also mildly goofy as we were presented with a video showing all of these poorly acted scenarios.  But I could see why it was an important activity nonetheless.  After the museum we went to the Indonesian Embassy to meet with a ambassador’s representative.  The meeting was short but informative and we didn’t really have time for questions because we had to catch our train to D.C in two hours.