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Politics and Hummus

February 2, 2015

I wish there was more strategic discussion on US campuses about how to respond to the abuse of human rights and other injustices being committed all over the world today. There is quite a lot that institutions and students can do in the interest of creating a better, more just, more humane world, but boycotting hummus?

Consider the following:

  • Threats of violence and backlash from conservatives and Christian leaders compelled Duke University to move the Muslim call to prayer from the chapel tower to a more discreet location on campus.
  • When Vanderbilt professor, Carol Swain, suggested that Islam does not share the values of Christianity and that members of this faith represent a danger to people of other religions, Vanderbilt’s provost quickly issued a statement distancing the university from her comments.

  • And finally, Wesleyan University stopped selling Sabra products (hummus and other dips) because student groups objected to the alleged contributions of a Sabra corporate partner to the Israeli military. Wesleyan thought better of their initial reaction and restored Sabra to campus but with the compromise of offering another brand of hummus as an alternative to the offending brand.

The incidents above provide important teachable moments yet universities today are much too quick to retreat from conflict on campus rather than exploit these instances to do what they (should) do best—teach. Classes, workshops, lectures, and open forums (rather than a quick retreat from difficult issues) could encourage respectful debate and (hopefully) more thoughtful responses from the campus community. This does not mean that we need to teach political correctness, but rather teach that tolerance for different values, religions, or traditions is not the same as acceptance or agreement. Tolerance of different ideas is, sadly, in short supply around the world and building some would be useful indeed.

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