Education

#SABFCorner: Dalia Mogahed

Muslims are not only victimized by ISIS,

but at the same time blamed for ISIS.

Dalia Mogahed – TED.

 

In SABF 2016 Dalia Mogahed gave the participants and all the listeners a reading of the political, economic, social and cultural reality that acted as a trigger to provoke an introspective in-depth analysis of each one’s acting individual, but also in acting as a society against the events that occur in the world.

From an original point of view, she told in the first person her life experience, and how it was marked by certain events that also marked the future of the world.

More than a year after her participation in the SABF, from the Blog Team we considered it necessary to reconnect with her in order to understand what her reading of reality is. Dalia, answered a couple of questions that help us to analyse how the world changed in the last year. We focus on different topics to be able to touch a little the questions left by her participation and doubts that we all have when it comes to watching the news.

Who is Dalia Mogahed? Dalia is the Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) in Washington D.C. Also, she is President and CEO of an executive coaching and consulting firm Mogahed Consulting, specializing in the Middle East and Muslim societies. She was selected by President Barack Obama as an adviser on the White House, which made her the first Muslim American woman to hold that position. She chaired the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies. She is a chemical engineer from the University of Wisconsin with an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh.

Without further introduction, I give you: Dalia Mogahed.


 

Jonatán Carné: Since your participation in SABF 2016, there have been important changes in the international context. What do you think are the main changes in international politics? What are the issues that are dominating international agenda and social interest this year?

Dalia Mogahed: The biggest difference is that Donald Trump went from being an embarrassing presidential candidate to my country’s commander in chief and President, an outcome many of us didn’t think was possible. This reality points to a rising tide of reactionary identity politics where traditionally privileged communities fear that their advantage is under threat. They look to politicians that promise to restore said privilege. This trend is sweeping Europe as we saw with Brexit, and the relatively strong performance of right-wing and even “Alt-right” parties. As Chris Rock said though, “if you’re losing, then who’s winning?”.

 

JC: What do you think is the role of the media as an instrument of international politics?

DM: Media forms perceptions, and public perceptions provide consent for government policies.  When the media provides one candidate more attention than all others combined, this will inevitably help that candidate win. If the media tells us every day to be fearful of a group of people, then many of us will be and we will act on that fear by supporting more surveillance of this group, restrictions on their rights and even military interventions in countries that we have been taught “hate us”.

 

JC: Media generates images and stereotypes. Do you think that media reproduces a wrong image of Muslims or of who is different? How does this affect society?

DM: One study by an ISPU (Institute for Social Policy and Understanding) scholar named Muniba Salem and her colleagues found that exposure to negative media about Muslims made people more likely to support tighter security for Muslim-looking people at airports, military invasion of Muslim majority countries and even taking away the voting rights of Americans who are Muslim. The media has an enormous responsibility to report objectively because what they say and do matters to the health of our democracy.

 

JC: The advent of the Islamic State (ISIS) comes to revive that anti-Islamic feeling that was seen after 9/11? What do you think is the cause of increased ISIS adherence around the world and how to avoid it?

DM: I am not a military expert but all my readings indicate that ISIS is in fact in retreat and is shrinking, not growing. ISIS’s primary victims are Muslims, more than 95% in fact.ISIS is a cancer and Muslims are at the forefront of fighting this gang of deviants. The sad part is that despite these clear facts, Muslims are not only victimized by ISIS, but at the same time blamed for ISIS.

When I’m asked if ISIS is “Islamic” since they have this word in their name. I ask two simple questions: 1) Would a group like ISIS, with the same tactics and brutality? 2) Exist in this region if all else was exactly the same in terms of geopolitics, failed state, foreign invasion, torture and genocide, but no Islam? The answer is yes, they would exist because a group like ISIS has emerged everywhere in the world when the same conditions existed but by different names and appealing to different ideologies. When the surrounding community is communist, the terrorists use language that appeals to communist sentiments (Tamil Tigers), when the community is Buddhist, they use this rhetoric, when the people look to Christian beliefs to guide their thinking, the terrorist talk in terms of the Bible, God and the Ten Commandments (Lord’s Resistance Army), and the list goes on.  So, blaming Islam for ISIS is confusing the context for the cause.

 

JC: Precisely, from the West it seeks to understand Islam with bounded information. What is the role of women in Islam? What is the answer to the criticisms of the Western feminist movements denouncing the role of women in the Muslim world?

DM: ¡Oh, wow, such a big question with so much to discuss! Where to begin? Let’s start by stating the obvious: Muslims are sexist. Women don’t have their full equal rights in the Muslim community in many parts of the world.  Why? Because Muslims are guilty of being human beings sadly. Everyone is sexist, and women don’t have their full rights anywhere. But it’s worse for women in the Muslim world, I hear someone scream! In some parts yes, but not because of Islam.

In a study Gallup did on women’s rights in the Middle East, researchers found that men’s perceptions of women’s rights mattered a lot to how women fared in their societies. But men’s support for women’s rights did not correlate with their piety, or religious devotion. Instead, it correlated to their level of education, their own well-being and their country’s score on the UN Human Development Index.

What does this mean? Women do better when societies are better for everyone. Women do better when men feel better about their own situation, not when they are less religious, which has no impact empirically. Muslim women, according to all the research I lead at Gallup and ISPU, expect and want equal rights. They also cherish their faith, in many cases even more than men, and see their faith not as an obstacle to liberation, but as part of the solution. So, if feminists really want to help Muslim women they can start by listening to Muslim women rather than lecturing them or degrading their religion. They should also be cautious to not be used as instruments of Islamophobia.

 

JC: Academically, it reads increasingly the view that the Middle East is losing territorial borders and begins to draw a sectarian map in which the countries areas of influence are conceived by religious alliances. What is the role of religion in politics in the region? What is the difference with other regions like Europe or the American continent?

DM: I’m so relieved that America and Europe know nothing about war or killing each other over territory or ideology and can comfortably lecture the world about how to be civilized! The difference is America and Europe are stable countries, not failed states. Failed states, due to foreign invasion, genocidal dictators, or revolutions, create the conditions where people have to turn to tribe for protection, like human beings have done from the beginning of time. This occurs everywhere these conditions exist. When the state cannot protect you as an individual, we coalesce around a tribal identity for survival. This is why gangs exist in the inner city. This is why ethnic warfare occurs in places with a weak central authority.

 

JC: You had the opportunity to participate as an advisor to the Barack Obama’s administration. What are the lessons that political experience left you and what advice would you give to young people who are interested in politics?

DM: The single most important lesson I gleaned from this experience is this: Access does not equal influence. Being “in the room” and “at the table” is a necessary but insufficient condition to bring about real change. You need to be at that table with resources to offer or take away. If you don’t have actual resources in the form of organized people and money, you are warming a chair. So, for young people, build from the ground up. The real power is with the people on the ground. Organize them. Empower them. Educate them. Then when you are invited to sit at the table of power, be there representing those people, not your resume. This is how you can make real change.

Diversity in tech and why we need it

It is a wide known fact within the industry of IT that there’s not a lot of diversity among people who build the internet. Why is this a problem and why should we address it?

Technology is everywhere. We use technology to communicate with our peers at work, with our families, with our friends. We use technology to search for information, we use it to get our news, we use it to learn and to grow. Being such an omnipresent factor in our lives, in everyone’s lives, it is imperative that technology is built for everyone. Moreover, it’s important that technology is built by everyone.

While it is true that most people are born naturally empathetic, there’s only so much our empathy can go. To give a silly yet relatable example, last weekend we forgot to purchase vegan sweets for an event. The reason being: it’s always been our (then absent) vegan friend who thought about those things. One can make an extra effort to be empathetic and walk in someone else’s shoes, but not sharing their reality only allows us to do it to some extent.

Of course, the lack of empathy when building a product can go beyond sensitivities and affect functionality as well. A clear example of that are facial recognition algorithms. Take the case of Joy Buolamwini, an African-American MIT student, whose face was not being consistently recognised by the face-detection algorithms she was using to complete her studies. In order to test her assignments, she even had to recur to wearing a white mask to increase contrast in low-light environments and have her face detected.

Does this mean that whoever created the face detection algorithms is racist, or that the algorithm has a racist bias? Not at all. Most face detection programs use artificial intelligence, where a neural network needs to be trained with a set of samples (in this case, faces), that will allow it to determine patterns to match against. The main cause for black faces not being recognised, or Asian eyes detected as closed, is that the set of samples used for training the neural network was not diverse enough.

While it can seem hard to, as individuals, influence how a phone screen blocker detects Asian eyes or how crime prevention algorithms identify suspects, the truth is that we all have a part to play. Diversity is key, and we all can start by encouraging others to become involved. Examples of this are Rails Girls and Django Girls among others, which are organisations aimed at increasing the proportion of women in tech, and Black Girls Code, which aims to increase the number of women of color in the digital space. Another great example is the Algorithmic Justice League, created by the aforementioned Joy to highlight algorithmic bias.

If you feel identified with any of these stories, get involved. If you ever found it difficult to use an app or website due to your ethnicity, age or disabilities, get your community involved. Educate them, attract them to the industry. Increase diversity in the development teams and in the test groups. If you didn’t, if you’ve never had any struggles at all, make a special effort to become aware of social bias. Start by looking at your surroundings. Inspect the company you work at and analyse whether it’s diverse enough. Encourage diversity. Improve tech.

Let’s play together

I remember going to the toy store with my parents for my 8th or 7th birthday to pick out my present. Those were the times when there was nothing as boring as getting clothes and there was nothing that could beat that trip to the toy store and those long aisles filled with fun.

I can’t recall if I wanted to be a marine biologist or a crazy scientist (special emphasis in the word “crazy”, because it was the most important part of the degree!), but I was looking for a microscope on that trip. Looking back I can see why may be the toy store wasn’t the best place to buy one! I finally found one, but of course it was a toy.

Disappointment didn’t last too long, since I kept looking around and I found it. The perfect gift. It was a box almost as big as me, and with big letters spelled: CHEMISTRY. When I bought it I felt so grown up, I could picture myself turning my house into an amazing lab. Each time I played with it, it felt like I did. The hours I spent with that chemistry set are countless.

What I didn’t see back then was that the box was decorated with different lab equipment, nothing else. Finally, on the side, the box specified the recommended age for the players. Leaving the specific age aside, the thing that stood out was the fact that there was a girl and a boy on the sides of the number.

As I grew up and started leaving my toys behind, I started paying more attention to the ads. The little kitchen, the register machine, the laundry set…the toy every girl wants for this Christmas. The workshop, the cars, the tools’ box, the little man of the house can’t have too many of those.

Sometimes, you don’t realize the effect that one can have on children. If you let them believe since that early age that they should play with something because it’s a “girl” or a “boy” toy, that kid grows up believing life is filled with “girl” and “boy” stuff and believing that decisions have to be made considering that, including of course, deciding which degree to pursue.

Usually school doesn’t help. If a girl does well on maths, it’s “impressive” and if a boy does poorly on literature, it’s “natural”. That’s because boys do better in science and girls do better in softer subjects. I heard that one between mothers so many times.

The world of science is seen as a man’s world, and if that was the case because it just happens, so be it. However, degrees in science are pictured as hard, intense, with a lot of manual skills. Therefore, boys are more encouraged to pursue them, since it’s risky for a girl.

We need to increase awareness on the impact we have on children and start thinking before speaking. If not, we are still raising adults that think that the natural place for a woman is the kitchen, while there’s nothing more charming than a man that cooks. We keep nurturing a society where is “amazing” that a woman pursues a degree in science. More important, we set what kind of aspirations kids should have.

If I ever have kids, I would like for them to grow up in a world where they don’t feel as a minority if they are the only woman in a class full of men or vice versa. If I ever have a daughter and she decides to study engineering as her mother, I would like for the first question she’s asked not to be: “Hey, it’s full of boys! When are you getting a boyfriend?”

Changes begin at our homes and we collaborate as a society. While playing they learn. Let’s learn to let them play.

Educational innovation: a first step

We have heard repeatedly about the need to reform the way we educate. It is a challenge, it is a gradual change, that it requires changes in State policies… Many conferences, workshops, activities and forums have been held to suggest new ideas in this area; “applicable” ideas. I have not seen any results of all of them yet. It is still a discussion, and it seems the parts can’t reach an agreement. What are they missing?

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The digital era and education

The new digital era has made  the use of technology in education grow significantly in the last few years.

Many students over the world prefer to study with electronic books or with Internet searches, while educational institutions have adopted the use of whiteboards to teach, and Moodle platforms to follow assignments from teachers. Moreover, do not forget it is possible to pursue online degrees . It is a revolution of the digital age that is slowly leaving the libraries and newspaper archives where we used to spend hours looking information to study for the next exam.

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The state of higher education: innovation in times of crisis

The current state of higher education has become the center of attention for many people in the last few years. In the interest of stirring up the discussion, I would like to offer my own views. Whether you agree with them or not, I invite you to join the dialogue in the comments below!

To begin with, I believe the current model of higher education is fundamentally broken. It is becoming increasingly harder for people to work their way to a formal degree, and the few who do, often find themselves with a mountain of debts to pay. The proposed solution to this usually involves an increase in the role of government through subsidies and cheap student loans. Many wonder why states aren’t investing more on education given that it is probably one of the greatest keys to unlock long-term economic development. But the fact is that an increase in government spending will do little if the economics of the underlying model are unsustainable.

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Is higher education gradually being converted into a luxury?

As a full, time, 2nd year Economics student, I came back to the UK to realize that the frenzy rhythms of our in-campus life, last year, have been substantially replaced by a far less crowded campus, fewer students and a significantly altered character in the sum of students who were admitted this year. The British Higher Education system was struck by an unprecedented rise in tuition fees, seeing the undergraduate tuition scheme tripling resulting in the exclusion of a great number of potential students from being able to access it. This considerable increase in fees, quite expected but still largely opposed by the public, had been on the economic policy agenda for several years and had finally become a reality. Quite ironically though, last year it was justified as a means of paving the way out of the recession, while the very first Fresher Week of the “increased fees” academic year 2012/13, newsstands are filled with The Economist and other newspapers talking about an important recovery in British economy. I can’t help but wonder why reforms in education have been prioritized compared to other equally potent economic measures, eventually leading the country out of the recession? Isn’t accessible higher education, for all sections of the population, a palpable indication of a welfare state? How are we planning on creating a sustainable economy in the long-term, if we do not invest on education in the short term?

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Dynamic Keynotes

After lunch, students have continued participating in different workshops. The speakers of the Dynamic Keynotes were: Roxana Víquez Salazar, Daniela Kreimer, Pierre Ianni and Nora Brown.

Roxana Víquez Salazar is Regional Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at BAC, Credomatic Network. She analyzed the dimension that RSE (Corporate Social Responsibility) has taken. “CSR is the answer of managers to the multiple risks derived from economic, political, cultural and social changes from nowadays. In this sense, Víquez attributed the growth of this phenomenon to a growing environmental awareness, a higher understanding of Human rights and the development of communication through social networks. Finally, she stated that “The main objective of CSR is to contribute to sustainability”.

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Alternative education, new ways of teaching

In late April, under the theme “Inspire your ideas” took place in Buenos Aires the first universitary TEDx event in Argentina, TEDxUTN. Probably most of you already know what are these globally spread talks, but if not, you can find more information on the official website of TEDand TEDx. The event consisted of 15 talks which discussed several issues, from education and entrepreneurship, to travelling and astrology.

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New technologies in education and the pursuit of educational justice.

As part of a new society called postindustrial, postcapitalist or postmodern network society, the intensive use of knowledge becomes a major reason of production. However,  we must recognize that its dynamic does not necessarily guarantees higher levels of social justice, equity and cohesion. For this reason, for a society like ours that seeks to be democratic, this is an issue to discuss. Currently, we are under a constant progress and development of technology, but unevenly. That is because access differs between geographical, social and economic, groups. Should inequalities in access to new technologies be solved by the national education ministry or by other agents in our society? Some people understand that the school should be the preferred point of access to new technologies for democratization, others find families as the right environment.

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